Though Dakota Johnson makes for a winning Anne Elliot, Persuasion struggles to recapture Austen’s magic in its desire to inject a modern touch.
Few authors have earned the kind of reputation that Jane Austen has. Her works still spark passion and interest among modern readers, and just the name Austen conjures a certain style and tone. It’s no surprise that the team over at Netflix, which has already found period romance success with Bridgerton, would wish to entice audiences with a fresh adaptation of Persuasion, Austen’s last novel. Director Carrie Cracknell and screenwriters Ron Bass and Alice Victoria Winslow have chosen to approach this novel in a way that has already confounded Austen fans: By giving it 2022 sensibilities. Though Dakota Johnson makes for a winning Anne Elliot, Persuasion struggles to recapture Austen’s magic in its desire to inject a modern touch.
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Rather than beginning at the start of a relationship, Persuasion picks up years after the end of one. Sensible and humble Anne (Johnson) was engaged to a poor naval officer, Frederick Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis), at a young age. But despite their strong bond, she was persuaded to end their relationship due to his seemingly insufficient prospects. Now in her late 20s, Anne finds herself thrown back into Wentworth’s life when her family is forced to vacate their expensive home. Suddenly faced with all she has lost, Anne must decide whether to finally follow her heart or officially move on. Unbeknownst to her, Wentworth is grappling with the same issues.
Related: Dakota Johnson Is A Modern Day Jane Austen Heroine In Persuasion Trailer
Cosmo Jarvis in Persuasion
When translating a beloved novel to the screen, it should be assumed that changes will be made, and that is okay. Very few books can be adapted faithfully, especially when it comes to one that relies so much on internal thoughts like Persuasion. To work around this, Bass and Winslow choose to have Anne address the camera directly, breaking the fourth wall to explicitly convey her conflicted feelings. In the hands of another performer, this would come across as very cheesy, and one can argue it doesn’t quite fit within a period romance like this. Luckily, though, Johnson is game to treat the camera — and, by extension, the audience — as a willing confidant. Her sly glances and honest confessions only endear the viewer more to her Anne, and Johnson certainly seems to be having fun with the role. Though this version of Anne has more spunk than she does in the book, Johnson plays her quite well.
However, the modernized approach this Persuasion takes still runs into some issues. There are bits of dialogue that try too hard to bring the 1817 story into 2022. For example, Anne pulls out a bundle of sheet music and calls it a “playlist” that Wentworth gifted her. At another moment, she describes the dashing yet calculating Mr. Elliot (Henry Golding) “a ten.” There could be a clever Regency romance that chooses to tell its story with modern phrases and elements, but Persuasion’s approach comes across far more awkward. Bass and Winslow might have been trying to find a new angle to bring to the classic story, but all it does is highlight just how out of touch the overall tone is. This isn’t helped by the fact that Persuasion brings Anne and Wentworth together far more times than Austen ever did. Rather than letting the distance between them lead to classic pining, Persuasion forces them into interacting on friendly terms, and this ultimately diminishes the love story, which is supposed to be rife with longing. If Anne and Wentworth are capable of spending time together, then what is to stop them from working through their past heartbreak much faster?
Dakota Johnson and Henry Golding in Persuasion
Storytelling choices aside, Persuasion is aided by its cast. As the central pair, Johnson and Jarvis have a sweetly earnest rapport that helps elevate the few moments where they are properly allowed to pine for each other. The other characters don’t always get many moments to shine, though Mia McKenna-Bruce deserves a shoutout for her performance as Anne’s vain sister Mary. Her casual disregard for her children and complete lack of selflessness makes for some genuine laughs. Golding also deserves props for playing a more nefarious suitor; after his breakout turn in Crazy Rich Asians, he seemed destined to always be cast as romantic heroes, so it is nice to see him switch things up a bit. Persuasion’s cast makes up for the more muted approach to production design and costuming that Cracknell employs. Those more well-versed in period costumes will no doubt take issue with certain choices made throughout, though the settings the characters inhabit do look quite lovely overall.
There are bound to be viewers less familiar with the source material who are enchanted by Persuasion. However, the modern touches are just too persistent to ignore, and they take away something that the movie urgently needed — genuine depth. Johnson is a charming leading lady and one could easily watch her play an Austen heroine many times over. It is just a shame that, in its attempts to be more modern, the filmmakers opted to overlook themes that could instead be played up to make Persuasion’s story more accessible to viewers. As seen with Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, it is possible to find present-day relevance in an older story. It just needs to be done on a deeper level than having its heroine drink copious amounts of wine.
More: Mr. Malcolm’s List Review: A Charming Period Romance Led By An Excellent Cast
Persuasion releases on Netflix Friday, July 15. It is 109 minutes long and rated PG for some suggestive references.
2 out of 5 (Okay)
Persuasion (2022)Release date: Jul 15, 2022
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About The Author
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Rachel LaBonte is one of Screen Rant’s core news editors, as well as a feature and movie review writer. A graduate of Emerson College, she majored in Media Arts Production while specializing in screenwriting. She’s been a writer ever since high school when she realized she was rather good at it and joined as many entertainment news clubs as she could while in school. Most notably, she wrote for Emerson’s website Emertainment Monthly, and one of her film reviews won an Evvy (Emerson’s student awards) for Best Review. Her deep love of movies led to her working at a movie theater for five years, which she loved despite the angry customers. An avid reader who constantly buys books before reading the ones she already owns, Rachel is a huge fan of superheroes (especially of the Marvel variety) and wizards and will likely never be able to catch up on all the movies/TV shows she longs to watch.
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