Persuasion for the Masses?

This post is a little different in that I want to share my take on the new Netflix movie Persuasion. You may or may not agree, but it’s just my take on the newest adaptation of Jane Austen. Don’t hate me if you don’t agree (and thanks for indulging me). On a different note–I can tell you that I’ve finished my second novel “Just Lucky” and am in the process of editing. More on that in a later post!

I have a masters degree in English with a focus on literature and creative writing. One of my favorite writers in the “canon” is Jane Austen. Suffice to say I’ve read her novels, studied them critically, and seen a lot of the film adaptations of her work. So, I’d like to think I’m no dummy when it comes to the study and interpretation of her work.

For anyone who might not know, Persuasion is Jane Austen’s last complete novel and was published about six months after her death. It is one of her more melancholy works about Anne Elliot, a youngish–but close to spinsterhood–woman who was persuaded to cut ties with the one man she truly loved, Fredrick Wentworth, a young sailor of no consequence. Eight years go by with her tending to her selfish family–quiet, introverted, kind, and still pining away for the love that got away. Of course, the story has a happy ending, but it is a much more mature, dramatic ending because the characters are no longer young and impulsive. And friends, if you ever want to know how to write a love letter–by all means read Wentworth’s letter to Anne in Chapter 23 of the novel. Swoon!

I watched the new Dakota Johnson-Netflix Persuasion with equal parts confusion and amusement, and found myself wondering on more than one occasion if they’d even bothered to read the novel. The choices made to turn the character of Anne Elliot into an alcoholic, sarcastic, extroverted flirt, who spends about 75% of the time breaking the fourth wall to tell the story instead of–oh, I don’t know–hiring a screenwriter who would read the darned novel and write engaging dialogue between the characters–made me cringe. Plus, they used modern language in a period piece–calling Wentworth her “ex” and having a group of women rate men as a “10.” It was a series of weird choices all around.

Seriously, I think the director/writers/producers watched the Bridgerton series and thought they’d goose up one of the most beloved writers in the English language. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bridgerton, but I also know it is a contemporary take–historical romance with a wink and nod towards the classics. It’s sexy, high-spirited, and all ’round great fun. Yes, please! But that’s not Persuasion, like it or not.

I’m all for modernizing takes on Austen. One of my favorites is Clueless, a fantastic update on Emma. And while I haven’t seen it yet, I hear Fire Island is a pretty faithful LGBTQ adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. With this new Netflix adaptation of Persuasion, it seems as if it’s trying to be too many things to too many audiences. I will say this movie does a great job of color-blind casting, has lovely cinematography, and the characters are all very, very pretty. If it engages viewers I just hope they make the choice to read some of Austen’s work. And I hope they aren’t disappointed when the book, or Anne Elliot, is nothing like the movie.

3 thoughts on “Persuasion for the Masses?

  1. Huh. I just wrote a post about the colour-blind casting (as you call it). I haven’t heard that term before and it puts a different bent on it. I liked the modernisation. I really liked the whole movie. I am simply a Jane Austen fan and I have read all her books and watch all the movies that come out of her books or about her (although I haven’t watched Pride and Prejudice with Zombies, I must admit). So I’m interested that you found it so abhorrent. It’s funny what sticks in our throats. Emma is my least favourite of Jane Austen’s books and I prefer Clueless to any of the movie productions of Emma… I’m not sure I can explain why. Maybe it’s that the class system in a high school doesn’t feel as life affecting as the class system in Jane Austen’s England. I really felt in Emma that Ms Woodhouse’s meddling could have messed badly with the younger girl’s whole life. And I hate the scene where Emma is so rude to that older lady at the picnic. Maybe because I feel so deeply the shame and embarrassment. Persuasion is my favourite Jane Austen book. Perhaps because it tends to be quite sombre, I haven’t seen as many productions of it. The book is brilliant. But in the movies I have seen Anne often comes across as quite weak and spineless. I don’t think she’s like that in the book and her character is developed because you get to hear her thoughts. By modernising it a little bit, I thought the Anne character was brought to life more. It was a little disconcerting when you’re used to the more traditional portrayal but it made me smile, not cringe.


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