Netflix’s adaptation of the classic story will find few fans among Austenites
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Out of all of Jane Austen’s books, Persuasion is the one that still needed an excellent screen adaptation. Now Austen fans will continue to wait, because Netflix’s new movie version of the classic novel doesn’t do it justice.
For those who’ve read the novel, the film’s storyline won’t contain many surprises. Anne Elliot (Dakota Johnson) is the neglected middle daughter of a vain minor nobleman (Richard E. Grant), and her two sisters (Yolanda Kettle and Mia McKenna-Bruce) are just as proud and silly as their father. Unlike the rest of her family, Anne is sensible, but she regrets one great folly from eight years prior: She allowed herself to be persuaded to refuse a marriage offer from Captain Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis) on account of his poverty. Now, Wentworth has returned to England, and he’s made his fortune. Will circumstances, misunderstandings, and rival suitors keep the two apart?
Despite the movie’s beautiful cinematography and its faithfulness to the novel’s plot, Austen purists will find themselves disappointed with this new adaptation. In updating the story for a modern audience, Netflix robbed it of what made it special.
Anne possesses more goodness than any of Austen’s other heroines. She’s intelligent and sweet. She bears the injustices that her family heaps on her with an unassuming equanimity. She loves those around her with a steadfast kindness they don’t deserve. Netflix must have deemed Anne’s goodness too boring, because the filmmakers radically altered her personality.
In this PG-rated adaptation, Anne is ironic with a mischievous streak, and like her father and sisters she can act with some foolishness of her own. Anne doesn’t live with quiet regret. Instead, she drinks bottles of red wine alone to cope with her loss. She’s also impetuous and calls attention to herself in some cringeworthy scenes. This Anne has more in common with Louisa May Alcott’s Jo March than she does with any creation of Jane Austen’s.
Netflix also attempted to update the story in other ways. Here we have another instance of nontraditional casting for a story set in Regency England. People of European, African, and Asian descent all mix in the same social circles. I enjoyed some of the casting decisions, but some other modernizations didn’t work as well.
Anne continuously breaks the fourth wall to give viewers a glimpse into her internal world. In almost every scene, she looks directly at the camera to say something clever or give us a little wink. The dialogue, full of anachronisms and distractingly contemporary, often alludes to current trends.
To be fair, Persuasion isn’t a terrible movie in and of itself. There’s some enjoyment to be had. It’s just a terrible adaptation of Jane Austen.
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