Films, Books, Musings-With the Glamour of Old Hollywood and the Flair of the Retro

Friendly Persuasion- A Movie Review

In Movies on December 14, 2012 at 4:14 pm


Allied Artists Pictures Corporation.1956. Colour.

” I’m just his father, Eliza, not his conscience. A man’s life ain’t worth a hill of beans except he lives up to his own conscience.”

Set in 1862 during the American Civil War, Friendly Persuasion shows a Quaker Family in Southern Indiana trying to hold true to their pacifist beliefs in a time when the choice was not whether or not to fight, but for which side to fight.

Quakers are formally known as The Religious Society of Friends, they are a Christian denomination founded in 17th century England, who sought freedom from religious persecution by migrating to America and other countries. In a nutshell, they practise plainness, pacifism and believe in equality for all people. Though early American Quakers owned slaves, by the time of the civil war they had changed their views and no longer believed in slavery but they also did not believe war was the way to gain freedom. Some Quakers did go on to fight in the war but most did not. For their part, Quakers were involved in the Underground Railway which helped migrate slaves to the safety of the northern states.

In the film, based on the book by Jessamyn West, Gary Cooper plays Jess Birdwell, the patriarch of the Birdwell family, who are Quakers living in a town that also is inhabited by other citizens who are not so strict in their views. The Birdwell family each must deal with culture clashes. Little Jess (Richard Eyer) is spirited and sometimes must be reined in but he is good hearted and lovable. Teen daughter Mattie (Phyllis Love) is particularly finding it a struggle to be plain as she discovers romance, music and dancing. Josh, (Anthony Perkins) the grown son suffers most with a struggle to define his character as a young man when strength is gauged by physcial toughness and the willingness to fight in the war. Jess’s wife, Eliza (Dorothy McGuire) tries to keep steering the family back to their Quaker ways but even she can not stop the changes the Civil War will bring.

The role of Jess Birdwell was first offered to Bing Crosby and Montgomery Clift. Gary Cooper balked at playing the father of grown children, though he was 55 at the time of filming and he never watched the completed movie because he hated the way he appeared in the film, but I found him likable and believable. Both Katherine Hepburn and Ingrid Bergman turned down the role as Eliza Birdwell, yet Dorothy McGuire plays the role with convincing virtue and grace.

On a personal note, my ancestor William Nichollias was sent to Tasmania as a convict from England. He was a Quaker and became married to a colonial Quaker, Isabella Rayner in 1835 ,this was the first Quaker marriage in Hobart Town,Tasmania.

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