Book Adaptations: Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’ on Netflix

Screenshot of Dakota Johnson in ‘Persuasion’. Copyright goes to Netflix.

Hi! It’s Annie!

I am always more than willing to watch any new Jane Austen film to come out. I’m a huge regency fan and even more of a fan of anything written by Jane Austen. So when the two come together, I am always extremely excited! But I was definitely more hesitant than I usually am about this one. For one, the reviews that have come out regarding this adaptation of ‘Persuasion’ have largely been negative. But that really isn’t anything new for ‘Persuasion’, because I don’t think there has been a version of that book that’s been well received. Jane Austen fans are very protective over ‘Persuasion’ for good reason. It is probably one of the most auto-biographical pieces that Jane Austen wrote, which I’ll explain in more detail later. Personally, I haven’t read it yet because of the more somber tone of the novel. It’s known for being one of her slower novels and much of that because of how much the beginning of it tackles the main character’s battle with depression. And as someone who has been reluctant to tackle darker themes lately in the media I consume mostly for fun; I haven’t been overly motivated to pick up the book or even watch this film. But it being Jane Austen and regency made this an immediate must watch for me anyways. So was this watch worth it? MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

The Good:

Anne: I know a lot of people really disliked this version of Anne, but I can’t count myself as one of them. I know that Anne is more reserved and a lot less of a fun-loving character in the book, but I liked this side of the character. Not only did I find her to be extremely intelligent, but also incredibly charming. Dakota Johnson was so charming in this role! And the way this character acted reminded me so much of what I love about how Jane Austen wrote her female characters so ahead of her time. Her idea of women was that they were so much more intelligent than society ever gave them room to be and that the only happy marriage could be one where their husbands saw them as an equal. Anne is not afraid to give her opinion, but is never one to talk over anyone else either. She values everyone’s opinions as much as her own, including those of the children she often takes care of instead of her sister. I loved how much her playful nature here reminded me of Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Bennet and I absolutely enjoyed that energy in this film. I also like some of the points Anne made about depression over the course of the film. Including getting too much into different kinds of literature and poetry that only seem to remind you of your own struggles, which I think is something that can reign true with mental health. Also, that octopus scene was hilarious and entirely unexpected.

Captain Frederick: I thought this movie did an amazing job at getting us to dislike Frederick in the beginning and then getting us to love him by the end. I’m always a fan of the awkward but adorable types that Jane Austen writes into her works. Mr. Darcy is definitely revealed to be one of these and so is Captain Frederick. Though he’s awkward, his intelligence never fails him. It’s more of his social skills that sometimes fail. Relatable! But how he interacts with everyone he cares about shows his true character. He’s never one to be very dramatic about his professions of love, but they are always very sweet.

The Romance: I much prefer a romance that’s more subdued and meaningful than one that’s shallow and dramatic. And I love that this one was more of the former than the latter. My favorite part of their reunion scene after Anne reads the letter was not the kiss, though it was very sweet. It was entirely how they hugged each other afterwards. The way Anne laughed because of how long she had been waiting and how Frederick just seemed to breathe her in, in complete relief. That’s what struck me about the scene. The relief they each felt about being with the other.

Crazy Characters: Jane Austen has always been brilliant about writing absolutely insane and foolish characters in a way that makes them more amusing than annoying. I think this movie captured these characters perfectly in that regard. Henry Golding was an amazing Mr. Elliot in the way that he made you both dislike him and enraptured with his infectious energy. He breathed life into every scene he was a part of even though he was thoroughly awful. And the same could be said about Anne’s sister Mary. The insanity at both characters being so obviously awful is nothing short than disarmingly hilarious.

Cute: The entire movie was just cute. And I know that this is not what the original novel intended to be, but I don’t believe that Austen would consider this movie as much of an affront as many people claim that she would. Jane Austen believed in a world where people could find happiness in the small things instead of looking to a society that failed them. And I think that this movie captures this perfectly. Does it completely honor the original concept of the novel? Probably not. But I found it to be thoroughly enjoyable anyways. It did not skim over Anne’s depression, but it also didn’t prevent the movie from finding a lighthearted tone. And both of those things are ideas that I absolutely adore right now. I could seriously watch this movie over and over again for how much hope it leaves with you afterwards. Because that’s the real message of this story. Hope. And I think this movie succeeds in giving the audience hope and encouraging them not to give up.

The Bad:

Original Tone: As much as I liked this movie, I can’t say that it honors the original book. For those of you who don’t know, this novel was very close to Austen. Jane Austen in her youth was also persuaded not to marry someone she had been in love with, a decision that she regretted and led her to fall into a depression for a while. She never married and was once proposed to, but that situation she more or less dramatized in Mr. Collins proposal to Elizabeth in ‘Pride and Prejudice’. In other words, it didn’t go well. She always believed that there should be no marriage without affection. In this novel she writes about the protagonist’s love coming back and the two relearning to love each other. In essence, it very much feels like a happy ending she wrote for herself. And because of this, I do think that it was pretty important to keep the original tone in tact. Which this movie does not do at all. In this movie’s defense, none of the other movies that have attempted to tackle this tone have had good reviews either. But that doesn’t mean that keeping some of the original theming from the novel should not be attempted in hopefully a future film that might be good at adapting this novel. That is, if they keep trying to adapt it after the lack of success every version seems to have gotten.

Modern Language: There were a few times in this movie where they used really modern language and it never worked. They did it maybe three or four times and it always succeeded in taking me out of the movie. It was just as cringy as people said it would be and included Anne calling a man a “ten”. It wasn’t used often enough to make sense and probably shouldn’t have been used at all.

Frederick’s Beginning: I understood that Frederick wasn’t supposed to like her when he came back, but gossiping about Anne to her friend and not helping Anne when she was injured really pushed it over the edge. He could have at least sent her friend to walk with her so that she wasn’t walking alone. He more than made up for this by the end, but it did make the change slightly more jarring.

A lot of critics said that the narration in the movie was annoying, but I didn’t find it to be. The movie probably would have been fine without it, but I enjoyed it. I just find that when it comes to regency themed media, my opinions usually differ from critics. I wasn’t as big of a fan of ‘Bridgerton’ as many, though I found it ok. And I also far prefer Keira Knightley’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ to the one starring Colin Firth. I find the movie to bring the story to life far more effectively than the series. I guess this still is a trend for me since I actually really liked this movie. I could have watched it immediately again after I finished it the first time! Hopefully I’ll find time to watch it again soon, but I’m already starting to binge watch other things. Still, this was cute and I actually highly recommend it if you’re looking for a cute regency romance that says some really meaningful things about relationships. But if you’re expecting this to capture the feel of the original novel, then I might recommend that you pass this by instead. I think in order to enjoy this, it might require you to enjoy this as a completely separate thing from the novel. Some might argue that this would make it unsuccessful, but I think there’s a place for this movie in Austen canon too! When it comes down to it, I really enjoyed this movie!

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

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