"It proved twice as fine as the first report"

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The Telegraph has an extensive article on the filming of Persuasion 2007, including a photo of Louisa lying on the cobblestones and Captain Wentworth looking rather like he’s about to sprinkle her with holy water and give her last rites. We suspect they have not shouted “Action” yet; looks like they’re all standing around “enjoying the sight of a dead young lady.” It’s a good article in that it tells us a lot more about the film than we have heard previously–for good or ill.

The director, Adrian Shergold – acclaimed, paradoxically, for his gritty dramas (Low Winter Sun, The Last Hangman) – is preparing the actors for a performance intended to incorporate both subtle, comic farce and Anne’s unspoken sadness at how she allowed herself to be talked out of following her heart. In the scene about to be filmed, her father, Mr Elliot (Anthony Head), will be at his most sycophantic, genuflecting at the feet of Lady Dalrymple, and whisking Anne away from Wentworth in what is yet another missed opportunity for her to right the mistakes of her past.

Oh, that should be good.

‘The joy of making this for me,’ Shergold says, looking at the flickering candlelight, the silk costumes and the flamboyant hair pieces, ‘is the beauty of it. There are no guns, no blood and gore – Bath is such a beautiful city.’

It is indeed.

ITV’s Austen season, comprising three new adaptations, of which Persuasion is one. (The other two are Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey and there will also be, somewhat oddly, a re-run of an old version of Sense and Sensibility.)

Pssst….rerun of Emma. S&S is new and later and the BBC. See here.

The idea behind the season is to provide the public with three beautifully made films, presented as a package. ‘I think Jane Austen, more than anything, is worth revisiting,’ Mackie says. ‘They really are boy-meets-girl love stories like Bridget Jones.”

Coming from one of the ITV commissioners, that explains SO much.

Securing Hawkins gave Shergold the confidence to concentrate on telling the story from Anne’s perspective (principally, the film looks at her regret at how she was coerced to reject Wentworth’s marriage proposal).

Hmmm.

‘This was such an interesting project because of Adrian’s involvement,’ Penry-Jones says. ‘Also, Wentworth is a great role. You get talked about for the first third of the story and then you appear and all you have to do is stand there and not trip over the furniture, really. You can’t get away from the Austen stereotype of the tortured brooding hero because that is what Wentworth is, but he does his best to cover it up and then suddenly he is thrust together with a woman who broke his heart.’

What stereotype? What brooding? We’re inclined to like you, Rupert. Don’t blow it by being unnecessarily defensive.

For Hawkins, the experience of playing an Austen heroine has been profound. She absorbed herself in Austen’s life, reading her letters and drinking in the sadness that came at the end during Austen’s illness and death aged 41.

Again with the letters! Though this is not necessarily such a bad thing. We guess education is better than abject ignorance. But we hope Miss Hawkins similarly immersed herself in the novel.

There are the requisite elements of Anne’s family’s snobbery, but these are treated with subtlety. Anne is always at the centre. ‘We’ve locked the cameras right up on their faces,’ Shergold says. ‘I’ve done lots of diary scenes where [Anne] looks up to the camera, to the audience, including them in her thoughts. That kind of filming breaks every rule in the book, but we wanted to give it the intensity.’

There–someone was wondering about the closeups of Sally staring into the camera.

Two weeks later, conditions on the Cobb at Lyme Regis are treacherous. Like Bath, the Cobb has a key role in the novel. There has never been any question of shooting elsewhere, be it safer or easier. Yesterday, for instance, Shergold shot a scene starring Penry-Jones in which the waves smashed over the top of the wall and drenched him. ‘We carried on,’ Shergold says, ‘and I think everybody loved that. They thought I’d call a stop to filming. I’ve no idea if I can use it but it was great fun. I had to stop in the end because the safety people said we’d all be washed away.’

We like his attitude! Really, the locations are there and need little more than aggressive tourist-wrangling to make them work.

A vast crashmat is placed beneath the wall and the stunt woman is in place: ‘Louisa, Louisa!’ Hawkins screams as the cameras roll, managing to infuse two words with blood curdling fear.

Ooooh!

Earlier, Shergold and Hawkins had improvised together a quiet scene of her looking out to sea, a possible ending to the film, different from both the script and the book. Shergold is, as yet, undecided about how to end the film. ‘I have three or four endings at the moment,’ he says, ‘and that’s the joy of it for me. This is nothing to do with Jane Austen. If I can shoot anything that tells the story, then I will.’

As long as it tells the story.

Without wanting to give anything away, in the scripted version, Anne’s reward is even more than her man, a bonanza payoff that has no foundation in Austen’s novel. ‘I’m not worried about that,’ Penry-Jones says. ‘If these Austen people had their way, this film would be five hours long. We’ve got to use a bit of artistic licence.’

“These Austen people?” In the immortal words of Lena Lamont, we ain’t people! We are your target audience! (Aren’t we? Sometimes we wonder.)

The film is beautiful, much more like an independent European film than the pretty, sundrenched versions we have come to associate with British costume dramas. The dark scene in which Penry-Jones gets drenched, for example, has made it. And the ending? Well, it is television, after all.

Hmmmmmmmmmmm.