I confess that finding time to watch this four-hour television series a couple of times has been a challenge with the holiday season upon us, but it was an enjoyable diversion. After I got past the quirks and limitations introduced by reason of the decade in which it was filmed, I found this adaptation, which I had only watched once before in spite of owning a copy for many years, a surprisingly delightful production. The screenplay was well written and the performances were excellent. Alas, these things are never entirely perfect. Let’s look at some of the more obvious goofs.
10.) Will the real Miss Musgrove please stand up? After the introductions at Captain Harville’s house, Mrs. Harville asks of Henrietta, “Miss Musgrove,” what she thinks of Lyme. Henrietta opens her mouth to speak, but then Louisa jumps the gun and says her lines. This is where the professionalism of, Mel Martin, the actress playing Henrietta, becomes obvious. She smiles politely like a good sister and guest, then picks up with her line after Louisa says hers. If you watch carefully, it’s obvious that this was a goof, saved by the versatility of a good actress.
9.) Just don’t focus the camera on them. It will be fine. The main female characters in this adaptation generally have quite natural-looking makeup. In the two scenes where there were lots of female extras, however, anachronistic makeup abounds. Their faces are often obscured by bonnets or are onscreen less than a second, but the discerning eye can detect that they are wearing 1970s makeup in style and color. There are a few places where the extras can be seen in the background out of focus. It is then that the shades of the blue and green eyeshadow and darkened eyelashes can be easily detected. It seems likely that the extras were issued costumes, but did their own makeup.
8.) Watch for shadows. A sad lack of attention was paid to the shadows cast in the interior sets by suspended filming equipment such as boom microphones. This issue can be seen throughout the production, and once you’ve noticed this distraction, it becomes even more obvious. It’s hard to capture it in a still image because the shadows are more apparent when they are moving.
7.) Not quite a beehive. The 1960s and early 1970s popularized bouffant hairdos. Elements of that anachronistic look crept into most of the female hairstyles of this adaptation, with Anne Elliot’s coiffures easily being the most extreme examples.
6.) What is that thing around their neck? The men in this adaptation wear bow ties the majority of the time. There is rarely a cravat to be seen, except on the servants, and the doctor who treats Louisa Musgrove. I started digging, to see if there was perhaps some precedent for it in the post-Napoleonic era that I wasn’t aware of, but found none. The timeline cited in the Wikipedia article on ties aligns with all the other resources I consulted. The shirts they are wearing are strongly reminiscent of the tuxedo shirts of the 1970s too. At least they aren’t wearing cummerbunds.
5.) Lady Russell gets familiar. While there may well have been persons who did not care whether their rank was acknowledged, Sir Walter Elliot is not one of them. His title IS his identity. It is, therefore, a serious faux pas for Lady Russell to address him as merely “Walter” in this scene, a familiarity that did not originate from Austen’s pen.
4.) Show me the program. At the concert in Bath, there is a program that contains the lyrics to the Italian musical numbers performed by the tenor. On two different songs, William Elliot, Anne’s cousin, requests that Anne translate the lyrics in the program for him, which she does. On both occasions, she is looking at the same spot on the paper, just below the title on the left side of the page making it clear that she is reciting lines she memorized rather than translating from the page.
3.) Do the math. Jane Austen opens the novel Persuasion with details of the Elliot entry in the Baronetage.
“ELLIOT OF KELLYNCH-HALL.
“Walter Elliot, born March 1, 1760, married, July 15, 1784, Elizabeth, daughter of James Stevenson, Esq. of South Park, in the county of Gloucester; by which lady (who died 1800) he has issue Elizabeth, born June 1, 1785; Anne, born August 9, 1787; a still-born son, Nov. 5, 1789; Mary, born Nov. 20, 1791.”
This adaptation opens with Sir Walter’s recitation of the passage, however, he misstates the date of Elizabeth’s birth as 1784, which, if true, would have meant Elizabeth’s birth pre-dated the marriage of Sir Walter by six-weeks. Oops.
2.) When did they come in? The opening scene is a montage to introduce the main characters, held together by Sir Walter’s reading from the book. When he gets around to the end and hands the book to Elizabeth, the chairs that were empty when he began (See image above) are no longer vacant. There is no explanation for how they got there. It’s a startling transition that hints at edits in post-production that left their entry into the room on the cutting room floor.
1.) Do you see the dragon’s teeth? They seem innocuous enough, just a moss-covered thing sticking out of the ground, a familiar part of the landscape. But those triangular forms sticking up by the side of the road are actually World War II tank traps, and would not have been there in the early 1800s. The concrete blocks were placed during the war as obstacles to impede the progress of tanks, and are popularly referred to as dragons teeth.
There you have it. Wasn’t that fun? On a side-note, one of the things I spotted when watching this was the amount of green seen on the walls, furniture, and clothing. They didn’t know it back then, but the green dye that was used in such objects, Scheele’s Green, was created with dangerous quantities of arsenic. Although using green is historically accurate, it often made its wearers ill and even killed people, so to me, using so much green also something of a goof since (other than Mary Musgrove) there is no indication of illness among the Elliots. A second side-note is that I noticed that the representation of Captain Wentworth on my DVD cover was wearing a cravat. A closer look made me realize that it wasn’t Captain Wentworth’s image at all. It is Colonel Brandon (Robert Swann) from the 1981 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. The original VHS cover image for the Persuasion title only included Anne Elliot. When they remade the cover, they grabbed the wrong male lead, thus introducing a goof well over a decade after the filming was complete.
Have you seen this adaptation? What did you think of it? If you’ve seen it, did you spot any of these goofs, or perhaps some others you’d like to share? Please do leave a comment and let us know your thoughts.