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Article: Persuasion (2022) - The Austen Blog Review

Persuasion 2022 - Still
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Persuasion (2022) - The Austen Blog Review

Persuasion 2022 movie
“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope...I have loved none but you.”
Jane Austen, Persuasion
"Anyone that attractive must have an angle, because he’s a ten - I never trust a ten."
-- Persuasion (2022)

The reviews for Netflix's new adaptation of Persuasion have arrived swiftly and brutally, with its Rotten Tomatoes score settling at time of writing at a tepid 32%. Temperatures began to rise around this production when another adaptation starring Succession's Sarah Snook was shelved indefinitely, presumably by fears over the competition. The trailer that followed served to further stoke the fire of online discourse, with many criticising the apparent Fleabagification of Austen's work, Dakota Johnson's Anne looking to camera and careering haphazardly through the fourth wall. Fans of Austen awaited the Netflix notification with trepidation, and what we got was, well, a confirmation of a lot of fears.

Persuasion, being Austen's final complete novel, is generally regarded as her most mature and technically accomplished offering. It is also less frequently adapted for the screen than the likes of Emma and Pride and Prejudice, with this 2022 attempt being the only movie adaptation listed on Wikipedia, though straight-to-TV adaptations also exist in the generally well regarded 2007 adaptation starring Sally Hawkins, and a 2020 version for Hulu entitled Modern Persuasion, also tepidly received. The miniseries has been a much more popular format for Persuasion, which I think reflects the slower, more reflective pace of the novel, allowing the subtle social politics and more complex emotional dynamics to have the breathing room they deserve.

Why Carrie Cracknell decided to veer away from the mature to the juvenile isn't much of a mystery - the popularity of Phoebe Waller-Bridge's fourth-wall-breaking, wise-cracking Fleabag, combined with the salacious drama of Bridgerton seem to be the commercial drivers of these creative decisions. Throughout Persuasion, Dakota Johnson's Anne Elliot frequently talks directly to camera, spouting desperately anachronistic lines like, "We're worse than exes, we're friends." Whilst the tone of this soliloquising feels like it's occurring outside of the drama of the plot, Anne is frequently disrupted by other characters, suggesting that her tendency to chat away to herself in 21st century youth-speak is somehow diegetic. This is easily the clunkiest part of the entire production, with some of Austen's most considered and technically excellent writing reduced to platitudes and catchphrases that produced the same unpleasant shock that I experienced when I discovered, upon unravelling it for the first time, that the Forever 21 yoga mat I had purchased had 'Namastay in bed' printed along the top edge. 

Johnson's Anne spends much of the film weeping in bed because she just fancies Wentworth so much, or otherwise tailing the other characters at ten paces, making flat observations of the world around her. The interactions she does have with the other characters are painfully expositional, with Lady Russell kindly explaining to us that, "Marriage is transactional for women - our basic security is on the line.” For a seasoned viewer of the Regency romance, the constant need to establish the most basic social rules in the text of the script will be absolutely agonising viewing.

I disagree with suggestions that this movie is necessarily woefully miscast - the actors seem to be doing their absolute best with what they've been given. Dakota Johnson's accent work blends well, though she does have, as Twitter users have remarked, a distinctly 21st century look about her. Richard E. Grant's Sir Walter is, as expected, absolutely delightful, leaning heavily into the vanity of his character; Mia McKenna-Bruce is also a stand out, playing hypochondriac and hesitant-mother Mary with charisma and a hilarious dryness. Nia Towle also captures the endearing naivety of Louisa perfectly.

The greatest weakness of casting is in Cosmo Jarvis' Wentworth, who feels disconcertingly middle aged for a character who is only in his early thirties.  I'm not sure why he felt it necessary to put on such a gruff accent, which at times felt like it might veer into an impression of Matt Berry. The combination of his excessive surliness with the immaturity of Johnson's Anne results in not the love match matured and deepened by time that we get in the book, but an impression of a teenage on-again-off-again relationship between two grown adults who fail to communicate effectively. Moments of dramatic tension tend to peter out; I had a lot of hope for the moment at the operatic performance where Anne is quietly crying and Wentworth looking downcast and frustrated, but the tension is cut short. What I would have loved to see is the camera lingering on this shot for the duration of the song, leaving the audience begging someone, anyone to say something. Instead, after a few moments, the tension is cut by both Anne and Wentworth deciding to leave mid performance. 

