Persuasion is the latest movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s work. It leaves much to be desired
ersuasion is a new drama/ romance film released on July 15, exclusively on Netflix. The film is directed by Carrie Cracknell, with a screenplay by Ron Bass and Alice Victoria Winslow. It is an adaptation of a novel by Jane Austen, the esteemed 19th Century author of novels like Emma and Pride and Prejudice. Persuasion was Austen’s last and most mature piece of writing, but this loosely adapted plot is anything but. It has a modified story, with a lot of fourth wall breaking as the main character talks straight to the camera, a technique previously used in the Emmy-winning TV series Fleabag.
The lead role of Anne Eliot is played by the charming Dakota Johnson who is effortless in her witty expressions and well-timed reactions. It also stars Henry Golding as Mr William Elliot, Cosmo Jarvis as Captain Frederick Wentworth, Mia McKenna as Mary and veteran actor Richard H Grant as Sir Walter Elliot.
The movie begins with Anne remembering her past love affair with a working class sailor. She had to give up on him because of his humble origins and the persuasion of her family to not marry a man without any rank or recommendation. She makes an ironic remark regarding her present situation, which sets the tone for the entire movie. The story proceeds as her family goes bankrupt and they are forced to move out of their house and into a less expensive place in Bath. The return of Frederick Wentworth as a captain and a rich man disturbs Anne but excites her at the same time. Still mad at her, he tries hard to ignore her but mutual feelings rekindle. After a few awkward meetings, they agree to become friends. As the plot grows a little boring, enters the charming and handsome William Elliot, heir to Walter Elliot. Recently widowed, but very good at communicating his intentions, Elliot shows an interest in Anne. This newness and immense attention seem pleasant to Anne until she realises that she is still in love with Wentworth. The movie concludes as Elliot marries Mrs Penelope Clay, the former love interest of Walter. Anne reads the letter from Wentworth which starts with the memorable and very often quoted Austen dialogue “I am half agony, half hope”, and expresses his love for Anne. The film ends with Austen’s way of displaying the end of their separation as the two lovers lie in a lush meadow embracing each other.
Anne was supposed to have an internal conflict where she is battling to let herself feel the emotions while staying patient and calm, but in order to modernise her character, this adaptation portrays her as a heavy drinker who whines in a bathtub.
The film is based in the beautiful England countryside. Starting off with Kellynch hall, the story moves to Upper-Cross where Anne’s snobbish, narcissistic sister lives with her children and kind husband, to the happening of Lyme which pushes the plot. It concludes in Bath, where she protagonist spends time with Elliot and runs towards Wentworth at the end. The wardrobe is appropriate for the period novel. However, it does seem like the designers were inspired by the period drama Bridgerton and failed to bring anything new or extraordinary.
Speaking of newness and uniqueness, Carrie Cracknell has made a move towards modernising the Austen novel but ended up ruining the charm of her exquisite storytelling and dialogue. There have been a lot of modifications in the plot and characters. Fans of Jane Austen may not be too pleased with this modern take. Austen’s female lead characters are already ahead of their times and unique in the way they show their emotions, modernising them or trying to make them more relatable is like putting a hat on another hat.
The release of the movie has caused turmoil on social media as many people shared their disappointment with the “breaking the fourth wall” technique. It is supposed to make the audience engage more closely but here it serves no purpose. The characters lack depth. Wentworth’s character has been butchered. He appears vague in his ideas and has a limited range of emotions. His only two emotions fail to match the situation. There is no chemistry between him and Anne, no spark at all to give us a reason to disagree with her family when they persuade her to leave him. Dakota Johnson and Henry Golding have tried their best to keep the movie interesting till the end with their strong performances. There are a few newly added, cringe-inducing dialogues like “He is a 10”, surely Austen could never have thought of describing a man in this manner. Anne was supposed to have an internal conflict where she is battling to let herself feel the emotions while remaining patient and calm, but in order to modernize her character, this adaptation portrays her as a heavy drinker who whines in a bathtub
The movie is a fundamental misunderstanding of Austen’s most mature work. If you have watched Emma and Pride and Prejudice too frequently, you might as well watch Persuasion to remind yourself of the beauty of the earlier films.
The writer has a background in English literature. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org