A Study of Cinematography in the 1995 Film "Persuasion"
By a partial, prejudiced, and ignorant cineaste
Following are some thoughts on P2 from a cinematography standpoint. PLEASE keep in mind that I took exactly two (count 'em, two) film classes and I would hate to be examined by a true proficient. However, during my approximately forty or fifty viewings of P2 I have noticed some very interesting things about the use of camera movement in that film.
First, as a public service I have outlined the various types of cinematic point of view. Almost all films use a combination of several or all of these p.o.v.s.
Objective point of view: The camera is a "window," and the audience it outside the window looking in at the action (Boggs 127), for example, the scenes in Lyme where everybody is walking around on the Cobb. Another good example is the discussion around whether Charles and Mary should go to the Great House for dinner after little Charles' accident.
Subjective point of view: The camera shows us various details as the character sees or experiences them so that we share the character's emotions. (127, 131-132) A good example of this is the shaky hand-held camera showing the scenery around Kellynch as Anne leaves in the pig cart. We are meant to be seeing the fields, sheep, the last view of the house, etc. from Anne's perspective, thus the shakiness as she is jolted by her rude conveyance.
Indirect-subjective point of view: Not the character's actual point of view, but brings us close enough to the action that we are able to experience the character's emotions as if we did see the action from their p.o.v. (132) Think of the scene in Molland's from the time that Anne sees Frederick outside through their conversation inside, especially Anne's laughter at Frederick's stumbling questions after her health and her family's. We sense his confusion in her presence and her acknowledgement of his emotions.
Director's interpretive point of view: A manipulation by the director that forces us to concentrate on a specific detail, such as special camera angles, slow motion, close-ups, etc. (132, 134) A good example of this is the close-up of Frederick's hands on Anne's waist as he helps her into the Crofts' gig. Another rather obvious one is Louisa's swan dive. One of my personal favorites is the shot of Anne from outside the window of the house in Bath (between Molland's and the concert)--note the barbed-wire effect of the wrought iron, showing us how Anne is trapped in her elegant prison. And don't forget everybody's favorite: the close-up of Anne's hand grasping a chair for support when she sees Frederick for the first time after eight years and a half.
The length of a shot can increase or decrease tension. A series of long shots has a calming effect on the audience, while action scenes are usually a series of extremely short shots. There are many long, sweeping shots in P2. These circular shots are used throughout the film, but the longest and most complex of these shots occur during the scenes in Bath, particularly in the Elliots' house. I think Roger Michell was trying to emphasize the stupefying boredom and sterility of Anne's life there with these long shots, particularly in the way that the activity of the camera is contrasted to the activity (or lack thereof) of the inhabitants; however, I noticed that he used them at times in "Notting Hill" as well, so perhaps it is simply a Michell trademark.
It starts with the very first scene, which is a match cut: Anne's p.o.v., the rain outside the window at Uppercross, dissolving into a shot of Anne's p.o.v. of the rain outside the window in Bath. The camera backs away and then follows Anne as she turns away (looking very depressed, poor dear) and walks into the cold, white, sterile room where her father and sister are posed on the elegant furniture like statuary.
Cut to the happy family enjoying dessert. Sir Walter is telling his story about the five and thirty frights. The camera swoops in on him as it moves behind him, following the curve of the long oval table. The camera moves down in back of Anne's chair as they discuss Mr. Elliot. The camera is still moving but pans (side-to-side movement) back toward Mrs. Clay (leaning around the topiary) and then Anne. It continues to move around Elizabeth's end of the table ("Well, I don't know! It might have been! Perhaps."). The camera movement nearly completes a circle around the table.
Cut back to the drawing room. The camera is by Anne's head where she is reading. Sir W. is in the center of the room, reading the newspaper. "But here is news, most vital news!" At this moment, the camera moves, its speed reflecting the excitement of the Gang of Three over the news about Lady Dalrymple ("Please, God, let her not snub us!"). It swings around Sir W.'s fainting sofa, upon which Elizabeth and Mrs. Clay have descended. (Note Mrs. Clay removing a speck of lint from Sir W.'s coat!) Mr. Elliot is announced and enters as the camera rounds the sofa; he and Anne gaze upon each other and discuss Louisa's state of health while the camera follows the back of Anne's sofa and returns to its starting place. Another circle!
