Netflix’s Persuasion is far from the faithful Jane Austen adaptation we were looking forward to, but if you go into knowing this, it could still work…to a degree. It’s not a bad film, but it’s not a good one either, falling somewhere closer to just “okay.” Still, the performances and the direction work pretty well to give us the kind of modernization I would’ve appreciated had this been sold the same way Clueless was in the 90s.
As someone who spent most of her academic career studying Austen closer than any other writer, I don’t consider myself a purist as much as I do a massive, lifelong fan who’ll acknowledge that she paved the road for the romance genre in a way no author has. That said, I’ll take modernizations, twists, and even entirely new adaptations that are sometimes just as brilliant. (That said, please check out Uzma Jalaluddin’s Ayesha at Last, which is my absolute favorite Pride and Prejudice adaptation.) Also, I watch Pride and Prejudice and Zombies! yearly during “spooky season” because it’s downright fantastic.
So, while Persuasion sticks to the heart of the books and maintains much of the sadness through a more absurd, sardonic lens, it could’ve worked better by sticking to one path. Or, better yet, I wouldn’t even have this concern if we had close adaptations of Persuasion that were easily accessible.
In a perfect world where this was a close adaptation, Dakota Johnson would’ve been an incredible Anne Elliot. Her dry wit intermingles with a sadness that’s hard to pinpoint and draws on this melancholy feeling that’s easily palpable. And that’s the thing, as one of Austen’s more heavier novels, the emotions are still present in Netflix’s Persuasion, hidden beyond fourth-wall breaks that sometimes work and sometimes falter.
The reason I’m not a raging lunatic watching this, even though it’s impossible not to cringe at times, is because it still wears the novel’s heart on its sleeves. There’s a happy ending. Captain Wentworth and Anne are rightfully together in the end, which means the only time I’ll scream bloody murder is if someone takes an Austen novel and subverts expectations in all the wrong ways. No, tragic endings with women left crying for days to come aren’t unique or more profound, and they’ll never be.
Still, Netflix’s Persuasion isn’t going to be for everyone. It’s not for me either, but it sets out to achieve something interesting, and the chaos is, at times, entertaining. Carrie Cracknell’s direction is particularly fascinating, and Richard E. Grant is the right kind of menace as Sir Walter Elliot. Nikki Amuka-Bird is beyond incredible as Lady Russell, and Nia Towle shines effortlessly as Louisa Musgrove.
If we already had adaptions of the novel and this version decided to go completely off the walls, presenting itself as something entirely different, there could’ve been ample potential. It could’ve worked to be unique in a good way. But sadly, it misses the mark, leaving me once again in desperate need of an adaptation that I can cling to the same way I can to BBC Emma or even Autumn de Wilde’s Emma.
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We’re romance fans here, first and foremost, and while the film is far from what we were hoping for, Netflix’s Persuasion certainly understands Austen’s appeal. So, if you’re in the mood to watch a different take that still leads to a happy ending, you might find yourself enjoying this one. If nothing else, the final shot in the film of Wentworth and Anne is a gorgeous sight to behold.
Persuasion is now streaming on Netflix.