It Wasn’t That Bad.
It was not my intention to review the much-criticized new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. But such has been the vitriol and bitterness of some of the reviews, that I can’t resist. Because I didn’t hate it. I was confused by it and confounded by some of the decisions that were made particularly concerning Anne’s character, but there was much that I enjoyed. And I certainly didn’t think everyone involved should be “thrown in prison”.
It follows the plot pretty closely. All of the characters are substantially the same people as in the book and the very faithful films. Except for Anne. Anne is not the same character at all. The mumblings and murmurings started with the miscasting of the gorgeous Dakota Johnson as the mousy beaten-down Anne. And the trailer really got people going. Since Anne Elliott is one of Austen’s most beloved characters, the sneak peak did not sit well with many. Particularly the hyper-vigilant “Janeites”. Because of all the hate, I approached this movie with an open tolerant mind and sat down to be entertained. One aspect of the movie that has incurred much criticism is Anne continually breaking the fourth wall. She makes sarcastic and witty comments to the viewer about the behavior of her family members. Her observations are dead on. “My Father. He’s never met a reflective surface he didn’t like. Vanity is the beginning and end of his character. Also the middle.” She gives the viewers sly glances when one of her fellow characters does or says something particularly absurd. It was clearly an attempt to interject Austen’s own voice into the narrative and simultaneously enliven Anne.
As Sir Walter Elliot, Richard E. Grant could not have been better. In fact, all of the actors except one were good to excellent. But things started to get weird almost immediately. Instead of keeping Anne’s outspoken and barbed observations between herself and the audience, she calls out her relatives directly to their faces. Anne is shown to be publicly full of verve and spirit. If they had kept this facet of her personality a secret between Anne and us, her confidants, they could have kept much of the integrity of her character. They missed an opportunity to show how Anne’s true feelings and opinions are at odds with the way she is forced to navigate her world. She acts out and in the process makes her character eccentric and at times, incomprehensible. There are many examples but most jarring was Anne spouting off out of the blue and unprovoked during a dinner party to all and sundry that she herself was the first choice of Charles, her sister Mary’s husband. Needless to say, she brings the merry party to a standstill. However true, even the most socially inept meanest mean girl wouldn’t do that! It was almost Tourettes-like. I can’t think of why this was done, as well as the many many other examples of weird behavior Anne displays such as the octopus speech and drinking way too much wine right from the bottle. The director replaced Anne Eliot with Bridget Jones. Remember Bridget’s response at the dinner table full of couples that all singletons having scales? And as Bridget Jones, Dakota Johnson was charming and funny. She just wasn’t Anne Eliot in a work that is supposed to be all about the character regaining her bloom and spirit long suppressed by sorrow and regret. There is nothing to prevent This Anne from going after her heart’s desire right from the get-go.
There was little to no chemistry between Anne and Captain Wentworth, who looked decidedly grungy throughout the production. I didn’t care for him. Henry Golding’s shady and scheming William Eliot actually falls in love with the common and unattractive Mrs. Clay and marries her at the end. Just weird and nonsensical. Back to the good. The cinematography was beautiful and the scenery and fashions were both lovely. I actually liked the contemporary pop-culture parlance (“playlist,” “fashion forward,” “you’re a 10,” “we’re exes”, “I’m an empath,” etc.) I thought it was fresh, whimsical, and definitely brave. I was drawn in as I always am by Jane Austen’s regency world however askew this one was. In fact, I rather enjoyed the off-center vibe.
I was able to tolerate the strange choices by the writer and director while I was looking at it. It was only later upon reflection that my feelings started to sour. I hated that they could have made Anne a modern kick-ass heroine, while still maintaining the integrity of one of Jane Austen’s most interesting creations and her truly moving character arc. I hear that Netflix is (or was) planning to bring more of Austen’s novels to the screen. If they decide to go ahead with this despite the fact that “everyone” hates this one, I will be very curious and interested.
July 20, 2022