Maybe it’s not the worst marketing blunder in history, but it still blows my mind. When Persuasion (1995) was released on VHS the year after it appeared on television and in American cinemas, the cover of the tape sent to video stores did not feature the two stars, but two anonymous models.
The reason? Early reviews of the film were negative regarding the physical appearance of Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds. Root was described as “homely” and “thin lipped” while Hinds was “pock marked.” So extreme was the reaction that the American marketers decided they had to use doubles.
For good measure, they made the executive decision to sex things up, choosing a classic romance novel cover pose for the photo shoot. Now, I know that the essence of marketing is to aim low. But to my mind, it IS possible to insult one’s audience. Mind you, I have nothing against romance novels or their covers. But any reader of Jane Austen knows that the heaving bosom is wrong, wrong, WRONG! There is no major décolletage and certainly no kissing in a Jane Austen book.
The marketers’ logic in this case seems to have run as follows:
1. These two uglies will never do.
2. Nobody on this side of the pond has ever heard of them, so they won’t notice if we substitute a couple of models.
3. We don’t know this book (Jane who?) and therefore nobody else does.
4. It’s a love story, so make sure the idiots out there in Middle America recognize the genre.
5. It’s a Victorian thing. You know, a costume drama from before 1950. Find one of those Scarlett O’Hara dresses for her.
6. No men are going to watch this anyway. Maybe we should call Fabio?
The mid 90’s were a golden period for Jane Austen adaptations. There was the 1995 Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth, and the movie of Sense and Sensibility directed by Ang Lee, with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. Initially released only in art house cinemas, Persuasion was lifted on the wave of Austenmania, and over time, the critical reception improved dramatically. Meanwhile, the DVD made its debut.
This version of the cover features a relatively chaste kiss exchanged by the two lead actors. The film features a different kiss at the end, one which created a minor controversy because of its non-Austenness. The filmmakers and Amanda Root defended it, saying that after the extreme sexual tension in the rest of the film, it would be wrong not to provide some relief. After all, film is a visual medium.
The film kiss occurs in the midst of a parade with Carnivalesque stilt walkers and a fire-eater (in a not-so-subtle reference to the smoldering passion of Wentworth and Anne). The marketing kiss comes from a publicity photo taken in an empty street.
The final American product, with its fake rose bower, is saccharine by comparison. It was felt necessary in both American versions to include a stately home in the background. Almost as though they knew that Downton Abbey was going to happen, and they were reaching for it even then… because American women fantasize more about big houses than big anything else.
Since then, we have seen a few variations on the cover. This Russian version includes a different stately home, and also Wentworth’s rival, Mister Elliot!
Haha! I have to admit that if I were a marketer presented with these two grim visages, I might be tempted to replace them.
Some versions of the DVD are so bold as to leave off Captain Wentworth and include only Anne. This version is quite elegantly designed. But to judge from the reactions of viewers (amply recorded online), Wentworth is the main attraction in this film.
The whole episode raises some interesting questions about our perceptions of beauty. Now that the film is a beloved piece of Austeniana, does that make Ciarán Hinds and Amanda Root better-looking?
And since I am on the subject of Persuasion, this is the perfect time to show off a very special gift I recently received.
Go here to see more of Guylty’s amazing handiwork. I feel honored to be the recipient of this wee treasure.
For a visual animal like myself, your discussion of the various DVD covers was really thrilling. I love your comments on that. Persuasion is my favourite Austen novel, and I remember watching the 1995 BBC film in the cinema back then. It impressed me deeply – and one of the reasons for that was actually the fact that the actors chosen for the roles seemed to be so realistically chosen, not overly polished, not uber-attractive, but beautiful through the deeds and thoughts they were expressing as actors. That US DVD cover is just… ugh, and it completely misrepresents just about everything about this subtle and nuanced lovestory. As for the frequently recurring stately home – never really features much in the story, so WTH??? It really would stand the cover designers well if they actually *watched* the pieces they have to design covers for. Hmph.
As for the shrine – I am so happy that I was finally able to return the massive favour you did me last year with your interpretation of a RA shrine. It was absolutely no hardship for me to think up a shrine for Mr H, on my watchlist ever since Persuasion 😉 And I am now *gagging* to hear about your London experience!!!
Thanks! I am working on a post about Hamlet–trying to fit it in during the last two weeks before school starts again… alas, real life intrudes!
RL first. But really looking forward to whatever you have to say about Hamlet!
