The rich, handsome, strategic William Elliott “could attach himself to a potato if it suited him.” So how does it end? Does her love life remain all mashed up or will one of her suitors get his chips? And how did I write a paragraph about potatoes without including a You Tuber joke? Check out my plot re-cap below. Note:This is purely about the new adaptation, not the novel. (If you’re after my review, it’s here — and my article on who should win Anne’s hand is here.)
Anne lives at Kellynch Hall with her vain father Sir Walter Elliott and brittle sister Elizabeth. Their other sister Mary is married and lives away. Anne still mourns the death of her relationship with young naval officer Frederick Wentworth, broken off eight years before due to his lack of prospects; her late mother’s best friend, Lady Russell, had advised Anne to finish with Wentworth and now tries to harry Anne along into moving forward with her life.
Thanks to Walter’s extravagant habits, the family is now drowning in debt. Lady Russell and the Elliotts’ solicitor Mr Shepherd recommend slashing costs and renting out Kellynch Hall, moving the family to Bath.
Anne and Lady Russell have a heart to heart. Anne is still madly in love with Wentworth, even eight years on; lady Russell apologises for persuading Anne to give him up.
Alone, Anne looks through her box of treasures from that relationship, including a lock of Wentworth’s hair, a cowbell, and a musical playlist he made for her. She also ponders that there has been no marriage announcement for him.
At a family dinner, Anne talks to camera about Mrs Clay, a widow (and daughter of the Elliott’s solicitor) who has attached herself to the Elliott family. Lady Russell worries she has designs on Walter, though Anne thinks her father would never marry beneath him.
The estate is rented out to Admiral Croft and his wife; Elizabeth and Walter decamping to a still-grand house on Bath’s famous Crescent, while Anne welcomes the Admiral and his wife to their home. Anne listens as his wife talks of her brother, Frederick Wentworth; and also hears that the life of a naval wife can be both loving and adventurous.
Anne travels to Uppercross, the home of her sister Mary Musgrove and the Musgrove family. Mary is claiming to be ill, and requires help with her adorable children. Anne reunites with Mary’s sisters-in-law, Henrietta and Louisa. Louisa suggests to Anne that she pretend to be stupid to get Wentworth to help her with basic tasks – he’s coming for dinner at Uppercross with the Crofts, and Louisa thinks Anne and Wentworth should get together. One of the Musgrove boys falls and injures himself, and Anne is manoeuvred by Mary to stay back from the dinner to look after him.
While the others go to there big house for dinner, she gets drunk, then calls to Wentworth out of the window before accidentally pouring the contents of a gravy boat over herself.
Next morning Anne is mocking Wentworth at breakfast when he walks in. She forgets she has a jam moustache she awkwardly talks to him.
Another Musgrove family dinner, this time with Anne in attendance, sees the group talking of marriages. Anne tells the assembled throng, including Wentworth, that Charles Musgrove originally wanted to marry her not Mary.
It is Louisa Musgrove, Charle’s sister, who is soon falling for Wentworth.
Next morning Anne is screaming into her pillow that she wants him to love her, and not be so cold.
On a walk, Louisa asks Anne if she minds Louisa pursuing him; Anne doesn’t seem interested in Wentworth, but Louisa also realises the looks they give each other indicate something more. The women bump into Charles and Wentworth and all continue their walk.
Anne, hiding behind a tree while peeing, overhears Wentworth telling Louisa that Anne, whom Louisa adores, is as judgemental as the rest. Still listening in, Anne is unimpressed by Louisa’s attempts at flirting with Wentworth, pretending to be stupid as she asks the captain to teach her to read a sextant. Anne hides as they leave then falls over, hurting her ankle.
The group them move to Lyme for a short break and to meet some of Wentworth’s Royal Navy friends. On the beach she meets Captain Harville, who asks her to speak to his friend Captian Benwick, who is still pining for Harville’s late sister Fanny. At the Harvilles that night, talk around the dinner table is of Wentworth’s worry for the life he would be forcing a wife into. Anne tells him not to patronise a future wife who can decide for herself, and might be living her own adventures at home.
She talks to the lovelorn and grieving Benwick, and they discuss the poet Byron. Anne says “only people who know loss can really appreciate Byron,” but also thinks they should limit him, as otherwise they will end up sadder than before. He will be happy again, she tells Benwick, and he thanks her.
The next day, climbing a steep path above the beach (surely a metaphor!), they bump into a handsome gentleman: it is William Elliott, Walter’s heir. He and Wentworth have a brief stand-off.
Later Wentworth spies Anne on the beach, and apologises to her about “that rude gentleman”. He shouldn’t be trying to protect her. He tells her how much he has thought of her over the years — the good and the bad — ands now wants her in his life, to put the past behind them, to be friends. She agrees. Wentworth tells Anne that because of her good sense, at sea he often thought “what would Anne do here?” about a situation. He tells her she would make a great admiral if only society would allow it. Wentworth takes his leave, while Anne says pointedly to camera that “now we’re worse than exes; we’re friends”. She goes for a swim as Wentworth watches her from the rocks.
At her lodging Anne sees William; she’s chilly but flirty. She watches him out of the window, leaving for Bath in his carriage, which she relaises has the Elliott crest on the side. Asking her sister, she discovers he is their cousin and her father’s heir. (She clearly knows of him but has never seen him.) She and Mary explain the situation to the Musgrove sisters: Walter and William do not speak as Walter wanted him to marry Elizabeth to keep the title and estate in Walter’s direct line. However William turned Elizabeth down and married an unknown American woman who is now dead.
