Generally, I appreciate all page-to-screen adaptations: all press is good press, and whether you love or hate the new film, it is doing a lot for reigniting interest in the book.
When I found out that this adaptation would be inspired by the book rather than a faithful adaptation of Persuasion (a la Bridgerton) I had high hopes for it. HOWEVER. My personal opinion of this movie is that it is absolute trash.
“I am all agony, no hope”
I saw a lot of criticism around the film, and it kind of influenced my opinion before I could even watch for myself. TBH I was skeptical of the criticism. I wanted to believe that it couldn’t be as bad as people were saying. But after watching for myself, I wholeheartedly agree with the critics.
I think the most disappointing thing is that this adaptation was passed over for the Sarah Snook version, which seemed to lean more towards a faithful adaptation, whereas this version is clearly only based on the book and takes MANY creative liberties.
Fans of this version found the variety refreshing and funny, and seem to appreciate the deliberate changes. And if you found this version relatable and enjoyable, I am happy for you, and I am not here to change your mind. But I, personally, did not find this version relatable or enjoyable.
To be clear, I am a Janeite, but not a purist. I have no possession over Anne Elliot. I had never even read Persuasion until just before the release of this movie. So it’s not like I was set on hating this movie from the start. My personal favorite of Jane Austen’s is Pride and Prejudice. I bring it up to make this point about adaptations: I find value in the 1995 P&P for it’s gold-standard accuracy. I love the dreamy Hollywood 2005 version for its nostalgic soundtrack and cinematic scenes. I appreciate silly spin-offs like Lost in Austen and Austenland. Because, at the heart of them, they are able to take my favorite story and re-tell it, in different ways, but it is still the same story I love told over and over. Unfortunately, this ‘adaptation’ of Persuasion attempts to rewrite the story itself rather than retelling it, making it unrecognizable for those who do love the original story of Persuasion.
The point of an adaptation is found in the name—it is meant translate, modify, and adapt the text. At their worst, adaptations can lack real understanding of the source material, which seems to be exactly what happened here with Carrie Cracknell’s ‘adaptation’ of Persuasion.
I definitely agree that it seems like no one on the team at any point read Persuasion. It’s like they read the wiki summary and then wrote a play inspired by that bad summary. The script itself doesn’t seem to take much from the text. It seems that the actual story of Persuasion merely inspired the script. Which is weird. Fans understand the need to modernize the dialogue of Austen’s works, but here it was taken so far that it completely changes the story. It’s not at all how it goes in the book, and that is why fans are so upset. So many liberties are taken to make a new story, that at this point, they should have just written a new story. It’s irritating. Like, if they wanted to do a new modern movie set in the Regency Era, why not just do that? Don’t ruin a favorite classic and then claim to be reinventing the period drama.
So let’s begin with how they ruined Anne Elliot. Anne’s emotional intensity is a huge driving force of her character. Austen writes of Anne’s “elegance of mind and sweetness of character,” sensibilities, and compassion. In the book, her feelings are super intense inwardly, but she is still classy and has manners. Controlled passion! But this Anne is just a crybaby! In contrast to the book, the movie shows her pining from the start, and that just didn’t seem like Anne to me. The movie made her a damsel in distress, and completely misses the nuances that make Anne endearing. Which becomes an issue later in the film when we see Louisa’s declaration that “she won’t hear any ill talk of Anne”. Because as far as the film goes, it doesn’t make sense that Louisa would defend Anne like that. The film did a terrible job of showing Anne’s merits, making her snarky and dislikeable instead of the compassionate Anne we love.
I am seriously displeased that Anne’s ‘thing’ is breaking the fourth wall. It takes away from her character. If revolutionary was what they were going for, I hate to break it to them, but the rupturing of the fourth wall has already been done (see Patricia Rozema’s charming take on Mansfield Park from 1999). And it’s pointless if there’s no purpose behind any of it. Though Cracknell comes with a hefty portfolio, her work on Persuasion comes off as a gimmick capitalizing on current trends. How exactly does the line, “it is said if you’re a five in London, you’re a 10 in Bath”, improve on Austen’s work or make it any more palatable to modern audiences? Or what about the comments on being “an empath” and focusing on “self-care”? These are all just marketing buzzwords.
These memes really highlight the language barrier, for me:
And whyyyyy did they have to make her an alcoholic? What is the point of that? It was supposed to be funny and plucky, but it’s just painful. I really loved the cinematography during the hangover scene, with the ASMR toast-scratching… and then it was shattered with the bad acting. They didn’t have to make her an alcoholic to make that a powerful scene, she could have just been hungover one day, and it would have hit even harder.
I can’t even talk about the octopus. Please don’t ask.
Sir Walter, Mary and Elizabeth were all well cast. Mary is my favorite kind of Jane Austen character, and thankfully she seems to be a fan-favorite. I love the complain-y blabbering ones, and the humor that makes Mary worked really well with the tone of the film. She is the silver lining in a dark raincloud of horror.
I also liked Wentworth, but it didn’t seem like he had much chemistry with Anne unfortunately, It’s unique though because I don’t usually see a romance that only has chemistry on one side. His acting is really good, but Anne is ruining the illusion for me. I think she would’ve made a pretty good Jane Austen, like if they remade Becoming Jane she probably would’ve been good in that role. I don’t think she did bad in this role–I’m just upset that they made her break that fourth wall and do all of that like Jim-from-the-office eyebrow work. I admit that I liked what they did with the cinematography and the set design and the costumes I think the only thing I didn’t really like was the script. But it is so bad that it makes everything else unforgiveable. I really loved Mary’s Musgrove‘s character, but I think they really disrespected Anne and Wentworth, specifically.
I did find the costume design quite interesting, and along with the set design, costume was my favorite element of the movie. Costume design, especially in commercial entertainment, is always at the mercy of 21st century: directorial artistic visions, pretty productions, and budget constraints are all factors that make it nearly impossible to retain complete historical accuracy in any modern adaptation. So I was pleased with the way Marianne Agertoft approached costume design for this movie. The costumes in Persuasion are precisely, painstakingly rooted in Regency dress; have just enough artistic license to make a statement; and offer an approach to period costuming that feels entirely fresh.
The cinematography and set design were the standout early-on in the film. With lavish and bold sets, this show really could have done so much more as a satire of wealth, and unfortunately, misses so many points. The director was still able to do some great things with the camera though—take a look at this shot of Lyme, for example. Here we see everyone walking along the sea-wall, but the last lady (Mary) skips off on her own, oblivious, as-always marching to the beat of her own drum, while everyone else keeps in formation. This is a great play on the Regency rules of society, and gives us a small glimpse at women who break away from that mold (if only for a moment).
They should have done more with Sir Elliot, IMO. To me, his fall from grace was a huge point. The tone of the film could have done a lot as a parody of privilege, but instead they focus on modernizing Anne’s character, which just butchers the story. The vanity of Sir Walter Elliot of Kellynch Hall is highlighted really spectacularly with grand shots like this one:
And I really liked that last line about “dont let anyone tell you how to live, or who to love. “(But even then she was more narrating, she wasn’t talking at us through the screen, so maybe that’s why I liked that little scene). I like how they redeem it and they come back to the sextant thing, that’s cute too. But nowhere near enough to redeem the film, for me. This is an adaptation I will not be able to watch over and over, sadly, this is going to bottom of my list.