I hope you don’t mind spoilers? Someone in the press made a snide remark about fans warning of “Hamlet spoilers,” but the fact is that even when the plot is known, a review can give away a lot about the sets, direction and so forth.
LOL – spoilers for Hamlet. ROFL. Damn, I am sounding patronizing. And no, I do not mind spoilers at all. I recently listened to a fabulous Hamlet audiobook 😀 and the plot is known to me.
Yes, I think I might know which audiobook you mean 🙂
😀 I am predictable
What utter bu*****s that cover is! Where do people come up with this stuff? It is so far away from the content and spirit of the story… shame really. I imagine somebody buying it for the cover and then wondering while watching where all the smooching was gone? Or maybe they would be more sensible and decide the film was much better than the cover.
Also strange what various countries chose for their version. What is up with the houses? People probably think all Austen film covers have to look like P&P.
I for one would have put him on it, writing the letter 🙂 Although i don’t mind the liss photo either.
The shrine is just gorgeous! Now i am sitting here smiling wondering what he would think of being thus enshrined? 🙂
LOL. I’m sure he would say we are barking mad 🙂
I agree, I think they should re-do the DVD cover with Guylty’s pic of him writing the letter. That’s the scene that melts a woman’s heart…
Hi Linnet. Thanks for your work again. Eventually I read it twice grinning. Not only a second time to have another huge cupcake – but to grin and nod a bit more!
Thanks! I’ve had this one in the works for a long time, and this was the perfect moment to post it.
Love it. Can’t ever get enough of the Persuasion posts. Stately Home: Here I am again! lol
“The film kiss occurs in the midst of a parade with Carnivalesque stilt walkers and a fire-eater (in a not-so-subtle reference to the smoldering passion of Wentworth and Anne).”
Oddly, I never thought of it that way, though now that you mention it, I suppose it’s probable that the parade was meant as an external physical embodiment of the magic, passion and titillation experienced by the protagonists. However, what always struck me was that the parade was such an empty spectacle in contrast with their profound meeting. That climactic scene brings to my mind part of a poem called “Some Extensions on the Sovereignty of Science” by Alberto Ríos:
The hardest work of the last quarter of the twentieth century is to find
An edge in the middle. When something explodes, for example,
Nobody is confused about what to do—you look toward it.
Loud is a magnet. But the laws of magnetism are more complex.
One might just as well try this: When something explodes,
Turn exactly opposite from it and see what there is to see.
The loud will take care of itself, and everyone will be able to say
What happened in that direction. But who is looking
The other way? Nature, that magician and author of loud sounds,
Zookeeper and cook, electrician and provocateur—
Maybe these events are Nature’s sleight of hand, and the real
Thing that’s happening is in the other hand,
Or behind or above or below or inside us.
“Who is looking the other way,” indeed. I like your reading of the carnival. When I first saw the film, I thought of it in a more practical vein, because the noise and ado gave them cover to indulge in that kiss, which normally would have been off-limits in public. A stolen moment of delight…
Oh, that STUPID cover does piss me off! What the hell? I never realized this was the case- I thought there was some mistake! I happen to be on one of my occasional Jane Austen kicks right now- just finished listening to Sense and Sensibility, taking a quick break with Edith Wharton’s Summer (for RA-related reasons) but next up is Mansfield Park. Anyway, I know my previous Jane Austin kick was P&P-related and it happened to indirectly lead me to RA, so it was a very beneficial one, but the one prior to that was my Persuasion run, where I listened to it on audio then watched 2 versions, one with CH in 1995 and one with RPJ in 2007, both of which I enjoyed. But I could never “find” the one with the mystery actors in the DVD cover you showed above, and I assumed it was a mistaken listing somehow. Never did I imagine that the idiotic marketing team just pulled 2 models out of thin air- no mistake! Grrrrrrrrh.
Amazing, isn’t it? And so foolish in hindsight (no pun intended). For my part, I thought his Wentworth was ravishingly handsome from the moment I laid eyes on him. And I thought Amanda Root was perfect for the role, not a movie star beauty, but she has lovely eyes, very expressive.
Hindsight, LOL. Yes, as I said I enjoyed both versions, but shallow one that I am, and not familiar with either of the actors playing Capt. Wentworth, I picked the RPJ one first because yes, he did look the more classically handsome, and I liked it. Then I moved on to the older version, and found myself actually preferring it. CH didn’t strike me right off as handsome, but his manliness definitely grew on me, and the chemistry was better in the older version. I also thought Amanda Root was superior, despite her more homely appearance, in her portrayal.
