Out of Jane Austen’s line-up of classics, Persuasion is one of her more underrated works. Published in late 1817, it was Austen’s final completed novel before her death. Despite providing some of the best romantic lines of any Austen novel, it usually gets overshadowed by the highly popularized Pride & Prejudice or Emma, which have had successful adaptations to screen. Though Netflix’s upcoming adaptation brought Persuasion back into pop culture discussion this week, the debate surrounding the film has not been entirely positive.
Namely, upon release of the trailer, this highly anticipated adaptation has sparked concern among readers about misrepresenting Austen’s protagonist and changing the tenor of the original story.
If unfamiliar with Persuasion, here’s a brief synopsis of the novel’s premise:
Protagonist Anne Elliot, young and in love, was on the brink of marrying Frederick Wentworth in 1806. However, she was persuaded by her family to end the engagement with Wentworth, a naval officer without wealth or connections.
In bitterness and sorrow, the two end up parting ways.
Eight years pass, and Anne, now 27, seems destined to be single forever. That is, until Wentworth reappears, a self-made man with a substantial fortune. Awkwardly reunited with the one that got away, Anne has to reconcile her past and present while grappling with social and familial pressures to forge her way to love and happiness.
Trailer, Cast, and Complaints
Alongside Dakota Johnson playing the protagonist, Cosmo Jarvis (Wentworth) and Henry Golding (Mr.Elliot) will play the two male leads. The supporting cast includes Mia McKenna-Bruce, Richard E. Grant, and Nikki Amuka-Bird. The film is also a directorial debut for Carrie Cracknell, who has extensive experience in theatre directing in the UK.
From the official trailer, the adaptation seems to walk the line between romance and comedy. It’s a charming, upbeat introduction, as Johnson breaks the fourth wall in the preview. In many ways, the film is reminiscent of Autumn de Wilde’s Emma (2020). However, for those intimately familiar with Austen’s novel, this all may seem frustratingly misguided. Indeed, the trailer was met with widespread bookish outcry.
The tweets below speak for themselves:
Clearly, the core subject of contention here is the adaptation’s significant straying from the original text.
Dakota Johnson’s bolder portrayal of Anne Elliot differs substantially from the quiet, introverted protagonist that fills the pages of Persuasion. Consequently, fans of the novel are concerned that the film’s take on Anne and Wentworth will lack the emotional depth and complexity of the original romance arc.
In other words, the overall mood of Persuasion is deeply melancholic, a meditation on love and regret. For the bookish crowd, it is therefore disappointing to see the true spirit of the story thrown to the wayside by Netflix. The film’s apparent modernization of the regency romance is a tactic that has found great success in regards to smash-hit Bridgerton but seems a misconceived attempt for the likes of Persuasion. The flirty, fun, rom-com vibe is ultimately not an honest invocation of Austen’s mature heroine.
In all, the line between adapting versus updating a book for screen is a fine one. While sometimes a screen adaptation beautifully eternalizes a story in a new way, other times it reminds us of the incomparable beauty of the novel alone.
To read more about upcoming adaptations debuting this summer, click here.