On a stroll along the Cobb (the stone, two storey pier at Lyme Regis) Louisa laughingly starts jumping from one level to another, demanding Captain Wentworth catch her. It goes wrong and she falls, knocking herself out on the stone. Anne sends Benwick for a doctor. Louisa is taken back to the Harville’s, and a local doctor declares she will, in time, get better. Wentworth asks Anne to stay with Louisa; Mary is furious Anne is asked to stay, and insists she will instead. Anne and Wentworth share a carriage, with Wentworth confiding to Anne his guilt that by leading her on in her infatuation he is responsible for this. Without that, what might his and Anne’s lives have been? The carriage drops Wentworth at Uppercross to take to Louisa’s parents while Anne travels on to Bath.
Anne meets Lady Russell for a picnic but horror, they have forgotten the macaroons. They talk of Lady Russell’s late husband, and Anne asks if she’s thought of remarrying as she’s had offers. Lady Russell says she enjoys her own company, and she takes her European tours (presumably to meet men) when she wants to. In the carriage on their way home, they discuss the Elliotts’ upcoming dinner to which William has been invited. Anne can’t understand why he is courting their family now when he has nothing to gain from it — he will get the title and estate anyway on Walter’s death.
Anne returns to Bath, and her father’s new house. That evening, William is brutally honest with Anne about his intentions making contact with her family again: he is there to ensure Walter doesn’t marry his widowed (and socially lowly) companion Mrs Clay. He worries she and Walter could have a son, who would inherit the baronetcy and estate ahead of William. William is awful, but his honest rapaciousness is attractive to Anne, caught up in the constant lies and smooth talking of the society in which she moves.
At breakfast the next morning, Anne is hungover. Walter is delighted to discover that their very distant noble relations, the dowager Countess Dalrymple and her daughter the Hon Miss Carteret, are in Bath. The Elliotts, including William, pay the two woman a call for afternoon tea, though neither is interested in the Elliotts until Anne recounts a bizarre dream about being an octopus which suddenly engages the Dowager Countess. Leaving, Anne tells William he’s growing on her.
Lady Russell believes William likes Anne. Taking a walk with Anne through Bath, Lady Russell says she should accept if he asks, and Anne admits there is some feeling there; though she wants to follow her own heart, not be persuaded by others as to what is best for her. Anne is then startled to hear from her friend that Captain Wentworth and Louisa Musgrove are now engaged. “Everyone is talking about Louisa and her captain”, says Lady Russell. Anne is devastated, going home to sob in her bath.
Anne bumps into Wentworth in a cake shop while she waits for William to find horses so they can escape the pouring rain. William walks in just as Wentworth starts talking about an engagement. William invites Wentworth to a concert the next evening.
The Elliotts and Captain Wentworth attend the concert in Bath. Wentworth confess to Anne that he is wondering whether to take a job on a ship bound for Malta — he has to decide quickly as it leaves in a few days. While he is chatting to Anne, William Elliott appears and calls her away to translate something for her family, calling her “my Anne”. With Anne gone, William sys he hopes Wentworth can make it to the wedding.
The concert begins and Anne starts to cry. Wentworth leaves the concert part way through, and Anne goes after him. He confirms he’s decided to take the Malta job and leaves.
William Elliott proposes to Anne and says she has time to mull it over before giving her answer. Anne talks to her rabbit.
Mary turns up at the Elliotts’ house in Bath with her husband; Louisa’s accident has made her realise life is fleeting and hence she should spend more time away from her children. Mary tells Anne that Henrietta is marrying the Uppercross local curate, Rev Hayter, while Louisa is to marry the naval captain. Anne is asked to go to Mary and Charles’s Bath lodgings, where there is to be a reunion of the friends who holidayed in Lyme.
At the lodgings, they decide on drinks and card games as a send off for Wentworth.
Captain Harville tells her Benwick has found love, which has been unexpectedly difficult for Harville — he feels that maybe Benwick’s grief was keeping Harville’s sister Fanny alive. Anne tells him women would not forget so soon, loving much more and for longer than men. Wentworth overhears her. He finishes his letter to Admiral Croft, accepting the position on the ship gong to Malta, and gives it to Harville. Harville believes in the power of the universe, and wonders if Fanny’s spirit made Louisa slip on the Cobb, knowing where she would land. Anne is confused, and finally finds out it is Captain Benwick that Louisa is engaged to, not Captain Wentworth.
Wentworth has left, and Harville leaves to take his letter to Admiral Croft. Meanwhile Anne finds a note Wentworth has left for her.
In the note he takes issue with her belief that men forget sooner than women: “I am half agony, half hope”. he admits he is only in Bath because of her and all he does is because of her; he has to tell her even though he knows she is to marry William Elliott. His love has lasted longer than hers and he won’t ever love anyone else.
She races after him. As she emerges into the street, she sees William Elliott and Mrs Clay kissing. She wishes them happiness and runs on. She catches up with Captain Wentworth who removes his top hat and they kiss.
A wedding! No not those two — it’s William Elliott and Mrs Clay. Now Walter cannot marry her and produce an heir.
In the church, the loved up couples in the congregation smile at each other. Lady Russell examines a flyer in her prayer book for an “elegant and discreet” European tour, advertised as “for every appetite”. Anne’s voiceover tells us that it is fine to find love on your own terms, however unorthodox.
Sitting in a cliff meadow, Wentworth teaches Anne how to use a sextant, which she finds very easy. She is going to travel with him. They kiss — she is wearing a wedding ring — and she winks at the camera. (This scene harks back to the first one of the film, from their earlier romance, also cuddling on a clifftop meadow.)