Persuasion Review: There is a simple formula for preserving the value of classic novels. It should try to understand and maybe even appreciate what made it worthwhile to adapt it to film.
Persuasion Movie Review
Netflix’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1817 classic work Persuasion is a case in point.
It reeks instead of an executive who decided that women still love the “Austen chick”, and that Fleabag lady, so why not mix them with “hot actors” dressed in fancy clothes.
Carrie Cracknell directed the movie and Alice Victoria Winslow adapted it.
Their Persuasion adaptation features Dakota Johnson, a gorgeous spinster who transforms Anne Elliot’s inherently mousy character into a boozy and weepy woman who is unabashedly charming.
She still longs for the man who got away. If Jane Austen were here today, I would gladly pay exorbitant amounts of money to read her screenplay notes instead. The takedown would be delectable.
You haven’t read Austen’s Persuasion yet? The slow-burn book is about regretting and losing love. It’s told through the eyes Anne Elliot, a people pleaser.
Eight years before, her family and mentor are not rich enough to convince her to leave Captain Frederick Wentworth.
Both are devastated and he takes her to sea to feed his ego, while she remains in the role as family caregiver, reduced to being an agony aunt to her horrible father and sister.
The film mostly follows the narrative structure of the book. It opens eight years after the breakup, when Anne and Wentworth are again married.
Anne is the bright star of her extended family and family, and the film follows its own path.
It’s obvious that Anne is beautiful, self-aware, snarky and a great catch for women. So, how has she not been taken up by another suitor?
When Wentworth (Cosmojarvis) returns to her, he looks at the woman like he is in love with her.
Jarvis’ performance is void of any anger, but Jarvis does show a few heart eyes and literal sighs at her. This means that these characters have no place to go or grow.
They also don’t attempt to create a romantic atmosphere. Even Anne’s mentor Lady Russell (Nikki Amuka Bird), who discouraged her from the Wentworth engagement early in the adaptation, apologizes for the bad advice that effectively eliminates another obstacle.
What’s left? Anne breaks the fourth wall, roasting her narcissist dad (Richard E. Grant), and younger married sibling, Mary (Mia McKenna Bruce), for their selfishness.
There’s also a lot sad-girl crying, while moping about trinkets from her failed relationships.
There’s also a lot of anachronistic dialogue sprinkled throughout the screenplay. Anne’s famous line, “He’s 10”, is a good example.
“I never trust a 10,” Anne says about her cousin Mr. William Elliot, (Henry Golding), and Wentworth shares that when he’s on high seas in difficult circumstances, he often thinks of Anne. Curious, I didn’t know memes existed in 19th-century England.
Worse, Anne is made into a rom-com heroine by Bridget Jones. She guzzles wine straight from the bottle and makes loud, embarrassing public pronouncements about previous wedding proposals.
The movie’s excessive focus on Anne speaking to the camera makes it difficult to see characters talking to each other. Amuka-Bird, Golding and the aforementioned Golding make for some interesting casting choices. Yet they are reduced to supporting roles. Golding is the cousin who nearly wins Anne’s heart.
He has an original story where he tells Anne that his only goal is to protect his father’s inheritance. Although it’s a fascinating way to reframe their relationship, it renders any romantic connection between them absurd. Anne is too intelligent to surrender to a fool who has already shown his cards.
The script cuts away an interesting story to, I suppose, strengthen the love story between Anne Wentworth and Anne. Their chemistry is only okay.
Their romance is like a pleasant walk in the park, with neither of them having to learn about their estrangement or have to fight for their love again. It’s ho-hum, with the original story stripped of the heart and soul that made it so satisfying. Oddly enough, the Wentworth adaptation is the most simplified. Jarvis is asked to play Wentworth softly and without showing any emotion about Anne’s loss.
It might be better to not adapt Persuasion’s story.
Austen purists will be disappointed to learn that this Persuasion version sacrifices the English locations and beautiful costume design. It might be better to not adapt Persuasion as the story is told. They could have used all of their modern tropes without causing any upset and they would have pissed off a lot less of their core audience.
For those who don’t care about Austen, this film is still a disappointing offering. It wants its period piece aesthetic, but it rejects everything that makes a memorable period movie. It is schizophrenic, deconstructed to the point that it is disappointingly hollow.
Persuasion is a weak adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic romance. Dakota Johnson does her best for Carrie Cracknell, giving Anne Elliot a contemporary, charming version.
However, the screenplay’s fundamental reframing of Austen’s character takes away all that makes Austen’s book’s version compelling and quietly heroic.
This adaptation is also not brave enough to remake Persuasion into a contemporary version like Amy Heckerling’s Clueless.
It attempts to have its period piece cake with its elegant manors, beautiful clothes, but then it rejects that commitment with anachronistic dialog and fourth-wall breaking that only makes the movie completely schizophrenic