In both of these scenes, note that the camera is moving while the actors are mostly still. The circular movement brings us into the circle inhabited by the actors. It's like watching a play, but not static and boring. You know these scenes are not the result of 50 takes that have been cribbed together in the editing room. Especially in the latter scene, the actors have a lot of responsibility for making it work; they have to respond to their cues, remember their lines, and hit their marks perfectly, or everybody's late for lunch, if you follow me. I suspect that is one reason why the actors in this film are known as much for their theater work as for their film work.
The next scene I shall examine is the scene at the concert. Anne excuses herself from Mr. Elliot (who has just proposed marriage in his obscure way) to run down the aisle after Frederick. The camera follows her down the aisle, facing the back of the room. She calls after Frederick, who stops, and she stops with him. The camera moves behind Anne and Frederick, then follows as he tries to walk away; she blocks his path. At this point the camera is facing the front of the room; we see the audience turning to watch the confrontation between Anne and Frederick. They are joined by Mr. Elliot, trying to get Anne to return to their seats. The camera swoops around behind Anne, then back again as Frederick tries to excuse himself. She stops him; "is that not worth staying for?"; Frederick leaves; the camera follows as Mr. E. escorts Anne back to her seat. One of the remarkable things about this scene (besides the fact that all this action occurred in a single long shot) is the fact that we have seen all of the room and no camera or lighting equipment is present, no best boys, gaffers, etc. standing around waiting for instructions, no assistant directors, script girls, makeup persons are to be seen. Any lights must have been up in the ceiling. And I wonder how much collaboration there was between the director and the cinematographer? There seems to have been a conscious decision to use these long shots.
The last, and best of these scenes is the card party at the Elliots'. First we have an establishing shot of the card party. Anne walks into the frame, and the camera follows her into the room. Charles looks up and smiles as she passes; at the next table Elizabeth grabs her arm and scolds her; Anne takes a piece of marzipan and walks to the next table, where Sir Walter and Lady Dalrymple are concentrating on their game; walks past the Admiral, who talks about Napoleon escaping from Elba; then she walks over to Lady Russell's table and receives a lecture on marriage. The camera swoops around the table as Mr. Elliot takes Anne's elbow and begs an interview. The camera follows them to a little bench, where they sit; W.W. proposes, Anne pretends ignorance, then rises as the camera pans around to show Captains Wentworth and Harville. The camera moves in closer to Frederick as he announces his intention to marry Anne. The camera then cuts to a smiling Anne--the first edit since she entered the room. This shot is an amazing achievement. I would love to know how many takes were required to get it right. With this group of actors, however, I would imagine that no more than a few takes were necessary.
Addendum: I recently had the opportunity to meet Samuel West, who portrayed Mr. Elliot in the film. He was quite as charming in "real life" as his character is in the film and kindly answered my
interrogation film geek questions. He said the card party scene took nine takes, then looked thoughtful for a moment and added, "maybe twelve." I was astonished, and at that moment truly realized the sheer hard work and care and craftsmanship that went into making the film. The blocking alone must have taken forever! (Though really only Amanda Root and Sam actually move in the scene, everyone else is sitting down, until Ciaran Hinds and Robert Glenister walk through the door.) He confirmed that they used Steadicams for all the long shots with the moving camera (and seemed mildly surprised that I had noticed...poor guy has NO idea what obsessed Janeites will notice). He also volunteered the information that the card party scene was shot entirely by candlelight, using triple-wicked candles that burn with a very high flame. At this point I pretty much lost my assumed veneer of cool and started babbling about how there were no lights visible in the concert scene though we saw all four walls, yada yada yada, and he said that the scene at the concert was actually shot during the day, with daylight coming in some windows in the ceiling, which is why they needed no extraneous film lighting (and if you look closely, you can see them reflected in the shiny floor between the two rows of chairs). Unfortunately my time with him was short and I was unable to interrogate him ask as many questions as I would have liked, which was a shame, as he seemed quite forthcoming and willing to talk about it. But Sam, if you're reading this, thank you for being so patient with me and my fangirl friends. You're a true gentleman.
Boggs, Joseph M. The Art of Watching Films, Third Ed. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1991.