Persuasion Review – IGN

Persuasion premieres July 15 exclusively on Netflix.

When it comes to adapting a classic novel to film, there’s a pretty easy formula to abide by in terms of retaining value: it should strive to at least understand, and hopefully, appreciate the soul of what makes it worth adapting in the first place. In the case of Netflix’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic 1817 work Persuasion, the movie instead reeks of some executive who determined women still love that “Austen chick” and that Fleabag woman, so why not mush them together with “hot actors” in fancy clothes ? Directed by Carrie Cracknell and adapted by screenwriters Ronald Bass and Alice Victoria Winslow, their version of Persuasion has the gorgeous Dakota Johnson transforming the inherently mousy character of Anne Elliot into a boozy, weepy, and unabashedly charming spinster who constantly shares her inner thoughts straight to the camera as she still pines for the man who got away. Oh, that Jane Austen where with us today, I would pay exorbitant sums of money to instead read her notes on this screenplay because the takedown would be delicious.

If you’ve never read Austen’s Persuasion, the slow burn book is about regret and lost love, seen through the eyes of people pleaser Anne Elliot. Eight years prior, she’s persuaded to give up the man she loves, Captain Frederick Wentworth, because her snobby mentor and family don’t think he’s rich enough. Both are heartbroken, so he goes to sea to nurse his ego while she is stuck in the role of family caretaker, reduced to playing agony aunt to her terrible father and sisters. The film mostly keeps that narrative spine of the book intact, opening eight years post breakup when the still unmarried Anne and Wentworth meet once again.

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The film forges its own path in portraying Anne as the bright star of her family and extended family. She’s beautiful, self aware, snarky, and quite frankly, a catch among women, so how she hasn’t been scooped up by any other suitor is a huge logical flaw from the get-go. And when Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis) sweeps back into her orbit, he looks at her like he’s beyond besotted. There’s nary a hint of anger in Jarvis’ performance, just simpering heart eyes and a lot of literal sighs directed right at her. All that which means, there’s nowhere for these characters to go, or grow, or attempt to give us a hint of delicious romantic tension. Even Anne’s mentor, Lady Russell (Nikki Amuka-Bird), who dissuaded her from the Wentworth engagement, early on in this adaptation apologizes for the bad advice which effectively snuffs out another obstacle.

What’s left? Anne breaking the fourth wall as she roasts her narcissist father (Richard E. Grant) and younger married sister, Mary (Mia McKenna-Bruce), for their selfish behavior., as well as a lot of sad-girl crying while cringingly moping over trinkets from her failed relationship. And then there’s a lot of anachronistic dialogue read throughout the screenplay, such as Anne saying, “He’s a 10. I never trust a 10” about her cousin, Mr. William Elliot (Henry Golding), or Wentworth sharing that when he’s on the high seas in difficult situations, he often thinks, “What would Anne do?” Curious, I had no idea there were memes in 19th century England.

Even worse, there’s a lot of Anne being turned into a rom com heroine in the model of Bridget Jones, as she glugs wine directly from the bottle or verbally erupts with loud, embarrassing, public proclamations about prior wedding proposals. And Anne talking to the camera means the movie excessively leans on telling, rather than showing, so we lose a lot of scenes where characters could be speaking to one another. The aforementioned Amuka-Bird and Golding are some of the most interesting casting choices in the movie, yet they’re reduced to cameo parts. And in the case of Golding, who is supposed to be the cousin who almost wins her heart, he’s given an original story beat where he admits to Anne that his sole goal is trying to keep his inheritance from his father. It’s an interesting reframing of their relationship, but it renders any romance between them as ridiculous. Anne’s too smart to give herself over to a cad who’s just shown all his cards, so the script slices away another interesting story turn to, I guess, shore up the love story between Anne and Wentworth. The only problem is their chemistry is just ok.

With neither character having to learn anything about what their estrangement has done to them, or to have to fight to be with one another again, their romance is like watching an amiable walk in the park. It’s ho hum with the original story gutted of what makes it such a satisfying romance in the book. And oddly, this adaptation of Wentworth is arguably the most reduced version of the character in any translation, as Jarvis is directed to play him pining softly, never showing any of the qualities that an almost Admiral might have in regards to having loved and lost Anne .

As far as the story goes, it might as well not even be an adaptation of Persuasion.

For Austen purists, this version of Persuasion only gives up the goods when it comes to the English locations and the lovely costume design. But as far as the story goes, it might as well not even be an adaptation of Persuasion. The filmmakers could have applied all their modern tropes in peace and pissed off far less of their core audience. And for those who could care less about the Austen of it all, this is still a lukewarm offering that wants to have its period piece aesthetic but reject everything else that makes a memorable period piece. It’s schizophrenic and deconstructed to the point of being disappointingly hollow.

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