Film, Film Review

REVIEW: Persuasion (2022) dir. Carrie Cracknell

Netflix's contemporary adaptation leans too heavily on modern influences


Persuasion. (L to R) Dakota Johnson as Anne Elliot, Izuka Hoyle as Henrietta Musgrove, Nia Towle as Louisa Musgrove, Mia McKenna-Bruce as Mary Elliot in Persuasion. Cr. Nick Wall/Netflix © 2022

I want to preface this review by saying that Netflix’s Persuasion adaptation is not as bad as some critics are making it out to be. You just need to have the right mindset. It’s a solid choice for a wine night, particularly one with a drinking game involved (take a sip every time someone uses a term popularized within the last 5 years?). A cursory watch of the trailer will reveal whether this is the movie for you. If you hate every scene, don’t bother. Even if you love Jane Austen. Especially if you love Jane Austen. If you are a little taken in by the script’s irreverence, it’s a worth a watch, if only to engage in the ongoing Twitter takedowns.

Following the Fleabag trend of incorporating fourth-wall breaks, Persuasion’s Anne Elliot constantly makes comments to the viewer. I thought I would be annoyed by this, and at times, I was—it took away from the humor of the story, those moments where Anne could have given a choice glance or expression of wry acceptance in lieu of a whole aside. I did find, though, that Anne’s commentary mimicked her rich inner dialogue found in the novel. Female characters with intense inner worlds are an Austen trademark, and it felt fitting for Anne to be so talkative with the viewer while her family drones on.

The most chilling moment of the film comes early, when Anne’s narcissistic sister Mary describes herself as an empath. This isn’t the only case of prosaic passages being translated into millennial-speak, though. Later, Anne refers to Captain Frederick Wentworth (played moderately by Cosmo Jarvis) and herself as worse than strangers: “exes.” A final nail in the coffin is when Anne says of herself and Wentworth, “now we’re worse than exes. We’re friends.”

Persuasion. (L to R) Dakota Johnson as Anne Elliot, Henry Golding as Mr. Elliot in Persuasion. Cr. Nick Wall/Netflix © 2022

While I appreciate Netflix’s attempt to contort Persuasion’s tone into that of the modern day, the filmmakers come off as copying recent lingo, when they could be revitalizing. Many of the passages in Austen’s novel are amusing on their own, especially when delivered by the right actor.

The stars of Persuasion are funny enough. Mia McKenna-Bruce steals the show as Anne’s ridiculous younger sister Mary, Henry Golding plays Mr. Elliot’s self-absorption to a T, and Dakota Johnson understands Anne’s brand of witty observation well. Unfortunately, the dialogue distracts from these strong performances and gives the impression that the filmmakers are trying too hard.

In fact, the literal funniest scene of the movie is based on a tragic moment in the novel. Teenager Louisa tries to jump into Captain Wentworth’s arms, falls, and cracks her head on the pavement. It is entirely her own fault. I can’t say for sure whether this scene was meant to be humorous, but my money’s on no.

Persuasion’s primary love interest, Captain Wentworth, toes the line between sympathetic and unlikeable. One positive moment comes when Anne swims far out in the ocean, looking at some points as though she wants to Virginia Woolf herself. Wentworth watches, but resists his urge to “protect her.” Cosmo Jarvis lacks the chemistry with Johnson that could have made us root for him, whereas Henry Golding could develop chemistry with a goldfish.

I admire the efforts of Carrie Cracknell and co. to make this story modern, but the value in Jane Austen’s stories is their timelessness. This adaptation puts too much effort into appearing “of the times,” and not enough into making us care about the story’s outcome. While there are bright spots, Persuasion falls short of its ambitious aims and isn’t an Austen adaptation worth watching twice.

dir. Carrie Cracknell
109 min.

Persuasion will be available on Netflix starting 7/15.

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