REVIEW: “Persuasion” (2022)

Yet another Jane Austen big screen adaptation arrives with “Persuasion”, a recent Netflix drama based on the 1817 Austen novel of the same name. The film is directed by Carrie Cracknell and stars Dakota Johnson who seems to be everywhere these days. Add to it a compelling supporting cast that features Henry Golding, Cosmo Jarvis, Nikki Amuka-Bird, and Richard Grant among others. Those are a lot of good pieces. It’s too bad they can’t bring life to this mostly tepid affair.

Johnson does her best playing Anne Elliot, the middle daughter in a family of vain and incredibly shallow aristocrats. For eight years Anne has remained heartbroken over losing her true love, Frederick Wentworth (Jarvis). Anne was crazy about him, but was persuaded to turn down his proposal by her disapproving family who saw him as “a sailor without rank or fortune”. So Anne spends her time quietly moping while secretly keeping up with Frederick’s Naval exploits.

Image Courtesy of Netflix

Anne is a baffling character. Co-screenwriters Alice Victoria Winslow and Ron Bass turn their protagonist into an impossible to read contradiction. In one sense she’s smarter and more grounded than anyone else we meet. She often clashes with her family’s unbridled vainglory, frequently breaking the fourth wall to point out their conceit or to give us a “can you believe that?” look. At times she seems incisive and self-assured – the kind of clear-eyed woman who sees through the societal nonsense of the era.

Yet all of that is undone by countless instances where she’s rendered weak and subservient. The sly and spirited Anne we see when she looks into the camera clashes with the one who doesn’t stand up for herself and lets her obnoxious family treat her like dirt. It’s even worse once Frederick inevitably comes back into the picture. It becomes one of those annoying movie situations where the central tension hinges on two people’s refusal to have one simple conversation. In this case, it’s Anne and Frederick’s unwillingness to express their feelings for each other.

So the film’s ice-cold romance basically waits in the wings as Anne and Frederick mope around in various states of unhappiness. Henry Golding is supposed to add some complexity to the relationship, but he’s essentially little more than eye-candy. He plays Anne’s dashing distant relative who has one eye on his inheritance and one eye on his cousin. He brings very little to the story.

The same can be said for pretty much all of the supporting cast. Easily the most annoying of the bunch is Anne’s spoiled drama-queen sister, Mary (Mia McKenna-Bruce). She’s a one-note irritation who wears out her welcome. As with most of the film, it’s not due to the performance. It’s just a case of McKenna-Bruce being handed a poorly written character who you quickly grow tired of seeing.

Image Courtesy of Netflix

The one character who’s actually fun is Anne’s haughty father, Sir Walter Eliot, a man infatuated with status and his “exquisite jawline”. Richard Grant’s deliciously over-the-top performance brings several good laughs. Unfortunately, after some early scenes he pretty much vanishes until the final act.

I’m not a seasoned Jane Austen reader so it’s hard for me to compare her novel with the film. But from what I’ve read, this isn’t the most faithful Austen adaptation. Either way, “Persuasion” isn’t a very good movie. It’s flat and lacks the spark that it needs to make us care. As it is, nothing about the supposed romance keeps our interest, and the characters just putter along as we wait for something interesting to happen. Sadly, it never really does. “Persuasion” is streaming now on Netflix.


12 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Persuasion” (2022)

  1. My daughter is the Jane Austin Fanatic, and Persuasion is her favorite Austin Novel. She had major reservations with the film, and said that the main character is inaccurately rendered, but she can see how they were trying to make it work. Apparently Anne is very internalized in her emotions. The one thing she said that they nailed was the father, Sir Walter Elliot.

  2. I’m a big Dakota fan…and was also intrigued by the breaking of the fourth wall as maybe making it more accessible to someone like myself who really doesn’t know Austen…but ultimately it just didn’t sound like time well spent and I doubt I’ll make the investment in it now.

  3. 2 Netflix movies getting a total of 3.5 stars. That’s not so good. So maybe making a good movie is harder than it looks, maybe those big studios mostly know what they are doing. I wonder if Netflix needs a little more oversight at the producer level, or at least more skilled producers who rework scripts a little more, or reign in the worst impulses of some of the directors.

    • It’s funny, I don’t think you’re wrong. At the same time, I can see studios churning out junk like “Me Time”. It’s as if they think all we need are two stars. I like what you said about oversight at the producer level. I think you’re spot on.

  4. I thought about seeing it but then I heard they put in a lot of “woke” language and such into the film and… that pisses me off. That is not what I want to see in a Jane Austen adaptation. I don’t consider myself a casual fan of Austen since I never read any of her works but I do like a lot of those film adaptations.

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