You didn’t think I would write a defence of the new Netflix adaptation of Persuasion and then not review it, did you?! The good news is that it lives up to the expectations I had in my previous post.
Dakota Johnson, who rose to fame in another book-to-film adaptation 50 Shades of Grey, is Anne Elliot. She absolutely steals the show! I enjoyed that they often dressed her in darker tones than her sisters to have her stand out like the black sheep of the family she is treated as.
Cosmo Jarvis (Peaky Blinders) is the love interest, Captain Frederick Wentworth. While he has the perfect hair for the role, his delivery of Wentworth might be too restrained.
The handsome Henry Golding (2018’s Crazy Rich Asians and 2019’s Last Christmas) is antagonist Mr. Elliot who looks delightful in a top hat.
Honourable mention to Mia McKenna-Bruce (Mary Musgrove), Nia Towle (Louisa), and Izuka Hoyle (Henrietta) who are all entertaining supporting characters. In addition to the cultural diversity among the cast, it was also nice to see some body diversity in the casting of Lydia Rose Bewley as Mrs. Clay (although one hardly-speaking-role for a larger woman is hardly earth shattering).
Is it true to the book?
For all the backlash it received prior to release, the film’s plot is quite close to the book. There is dialogue straight from Austen’s novel and the locations remain the same. What most people seem to take issue with is the Fleabag-esque approach to Johnson’s delivery (straight to camera, comments on others, eye rolls). I actually find this works on two levels: Anne is our guide into this world (an excellent tool when needing to drop minute details going from novel to a 1 hour and 50-minute film) and finally Anne is given a voice (something lovers of Anne might have been hoping for all along!). I don’t read Anne as a wallflower but as someone who has had to deny being their true self because of all the big personalities around her. It was delightful to get more of her as a character through the adaptation’s expansion of her. While there are some outbursts that are out of character with the book, they do come across as human nonetheless.
The biggest change from the source material is the omission of the Mrs. Smith character. While this side plot in the novel confirms Anne’s suspicions, it is unnecessary in the film and won’t be missed by viewers. Also, in an attempt to remain spoiler-free, I will only say that another difference is the conclusion for the young Mr. Elliot (although one could argue the film’s writer’s softened what Austen mentions).
While I am not a purist at all, there were two things that did ‘jar’ me out of my viewing. One is the familiarity Johnson shows with some men when in conversation, for example a hand on an arm. I found this more modern (RE: too familiar decorum-wise) than dialogue about self-care or needing red wine to get through family visits. The second is a scene where Anne swims alone in Lyme. Given it is the off season when the party goes for their overnight trip in the book, it seems out of place for the film (although my preliminary research shows they got the ‘bathing suit’ right).
Is it worth watching?
Absolutely! It is a fun time that will have you giggling over certain characters, squirm when it is awkward, and believe the love Anne and Wentworth have harboured for nearly a decade. There is enough in there from the original novel for Austenites to enjoy, although they may scoff at some of the (very minor) sexual innuendos. It is also a feast for the eyes! We get the delightful pastel cakes and rich wallpapers that were so prominent in the 2020 adaptation of Austen’s novel Emma. And the scenery throughout—particularly the cliffs and ocean scenes in Lyme—truly brings Austen’s settlings to life… And what more could you ask for from a visual adaptation of the written word?