Yes, I think chemistry and sexual tension is more important than whether the actors have movie star looks. If the feelings are there onscreen, it draws you into the story far more than looks do.
Oh, I got so carried away I forgot to mention… THE SHRINE!! Lovely work, as always… that Guylty is one in a million! I didn’t know she occasionally shrines outside-the-box, as it were (although there was once an April Fool’s joke involving Alexander Skarsgård that now, having watched a big chunk of True Blood in pursuit of my minor obsession with Joe Manganiello, I have to re-evaluate. Maybe a Skarsgård shrine wouldn’t be all that problematic… or a Manganiello shrine, for that matter….) LOL
They are both shrine-worthy in my opinion, but CH most of all 🙂
Lovely post! In my opinion the award for most despicable action taken to supposedly satisfy American audiences in a Jane Austen story goes to the “other-final” of Pride & Prejudice with Matthew McFadyen and Keira Knightley. I think Mrs Austen ghost was still revolting in her tomb (just in time to do so again for the zombie P&P 😦 ) when seeing her Mr. Darcy in bermudas and white shirt kissing his wife in a draft in front of Pemberley (OMG, I shiver when I think about it)
I’ve enjoyed very much that version of Persuasion, even if they were not “beautiful”, the necklaces not completely white or the atmosphere rather gloom. I’m longing for your review about Hamlet, Claudius is a character that fascinates me.
I am rewatching Persuasion after reading your post. Both were perfect for their roles. Ciaràn Hinds renders the character perfectly. He’s so sweet in the scene of the tea shop and before the ball. OMG truly heart melting. The shrine is beautiful, top class and elegant.
Thank you so much! Yes, he is heart-melting in that film. I think it’s the vulnerability he has in spite of looking so manly. He never had Darcy’s social position, so the rejection stung much more! But he’s also confident and mature when he comes back… the genius of H.’s performance is the subtlety of his facial expressions, I think. When I screen capped it, I noticed all these micro-expressions flitting across his face. Truly amazing.
Yes, I did not much care for Keira Knightley as Elizabeth, or McFayden striding through the mist. I never met a version of P&P that I utterly hated, but I have not read the “zombie” one (and don’t expect to).
Working on Hamlet post, but horribly busy right now. If only I had one more week of vacation…
First, your custom made, otherwise Off Topic Guylty shrine is a winner and a treasure.
Second, anyone who thinks Ciarían Hinds isn’t to die for, young or older, ought to have his head examined. He may not typify traditional beauty, but he’s just so –manly. ( it was a he, I am certain) Persuasion is one of my favorites, too. I didn’t “mind” the version with Rupert Penry Jones because I like him – but I think he was miscast, all things considered. I find myself watching the CH version over and over.
The US cover~ Wentworth looks about 15! Seriously, I totally agree with Perry~There’s #Something about Ciarán that makes women stop in their tracks. He, undoubtedly has the most piercing hazel green eyes that seem to penetrate to the depth of your soul and his smile is wondrous. I’ve always thought him an extremely striking man with beautifully chiseled high cheekbones. Having personally met him, I may say one is totally disarmed….He’s just so lovely and he’s such a #darlin’ that he makes you feel at ease. I love the discussion at Brooklyn College~ Come on ~ The Guy’s a Hunk and ain’t no one gonna tell me any different and take that from one who knows!
Ciaran discusses Persuasion Brooklyn College https://youtu.be/NLUQVKw7EgY via @YouTube
Thanks for the link, says the girl from Brooklyn.
Great link and I could not agree more. In person he is even better. The Gaze…. very disarming 🙂 It swept all coherent thought from my mind!
Oh, that’s lovely. For me, the CH version is definitive of course, but I am a sucker for almost anything Jane Austen. I only draw the line at zombies.
I agree–he’s very manly looking, which causes him to be typecast as a villain or paternal authority figure. This amuses me no end because in real life he’s very sweet and soft-spoken 🙂
That gift was fantastic! An artist friend of mine also does assemblage art in recycled tins. I think they are amazing and whimsical and fun!
Thanks! It is a real treasure. One of the great pleasures of fandom is the creativity it inspires.
The shrine is delicious, right down to the last flicker of the tiny candles. How lucky you are, but that you already know.
