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Netflix recently released an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, which was a hot mess, to say the least. I can get into a period drama movie when it’s done right. When it’s not, a 1h 47m movie will take me hours to complete. If I finish it at all, and unfortunately for this adaptation, it fell into that category. So, I thought I would discuss the ways this movie went wrong.
Note: I have not read this novel by Jane Austen. I am not a period or classical literature reader, though I do enjoy movies and shows based around this time period.
Chemistry Between the Leads
Honestly, if it wasn’t for Dakota Johnson’s character (Anne) telling us that there was a history between herself and Captain Frederick Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis) I would not picture it at all. There’s no tension between the two characters. And apparently, these two had been engaged in the past before Anne called it off suddenly after facing pushback from her family and mother figure.
If there had been that much of a romance in the past, even if eight years have passed and feelings are still there (as it’s implied), you should be able to feel that on screen. But you don’t.
Neither character seems like they are uncomfortable being in the same room with the other. Anne for pining over the guy she had to give up and seeing him move on with someone in her family, and Wentworth for being angry at the fact that she broke off their engagement during a time when that was highly scandalous.
They come off like brother and sister that have been apart for years. But there are no romantic feelings, other than some poorly delivered monologue. Or any hurt feelings for that matter that should’ve been there on Wentworth’s part. I would expect him to be furious or hurt, but you don’t sense that. At most we get, that he ran away to the navy after their breakup.
Motivations are Questionable
The major plot points fail to land or have real consequences. I could not point out the motivations behind anything that happen. I could tell you the plot with no details or context, and it would come across exactly how it comes across on the screen.
- Wentworth allows Louisa (Anne’s sister’s sister-in-law) to flirt with him.
- Louisa gets hurt after jumping off a staircase after being told not to.
- Anne meets the heir to her family’s fortune.
- Wentworth and Anne are both led to believe the other is getting married.
- Wentworth and Anne admit their feelings.
Yeah, not exciting. It could’ve been. There could’ve been a lot of drama added to that. But there’s not. The audience is never led to believe that Wentworth was truly pursuing Louisa (always came across as one-sided), or that Anne might accept a proposal from her cousin (something her cousin said to get under Wentworth’s skin). Yet both characters immediately believe it. If there was more surrounding that, maybe I would’ve been inclined to believe it. But it just wasn’t there. So, the plot points fell flat.
Didn’t help there was no chemistry between the characters either, so it just really undersold what was happening.
Incorrect Depiction of Anne
Even though I have not read the books, I know the depiction of Anne is wrong in the movie.
She’s a soft character. Meaning that she puts others’ needs before her own and never complains about it. Yet, we got Dakota Johnson breaking the fourth wall to give us out-of-character judgments on everyone around her. Not saying that she might not have had those thoughts, but from what I know of the character Anne would never do that. She would keep those to herself. Plus, it seems very out of place compared to how she interacts with everyone around her. Especially since it seems like the characters around her can hear those inner thoughts (or at least some reacted to them from what I noticed).
So, she comes across as snarky and judgemental, which is the opposite of what Anne is. She is supposed to be kind, caring, attentive, and a bit melancholic. Not every lead character needs to be self-centered, vocal, and self-assured like Emma Woodhouse (another Jane Austen character). Yet, Netflix made her seem that way to make her seem more modern.
Most of this comes down to the script and style of the movie. They were trying to go for an Emma (2020) take for Persuasion, but it doesn’t work considering how different Anne and Emma are. You need that self-assured female character for the fourth-wall moments that Anne was having.
Including modern phrases are fine, but needs to be followed with strong, flowery period lines like “you are the bane of my existence and the object of all my desires” (Bridgerton, Season 2). Otherwise, it doesn’t make sense to have it set as a period drama. Make the whole thing modern then if you’re not going to keep the flowery language of the time.
There were a lot of things that could’ve been done better to make this a good adaptation, but this one, unfortunately, fell flat. Overall, I would give it 2 stars. It wasn’t the worst, but I wouldn’t say it was great either. I ended up pausing the movie a lot to do other things before coming back to it.
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