by Nathaniel R.
Jane Austen’s last completed novel Persuasion has been adapted for the screen several times, but unlike his most famous novels, theatrical film fame has eluded him. The latest non-theatrical screen adaptation, via Netflix this time, met with such harsh reviews that we hardly watched it. Nevertheless, the extremely attractive faces of Dakota Johnson, Henry Golding and Cosmo Jarvis beckoned, as did the dependable spirit of Jane Austen herself. We gave in and pressed play. Unfortunately, it’s hard to argue with the consensus this time around…
Director Carrie Cracknell, making her feature-length narrative debut after some stage performance captures, and screenwriters Ron Bass (rain man) and Alice Victoria Winslow oddly avoid the usual full embrace of Austen’s wit and cathartic romanticism. This adaptation opts for a more brooding ‘Bridgerton meets Flea bag romantic tragedy with a bit of Austen on the side. The Frankenstein effect is therefore very much felt. Dakota Johnson, a very capable and sometimes brilliant actress, can’t put together all the disparate pieces of her portrayal of Anne Elliott… but, then again, who could?
If you have never read or seen Persuasion Anne Elliot is no different from Austen’s other heroines in some ways: she’s single, proud, headstrong, smarter than her station requires, more than a little judgmental, has a complicated relationship with her family and is a conversationalist. Johnson plays all of that of course, and plays it very well at times. And then she smothers him with a damp blanket of overcome irritable depression, limiting a wider range of feelings. In one shot, shortly before the film’s climactic events, she’s wading through the sea as she’s deep in thought and it wouldn’t have been shocking at all, based on the visual choices, emotional register and of the portrayal of the character, if she had made a surprise. Virginia Woolf and ended the story right there underwater.
Johnson and the filmmakers are so attached to the lengthy prologue of a depressed Anne (she dumped the man she totally loved eight years earlier and has been tormenting herself ever since) that they never think to lift it because the narrative unravels. takes place “in the present” of the story we are actually watching. Johnson and the script barely attempt to pull Anne out of her slump long enough to show the needed sparks long buried with her ex, Wentworth (Jarvis, exuding Byronic tragedy) when he returns to the narrative. He’s older and sadder, but still ravishingly handsome and now rich and accomplished too! Jarvis completely sells the unspoken but thwarted love between the two, but Johnson buries it aggravatingly beyond visibility.
Maybe it’s a streaming error issue. Johnson’s most spellbinding star often turns the trade on some kind of enigmatic interiority (Cha Cha Real Smooth, Bigger Splash, and The lost girl are all good examples). Persuasion, on the contrary, asks him to exteriorize everything. She won’t… or won’t. Or she will, but only when she has no other choice. The actress mostly comes alive in her direct-to-camera addresses, with a “can you believe that?” superiority and personal joy. More problematic, she triggers a visible life when flirting with her other suitor, Mr. Wrong… excuse me, Mr. Elliot (Henry Golding, all charm up no good). In fact, she is so lenient and reckless with Mr. Elliot and so dismissive of Wentworth that the backwash of her foolishly abandoned love barely registers. At some point in the middle of the film, I began to actively encourage Wentworth to reunite with Anne’s sister-in-law, Louisa (a charming and endearing Nia Towle in her first major film role) because Louisa was a lot kinder, mentally sound and genuinely in love with Wentworth than Anne. That’s a huge deal given the storyline and Austen’s traditionally predictable happy ending we know is just around the corner.
The wavering tone of the war with oneself that cuts off the central romance is a problem everywhere. This can even be seen in the pacing of the film. The rating, pacing, and performances often suggest we’re witnessing some serious romantic tragedy when what we’re meant to enjoy is a dogged romantic comedy.
All that said, Persuasion isn’t without its moments, most of them provided by the stars among the supporting cast, though to be fair, a few come courtesy of Johnson’s unwavering staring ability as an actress. of cinema, even if it is badly cast. International treasure Richard E Grant is reliable play and cartoonish fun as Anne’s conceited father. Nikki Amuka-Bird, although particularly caught between this Persuasionthe tragic mood of and its comic underpinnings, manages to deliver with dramatic precision. And finally, Mia McKenna-Bruce steals every scene from her as Anne’s narcissistic, perpetually complaining sister, Mary Musgrove, whose disregard for the motherhood of her own children is funny enough. In all, Persuasion (2022) is a mixed bag, but the fandom it garners probably won’t overlap much with die-hard Jane Austen fandom or rom-com enthusiasts. CC-
Persuasion (2022) is currently streaming on Netflix