If you’re looking for a dull and dumbed down modernization of Persuasion where 21rst century characters dress up and pretend they are living in regency, the new Netflix movie is for you.
If on the other hand, you are looking for an intelligent historical adaptation of Persuasion, then you should skip it and watch something else.
When Netflix launched the trailer for their new Persuasion adaptation, it soon became the hot topic on social media and many people highly criticized it. I was one of those who hated the trailer, but I was convinced that only by watching it I could form an opinion, so I was quite eager for the 15th of July to arrive so I could watch it. 30 min after the movie started, I felt it was even worse than the trailer, and I wasn’t sure how I would be able to finish it. I made an effort to continue, and the truth is that with time, the movie does improve, but it is still too bad to give it more than 1 star.
What I liked about it
- Wentworth and his speech at the beach
When I saw the pictures of Cosmo Jarvis portraying Wentworth, I didn’t like the way he looked, and I thought I would not like this Captain Wentworth, but in fact, he was the only actor capable of transmitting any emotion during the entire movie, and even though I still prefer Ciaran Hinds interpretation, I believe Wentworth was the only aspect I liked in this movie.
Although it is not in the book, Captain Wentworth’s speech at the beach, where he demonstrated how much he admires and loves Anne, was the only powerful moment of the entire movie!
I am unsure if I can consider this to be one of the aspects of the movie I liked because it was a little too much, and at a certain point a little irritating. Plus, it was one of the reasons why Anne felt so out of character by mocking and ridiculing her entire family, but I did like the idea of making the audience Anne’s confidant, I think this could have worked out really well if it weren’t for the horrible lines in the movie and the constant winking. As an introvert character, Anne’s thoughts and feelings are hard to read, using this strategy made it easier for the audience to know and understand her. Unfortunately, I didn’t like what I was shown of her personality, and takes me to my main quibble with this movie: Anne’s character.
What I disliked about it
- Anne Elliot portrayed as Bridget Jones…or completely out of character
Anne Elliot is completely out of character in this movie. If the people who made this film read Persuasion, they have a very different interpretation of Anne’s personality then I do.
Especially during the first 40 minutes of the movie Anne is seen constantly drinking and making a fool of herself. I felt ashamed just watching all these scenes and couldn’t stop comparing these attitudes and behaviors to the ones of Bridget Jones. I love Bridget Jones’s Diary, but that type of character works on that movie because it is a modernization, not and adaptation, plus, it actually is funny. Having a gentlewoman behaving as a trainwreck drunk teenager in a regency adaptation simply doesn’t work. Especially if that character is meant to be Anne Elliot!
In this movie Anne Elliot drinks wine straight from the bottle, puts jam on her face, says the wrong things loudly in polite society, and looks like the party’s fool.
When I read the book, I saw Anne as a clever, rational, considerate, and caring woman. As someone who puts others above her own happiness because she is truly a good person. In this movie we do see Anne putting others before her, but because of the constant communication she has with the audience, we get the feeling she is doing it out of obligation, because she has no alternative. It appears that she hates everyone around her and feels way too superior to any of them.
This Anne is sassy, playful and flirtatious. That is not the Anne I saw portrayed in Persuasion. And you may say, yes, but she doesn’t have to be exactly as Austen imagined her, we can give her personality some twists. We can, but why do we have to make all heroines the same? What is so wrong with having a heroine who is more introvert? Changing that about Anne is saying we all must be playful and spirited, and we don’t. The beauty of diversity is that. There is room for all types of heroines.
Also, I am not British, so I may be completely wrong about this one, but it seemed that at times Dakota Johnson forgot to give her character a British accent, and the difference between her accent and the one of other actors was also distracting for me. Maybe it is just me, and this is a wrong impression, so don’t take my word for this particular point, it was just what I, as a foreigner, thought.
- Modernisation dressed up as Regency
Where should I begin with this one… This adaptation is everything but historically accurate. I’ll try to break it down to a few points:
All the characters behave as if they have lived in the 21rst century the entire time. That is visible in their behaviors, such as Anne drinking nonstop, shouting over windows and on her pillows, Mr. Elliot and Mrs. Clay kissing each other in public as if it was no big thing, Anne and Wentworth going completely alone and unchaperoned during an entire carriage ride, Anne saying Wentworth has not written to her, as if he could, etc.
Everyone saw the “we’re worse than exes now, we’re friends” sentence in the trailer, but it is not the only situation where the lines are way too modern for a regency story.
There’s the “the thing about me is I am an empath”; the “he listens with his whole body, it’s electrifying” or “anyone that attractive must have an angle”, apart from the whole rating people’s looks where Anne is considered a 6 and Mr. Elliot a 10.
It almost feels the director believes the modern audience is too dumb to appreciate a story that doesn’t use modern expressions.
Anne Elliot mentioned cappuccinos and Lady Russel mentions macarons, as far as I know both were created way after the 1810’s. This is just a small detail, but when put together with all the other aspects that are historically inaccurate, it becomes quite annoying.
I know this may be a sensitive topic for many people, and again, there are different opinions about having a diverse casting in historical adaptations. I know some people believe it is positive to have a diverse cast in regency roles because it allows everyone to feel represented in these stories, but I personally believe it is somewhat disrespectful towards, for example, people of color to pretend they were not enslaved at the time. People of color have been abused for centuries and had to (and still have to) fight hard to have the same rights and treatment as white people, so pretending they didn’t have to go through all that hardship, lessen their struggle and pretend they lived as gentleman and ladies of wealth, is in my opinion, disrespectful and even dangerous, because it’s like building a narrative saying these people didn’t suffer to get where they are nowadays.
Some may have no issues with it, and maybe this is some people’s idea of humor, but having Anne overhear Wentworth’s conversation with Louisa Musgrove while trying to pee behind a tree or having her describe how she dreams about being an octopus sucking her own face (her actual words) to a room full of people is, in my opinion, just bad taste.
The movie is supposed to be funny and lighthearted, but I didn’t laugh one single time and I was bored to death by the middle of it. I do laugh with Austen’s witticisms, but believe me, there is no wit in this movie, just as there is no humor. Also, it feels a little inconsistent, assuming a very “light” and “pathetic” tone in the begging and getting a little more serious towards the end. I am not complaining about that, because I believe the movie starts very badly and improves a little with time, but if the goal was to make it a funny rom com, it failed miserably. I love rom coms, and this is not it. I didn’t even understand where they were going with the movie, because the tone from the beginning is very different from the one in the end.
Austen adaptations are always welcome, and people may like or dislike them. I personally disliked this one because I like to watch regency adaptations to travel to a different era. I like to witness the behaviors, way of talking and values of that era, that’s the whole appeal of these stories for me. I don’t watch historical adaptations to see 21rst century characters playing dress up, in fact, I don’t even see the appeal in that, although I am sure some people like it.
I am of the opinion that if you want to make a modern take of something you should do a “modern” take, and probably your modern story will be quite good, I’ve seen some modern adaptations of Pride and Prejudice that I liked, but they were actually moderns. Playing dress up is not one thing or the other and is bound to fail.
Summing up, Netflix’s Persuasion adaptation is a flop. It fails as a regency movie because it is everything but regency, it fails as an Austen adaptation because it completely distorted the main character’s personality, it fails as a rom com because it is not able to engage the audience in the love story, and it fails as a humorous adaptation because it is not funny at all. But hey…that’s just my opinion 😊