Jane Austen’s last novel, Persuasion, follows Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth, whom eight years earlier, she had not been persuaded to marry due to his social status. This slow-burn book is quiet, filled with melancholy and longing, all explored through the internal landscape of the heroine, Anne.
The Netflix adaptation of Persuasion, released on July 15th, is anything but.
Among many things, the movie falls short of one of the most important parts within the romance criteria: chemistry.
Dakota Johnson (Anne) and Cosmo Jarvis (Captain Wentworth) have none of it. We are meant to be rooting for them as the story’s main couple, but I truly found myself crossing my fingers for Anne and Mr William Elliot (played by Henry Goulding) instead, as they felt more dynamic and interesting.
While the acting plays a role in why there is a lack of chemistry, I think the main reason for it is the script writing.
As mentioned, Persuasion is a slow burn. I expected the script to emphasise that. I wanted the script to contain rawness, tension and frankly, more emotion. Anne and Wentworth haven’t seen each other in eight years and they separated on bad terms. I didn’t expect the writing to be Austen-esque (although I would have welcomed that), but I wanted more than what we were given.
Instead, we were ‘blessed’ with phrases like: “Now we’re strangers. Worse than strangers. We’re exes,” “Because he is a ten. I never trust a ten,” or “I’m single and thriving.”
Austen created a sweet, sensible and careful Anne only for Netflix to take her and mould her into a Fleabag-ed, millennial girl boss who sounds like she scrolls through TikTok all night while she downs several bottles of red.
And I mean the red wine part literally.
Anne and Wentworth’s first encounter should keep you on your toes; it should be exhilarating. After all, it’s been eight years! After such a long time, it will be an emotional first interaction, right? If I were you I wouldn’t bank on this much from the Netflix adaptation.
There is no thrill in their first meeting. Drunk on red wine, Anne stalks Wentworth, who’s entertained at a party. Then she yells his name out from her window, and, of course, spills the wine all over herself as a result, embarrassing herself.
Though a heroine, Austen’s Anne is a background character in other people’s lives for the most part, due to her introversion and quietness. In Netflix’s adaptation, however, the Anne Elliot played by Johnson is not the same as Austen’s Anne: she draws attention to herself by putting herself into tricky situations, as if by force.
Awkward scenes of that modern rom-com nature dominate the movie, their only purpose being to exaggerate Anne’s personality.
Here’s an example:
And another one, where Anne tries to dilute awkward silence by making the situation even more uncomfortable:
Anne is quiet, yes, but she’s not clumsy, nor socially awkward. Austen’s Anne has a sharp wit and possesses “an elegance of mind.” Examples like those mentioned are not only unbearable to watch, but they also mischaracterise Anne and lessen the character Austen wrote her out to be.
The best thing is that these pieces of dialogue and scenes are completely unnecessary and they add nothing to the plot.
Halfway through the movie, for instance, shortly after Anne and Wentworth befriend each other again, Anne determinedly swims into the sea and floats about. Wentworth watches her for a while before she walks out again.
Every movie has its artistic and dramatic purposes, but this scene seemed very pointless to me. The only thing I liked about it was that, for the first time, we had one of the pair stare at the other yearningly. Nonetheless, I think this could have been portrayed without Anne dramatically swimming for half a minute. What was the reason?
It is clear that Netflix’s Persuasion lacks substance – especially so in its romance, allure and electricity.
But if there’s something Carrie Cracknell, the director, did right, it’s the scenery and bringing diversity to the film (Nikki Amuta Bird did a fantastic job as Lady Russell – I wish we had seen more of her!).
Frankly, I didn’t mind the breaking of the fourth wall that much, either. It felt unnecessary to have Johnson stare at the camera and directly address the audience most of the time – it felt like a Walmart version of Fleabag – but, at some points, I found myself enjoying it because it shined a light on Anne’s introversion. Specifically, in that she doesn’t have many friends to confide in.
That’s as good as Netflix’s Persuasion gets. Out of the 107 minutes, only five were a decent watch and that was towards the end, when Birdy’s Quietly Yours played, posing as a lovely break from the endless, cringy yapping.
Featured Image Credit: Penguin.co.uk