Persuasion tells the story of Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth. Eight years prior to the film's beginning, Anne – at the age of 19 – was engaged to Wentworth. However, her father Sir Walter Elliot and especially the family friend Lady Russell persuaded Anne in breaking off the engagement. Despite mutual feelings on both sides, Wentworth was not considered worthy enough in rank and wealth.
Eight years later, due to the careless spending of Sir Walter and his eldest daughter Elizabeth, the family is in financial difficulties. Therefore, the Elliot family residence, Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, has to be let out. Suitable renters are soon found in Admiral Croft and his wife. Mrs Croft is the sister of Frederick Wentworth, who has risen to Captain in the meantime and has become rich while serving in the Royal Navy.
While her elder sister Elizabeth and her father Sir Walter set off for their new residence in Bath, Anne is left to take care of further business in Somersetshire, including taking care of her hypochondriac sister Mary Musgrove, married to Charles Musgrove and living in a nearby estate.
Before she joins her father in Bath, Anne and Wentworth, on one of his visits to his sister Mrs Croft, meet once again. While staying with her sister Mary, Anne and Captain Wentworth are bound to meet frequently. Thereby, she has to witness Captain Wentworth's advances towards Charles Musgrove's young and lively sisters, especially to Louisa and wonders if he will ever forgive her or even love her again.