Director: Carrie Cracknell
Writer: Ron Bass, Alice Victoria Winslow
Based on: Jane Austen’s novel
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Cosmo Jarvis, Richard E. Grant, Yolanda Kettle, Jordan Long, Simon Paisley Day, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Lydia Rose Bewley, Henry Golding
Seen on: 13.11.2022
Many years ago, Anne Elliot (Dakota Johnson) was engaged to Frederick Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis), but took the advice of her motherly friend Lady Russell (Nikki Amuka-Bird), as well as listened to the opinions of her father Sir Walter (Richard E. Grant) and her sister Elizabeth (Yolanda Kettle) and dissolved the engagement since Wentworth didn’t have much standing. Quite by coincidence Frederick is back in her life after years in the Navy and has made a name for himself as well as a fortune. Anne is convinced, though, that he will never forgive her for her past actions. And when her cousin William Elliot (Henry Golding) starts courting her, she might be getting another chance, despite being alread 27 years old and still unmarried.
For months, I have been looking at this film and wondering whether I should watch it. The trailer looked like things would not go well, but not watch a Jane Austen adaptation? I finally caved and watched it despite everything. Now I can confirm what I thought from the trailer holds true for the film: It might not be a bad movie per se, but it is such a bad adaptation that it doesn’t really matter.
Persuasion was Austen’s last novel, and while it is a funny novel, there is a maturity about it that gives it a more serious, wistful tone. It is, after all, a novel of regret and not getting lost time back, even when things are righted in the end. This adaptation of Persuasion completely misses this. The Anne we get here is constantly shown as a child, always ready with a snarky comment, open hair blowing in the wind. The deep sense of regret that should run through the character can’t penetrate a film that is so preoccupied with making films modern with breaks of the fourth wall and the like.
I’m not saying that this can’t work with Austen adaptations – it worked excellently with Love & Friendship – but Persuasion is a maybe the worst choice among her books to get this treatment. If you want to go this route, why not go for Northanger Abbey (my second favorite Austen novel that gets continously ignored and I don’t know why)? It would work perfectly with its teenage protagonist and the meta commentary on gothic fiction.
I can imagine that for people who don’t know the book, this take on the story could work, possibly. Although even so, I have my doubts about the characterization of Anne in particular. From the way she behaves, you could never tell what age she is supposed to be. A petulant 15? A drunk 45? And that is just one small example of how the film just doesn’t have a consistent vision of what it wants to be. In any case, with the book at the back of my head, it was impossible for me to enjoy the film.
Johnson does her best with the messily written Anne, and Golding is charming as fuck. Jarvis feels a little bland, but there are enough colorful supporting characters to almost make up for that. The film looks good, that is for sure, and some jokes even work. But if you have any love for the novel Persuasion, you probably shouldn’t watch this film.