I have no desire, however, to relentlessly criticise this movie, so let's have a look at its redeeming qualities. Besides the performances which, as I have already mentioned, are doing the best they can with the ropey material provided, the set and sound design have moments of real loveliness. The confectioner in Bath where Anne and Wentworth bump into each other stands out in my mind as being particularly pretty. The scoring and music by Stuart Earl, though it doesn't have the period feeling of something like Marianelli and Thibaudet's compositions for Pride and Prejudice (2005), has strong romantic and cinematic feeling. Birdy's track 'Quietly Yours', written to play over the final scene and credits, seems to understand the sentiment of the novel better than the movie itself. 

I think that ultimately this movie's failure can be attributed to the misapplication of style to the source material - Anne Elliot isn't a wise-cracking teenager who spends her days confined to her room throwing tantrums about the boy she likes not fancying her back. You know who is though? Catherine Morland. Okay, maybe  I'm being a touch harsh, but Northanger Abbey does feel like the more obvious choice for the stylistic choices made in this adaptation. Northanger's self-awareness and obvious satire is clear fodder for an adaptation in this style. 

The contrived chase scene at the end between Anne and Wentworth fails to stick the landing, inserting false drama into a plot which is driven not by action but by agonising inaction - the plot of Persuasion is itself half agony, half hope. This is entirely lost in this adaptation. It might be time to get that Sarah Snook adaptation off the shelf - I need a palate cleanser. 

Ellen White is editor of the Jane Austen blog. If you would like to contribute to the blog, she would love to hear from you. Follow this link for more details.

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9 comments

Enttäuscht von Annes Darstellung. Es fehlte an Tiefe und Subtilität, es fehlte Austens Komplexität.
https://thingsfrommars.de/

Emma

First time I watched it, it was okay. Watching it again, without the prejudice of having read Jane Austen’s Persuasion a few times, I enjoyed the movie more. The movie has Anne and Fredrick being cold to each other after 8 years separated. Fredrick says, in a beach scene when alone with Anne, “I’ve lived with a thousand different versions of you…some to rail against, some to cherish.” They meet as ex’s with baggage. In time, the cherished version of each other wins over. The “rail against” version fades and they become friends. As Jane Austen writes happy endings, they are again, lovers.

Stacy David

I was so looking forward to this movie as Persuasion is one of my favorite books. I read it at least once a year and I am always in love with Jane Austen’s beautiful prose. This movie is a mess. Wentworth looks like a stable hand, Anne is frivolous and a little mean, the Crofts have almost no role in the story, Mr. Elliot and Mrs. Clay!! I was just completely disappointed. I wonder if the screenwriters and the director even read the book…and if they did, they certainly didn’t understand it. They took a perfectly elegant novel and turned it into a ditsy rom com..
if anyone has a way to convince Emma Thompson to take on Persuasion…
Please do it.

Barbara Johnson

I didn’t like the latest adaptation of Persuation it was an insult to Jane Austin ‘s wonderful writing . Cosmo Jarvis Wentworth. was rather wooden Johnson s Ann didn’t match the original character at all . I will continue to enjoy Ciaran Hind’s Wentworth and Amanda Root ‘s Ann. By far the best production of Persusation

Lynda Masting

As my favorite novel (and that is saying a lot, I love them all) I nearly stopped watching 15 minutes in. I was so disappointed. I think the film makers must have thought they needed to “dumb down” the language and plot in order for a modern audience to appreciate/understand. I’ve waited years for a really “great” adaptation. I’ll keep waiting. Beautiful photography and the acting was above average….it needed a screenplay written by someone who understood the novel.

Rhonda Williams

“Northanger Abbey does feel like the more obvious choice for the stylistic choices made in this adaptation.”

Yes! That’s a really good point I hadn’t thought of. I can absolutely imagine Catherine Morland chatting directly into camera. Netflix, take note! :)

Darin

Four words: Amanda Root, Ciaran Hinds

Lynn Schnitzer

There was a wonderful BBC2 TV film starring Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root in 1995. Very hard to find on imdb as it is listed as “Screen Two”.

It actually got a cinema release in some territories outside of the UK, its fab and well worth a watch

Karina

I absolutely hated this adaptation. Persuasion is my favourite Austen novel and Anne my favourite character.

Teresa

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