Persuasion (2022) Film Review

This current adaptation changes the game — or rather, attempts to make a modern makeover — and while certain elements work, there are some Austen purists who might not be too pleased with this movie.

Persuasion (2022) Film Review
Persuasion (2022) 

by Nuha Hassan

Carrie Cracknell’s Persuasion is a modern adaptation of Austen’s novel, which mixes language from the Regency period to a much more current time. When it comes to adapting classic novels, filmmakers must follow certain rules to accurately represent the feel and tone of the time period. This current adaptation changes the game — or rather, attempts to make a modern makeover — and while certain elements work, there are some Austen purists who might not be too pleased with this movie.

Persuasion follows Anne Elliot (Dakota Johnson) years after she was persuaded to dump Frederick Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis), a handsome sailor who didn’t have enough money or rank to marry her. After eighty years, Anne is still hung up on Wentworth, and chances are things are about to change for her. When the debt collectors arrive to take her father, Sir Walter Elliot’s (Richard E. Grant) belongings, they must rent out a place in Bath. Anne stays back to welcome the new tenants into their home and travel to see her younger sister’s family, while her older sister Elizabeth (Yolanda Kettle) leaves with their father to their new home in Bath. While showing Anne’s home to the new tenants, she learns that they are relatives of Wentworth. When she arrives at her younger sister Mary Musgrove (Mia McKenna-Bruce)’s home, who has a strong dose of FOMO, Anne finds out that her former lover is attending a party next door. But due to Mary’s insistence on attending the party, she stays behind to look after her nephews. The next day, Wentworth visits the Musgroves’ home and Anne realises how much he has changed. She gets the word that Wentworth has risen through the ranks during the war, and their predestined romance begins — but not without a few mishaps along the way.

Cracknell’s movie is another in a long list of Austen adaptations. Unlike its predecessors — Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice and Autumn de Wilde’s EmmaPersuasion doesn’t attempt to follow the rules of a period drama for modern audiences. The other films, however, were adapted and translated masterfully to a modern audience while staying true to the time period. Perhaps this difference is why Persuasion’s ideas don’t quite work.

Scene still from Persuasion: two men stand in a field talking with each other
Persuasion (2022)

The dialogue and fourth-wall breaking are the weakest elements of the movie. The anachronistic dialogue serves to be the bold new voice for this generation of moviegoers. Anne chugs wine straight from the bottle, cries in the bathtub, and then calls this “thriving.” She sounds like a millennial woman on social media, and these anachronisms make for an inelegant adaptation. There are several scenes where the dialogues are inconsistent with Austen’s tone and while it might work for a more modern setting, it certainly doesn’t fit right in this time period. In one scene, while talking about Anne’s encounter with her cousin William Elliot (Henry Golding), she says, “He’s a 10. I never trust a 10.” What exactly does this mean in 19th century England? These kinds of horrible dialogue don’t represent Austen and the anachronistic inconsistency ruins the tone of the era.

Austen wrote a novel about regret and lost love, but in this film, her protagonist just breaks the fourth wall and roasts everyone to the audience. While she is charming, clumsy, and has moments of second-hand embarrassment, her characteristics seem all over the place. It’s supposed to be a comedic device, but often makes her seem arrogant,  as if she is better than her relatives and doesn’t care to talk behind their backs. This technique, while it may have some benefits, doesn't entirely work in this movie. Through Anne’s perspective and her wry comments about everyone, we don’t really get to see the other characters’ growth, or even speak to one another. The story comes completely through her perspective.

Persuasion is a hollow adaptation of a great romance. The modernisation, especially with these ideas, reframes the foundation of Austen’s novel, and it ends up with a disappointing adaptation. Johnson does her best to portray the charming Anne bringing warmth to the central role. For Austen purists, this movie might not be their cup of tea and that is totally understandable. This period piece is nothing but a disappointing piece of cake, and while recently Ron Bass, one of the writers of Persuasion along with Alice Victoria Winslow, is working on new adaptations of Austen’s novels to the screen, let’s hope that the writers don’t completely miss the point of the original source material.

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