The first time I saw “Persuasion”, I came to it by accident when changing television channels. I came in right at the scene when Wentworth was writing his letter to Anne, so that I saw the ending before the beginning. The circus scene made me wonder if I wanted to watch the whole movie, it was so discordant to the rest, but that phrase, so intimately spoken, “I tried to forget you, I thought I had,” and the hand clasped, is I think, the most romantic I will ever see. It made me hold my breath and I didn’t even know the rest of the story or the name of the movie.
On finally seeing the movie from the beginning, the first fifteen minutes are all about the great house, losing the house, and setting up the story. Frankly, it was all pretty boring, with little tell what a wonderful romance was coming.
The covers did not surprise me as I come from a generation where romantic novels always had glorious beauties, who had long (and lots) of hair and heaving breasts. Are posters better today than in 1995? I’m not convinced they’re much improved after looking at the posters for Agent 47.
That’s a great story about running across “Persuasion.” Once it gets rolling and Himself shows up, the sexual tension is almost unbearable 🙂
I read those heaving bosom novels as a girl, when the first sexually explicit romances appeared. I remember reading “Sweet Savage Love” with a girlfriend and loving it (in spite of the rape scenes, which didn’t bother me at the time). I still applaud any book that is written to please women, whether it aspires to be art or not.
I am outraged!!!
Reminds me of the US re-make of Queer as Folk back in the 90’s, when they chose a whole cast of “model types”, quite unlike the UK original series, which featured a bunch of credible “Northern” lads.
Exactly. Give me a credible Northern lad any day 🙂
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Ha! That looks like a young Brooke Shields with more clothes on than she wore in Lagoon! Jane Austen would not have approved and damnit, nor do I! The shrine is just gorgeous, Guylty is one incredibly talented person.
Too true, she does look like Brooke Shields. I remember that Lagoon movie (all too well).
Guylty is talented indeed, and has a very inspirational Manly Muse 🙂
Ps give me a credible Northern lad any day as well, hang on, I already have one! 😁
I fell in love with Persuasion the first time I saw it on the BBC when it first came out. It still remains one of my fave Austen adaptations, along with the other mid 90s ones you mention: Pride and Prejudice 1995 which made me fall in love with Colin Firth and Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson who I already loved.
I love love love that you have the Persuasion/Ciaran Hinds shrine! It’s is utterly beautiful.
Thank you! I fell in love with Guylty’s RA shrines early on. I am honored to own the only non-Richard shrine in the series 🙂 A treasure.
Yes, my favorites are the 90s adaptations too. The later ones are fun to watch, but somehow for me they miss the mark. Especially Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett. Just a wrong piece of casting.
While I like Matthew McFadyen OK, he just was not ‘my’ Darcy. But then, so far no one can live up to Colin Firth on that front for me anyhow. The McFadyen Darcy felt more Bronte-like than Austen-like to me, so, while I’m not a big Keira Knightley fan, I was OK with her as Lizzy, it was Darcy (and that first proposal) which annoyed me most. Once I try to separate it a bit from the book and the 1995 adaptation I find I do enjoy seeing it after all.
Speaking of Pride and Prejudice – they made a modern version webseries of it with Lizzie Bennet as a grad student living in the US. I saw it as it came out and watched 2 epsidoes a week religiously. I was totally addicted, I’ve got to say that it is my second fave adaptation of the book! It’s all up on YouTube, if you care to see it. 102 episodes that are each around 5 minutes long, so it can take a while to finish 🙂 : https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL6690D980D8A65D08
Thanks, I’ll check it out!
I do agree about the Brontë-ness of McFayden. Isn’t that the one where he is striding through the mist in the long coat? That is so 19th century swooning Romantic and so not-Austen. Pleasurable in its own way, but not true to the spirit of the original.
Yeah, the striding through the mist thing really was gorgeous. Not Austen, but gorgeous, so when I watch it like that (reminding myself this is not really Austen we see here) then I really do quite enjoy the movie. 🙂
Simone Nardi said:
Linnet look at the cover of this DVD, Japanese:
Thank you Simone! Himself looks very handsome in this photo, and Amanda Root is smiling, which is a rare thing and really lights up her face!
I watched this version of Persuasion for the first time last night and was utterly enchanted. I think both Ciaran and Amanda are attractive and had great performances! Now I want a pocket shrine of my own. I’m late to the party on this post, but I wanted to thank you for writing it and sharing your thoughts!
Many thanks, Hannah! I hope that you’re able to watch many more of CH’s (and Amanda Root’s) performances. Pure pleasure!