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Fanny Price may be a tousled romper (see Mansfield Park review). Anne Elliot is a spit-curled sprinter who’d win a foot race against any Austen character. Why she positively flies up and down the sidewalk in Bath when she gets the famous Wentworth “You pierce my soul” letter, handed to her by what seems to be a servant. No scene in the film at the White Hart where Austen gives us a hint of Wentworth’s emotion when he drops his pen “striving to catch sounds” of conversation between Anne and Captain Harville, and Anne claims for her “own sex” the “privilege . . . of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone!” Instead, in the film Anne makes her remarks to Captain Benwick seemingly as a condolence on the loss of his intended, Harville’s sister Fanny. Anne may conquer the 100-yard dash, but she’s a flop at long distance. Fatigued by the walk to Winthrop, Austen’s Anne is “assisted” by Wentworth into the Crofts carriage; “his will and his hands had done it. . . . She was very much affected by the view of his disposition towards her.” The film’s Wentworth merely picks her up and plunks her onto the back of the gig, much as one puts a cookie jar on a kitchen shelf. Here was a cinematic opportunity to exchange a glance, show some, if suppressed, emotion. But no, the gig merely rolls on down the lane. Indeed, there is little chemistry between the film’s Anne and Wentworth. And surely, gentle Reader, such attraction is a major element of a true attachment. When Anne isn’t dashing, she’s twitching, no more so than when her tremulous self expectantly awaits Wentworth’s kiss on the Bath sidewalk. When surrounded by her self-centered family and acquaintances Sally Hawkins’ Anne so broadly broadcasts her feelings with facial contortions one wonders why they simply don’t ask, What’s the matter now, Anne? Obtuse they are, but not totally blind. In contrast, being “composed” was important to Austen’s Anne. Rupert Penry-Jones’ Wentworth is a pretty face, but a rather vacuous man who stares a lot. It’s hard to imagine him commanding a crew of hundreds in a sailing ship, capturing other ships to earn his prize money. Other cast members are disappointing due to miscasting. Alice Krige (Mrs. Russell) is better suited to be Wentworth’s sister, Mrs. Croft. Instead, the Crofts are a much-too-old couple. Marion Bailey (Mrs. Croft) would have been a perfect Mrs. Russell. But then, Mrs. Russell and the Crofts are given short shrift in the film. And so is Austen’s housebound Mrs. Smith. Her film role is to be so robust as to hurry out to meet Anne and tell her of William Elliot’s plan to marry Anne while, at the same time, keeping Mrs. Clay as a mistress. Austen may hint at a connection between them, but it is only in the original two last chapters (discarded by Austen) that Mrs. Clay is “established under his Protection in London.” Only in those unused chapters do the Crofts volunteer to cancel their lease at Kellynch, making possible the film’s preposterous ending: Wentworth surprising Anne, and us, with Kellynch Hall.
-Elsie Holzwarth, Letter from Chicago, Spring 2008