Jane Austen and her stories are the crown jewels of romance so expectations were high for the release of “Persuasion.” It has attempted to capture audiences’ hearts while modernizing the story’s staging. This attempt has not reached much critical success and has garnered many criticisms. I think these critiques are somewhat appropriate but would not be as much of a problem in an original story. Many modernized elements may have succeeded in a more original story, as it succeeded with “Bridgerton.” However, the newer components are less appreciated because it’s an adaptation of such a believed author. “Persuasion” tries to balance modernization and faithful adaptation, yet it weakens both by trying to do it all.
The film bounces between calculated dialogue and extremely casual phrasing. One example of this is how the characters would reference someone “being a 10” or “a London 6 is a Bath 10,” which is on the pulse of current meme trends but felt out of place in an adaptation of a historically written novel. I was confused by what they were saying because it was so out of place. If it had committed more fully to the modern and casual phrasings, I think it could have been a fun retelling and would have felt natural to the story but because it bounced between formal language and slang, the incorporation felt awkward.
On that note, “Persuasion” thrives on awkwardness. This is not a film for those who hate secondhand embarrassment. The tense feelings grew on me as the film progressed, finally making me laugh instead of feeling uncomfortable. The ridiculousness of the situation ultimately reached a boiling point, making it effective. Anne Elliot (Dakota Johnson) is lovable as she trips and loudly scoots her chair into the table. This discomfort is not typical of Austen adaptations, but I liked it. The snark of Anne’s sister Mary (Mia McKenna-Bruce) was also a highlight. Her facial expressions and complete lack of self-awareness made her fantastic comedic relief and relaxed scenes that may have otherwise felt too stiff.
Anne Elliot’s breaking of the fourth wall was also a controversial choice. Regency romance movies are usually written in the third person, where viewers learn about the protagonists’ emotions entirely through observation. It was a nice change to have someone speak to the camera, especially for a character like Anne that does not have many close confidants. It is understandable why this may be jarring for some though.
Overall, “Persuasion” was an enjoyable watch but could have been improved if it had fully committed to its modernization attempts. Without the Jane Austen label, I think it would have received better, but then it would have had to work against its selling point. I look forward to seeing its stylistic impact on future movies and if original stories find greater success.
“Persuasion” is available to stream on Netflix.
By Ella Hachee