When it came to the Netflix adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, the internet was *clears throat* “half agony, half hope.” We were overdue for a Persuasion remake, but Dakota Johnson as Anne Elliot had us scratching our collective chin. Then the trailer dropped and all hell broke loose. Anne breaking the fourth wall, Fleabag-style? Knowing winks and smug grins? People had opinions.
But finally the day had come, and I was ready to hate-watch this train wreck just like everyone else. With Stephanie as my lab partner, we donned our white coats and goggles to find out if you should watch Netflix’s Persuasion.
TO THE LAB!
The Official FYA Persuasion Drinking Game
Drink once every time:
- Dakota Johnson looks at the camera
- You catch an anachronism
- Anne drinks wine
- Anne takes a bath
- Mary finds an excuse to leave her kids
- Anne’s pet bunny makes an appearance
Take a shot every time:
- Someone writes or reads a letter
- Someone references sex
- Dakota Johnson winks at the camera
- The length of Anne’s word-vomit spiel about her octopus dream
Dakota Johnson as Anne Elliot
The choice to cast Dakota Johnson as Anne Elliot was, in fact, a choice. We’re dedicating an entire section to it below.
Cosmo Jarvis as Captain Frederick Wentworth
Rosemary: Cosmo Jarvis, while handsome, was go girl giving us nothing for most of the film. There was a vacantness to his expression that was not conveying the yearning I needed him to convey.
Stephanie: Jarvis was definitely playing like he was in a serious period piece compared to Johnson. At first, I didn’t mind him, but his face rarely changed expressions from his one neutral “I’m trying to appear indifferent to everything” look, so, by the end, I was kind of bored with him.
Henry Golding as Mr. William Elliot
I’ve seen some tweets ‘n’ toks lamenting that Golding didn’t play Wentworth, and maybe this is a hot take, but I found him absolutely delicious as William Elliot. He is SO pretty, and as Anne (quite unfortunately) says, you can never trust a ten.
Richard E. Grant as Sir Walter Elliot
I loved Richard Grant as Sir Walter. He was Moira Rose-levels of silly, but it worked for the character.
Mia McKenna Bruce as Mary Musgrove
Stephanie: The one totally out-there portrayal I did love was the actress playing Mary. She was hilarious and by far the thing I liked most about the movie.
Nikki Amuka Bird as Lady Russell
I recently watched Nikki in the movie Old, which was weird, but she was good! And I LOVED her as Lady Russell with her European tours (wink wink).
- It’s not THAT bad. Based on the trailer and the general internet uproar, I expected much worse. I think its main problem is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. Does it want to be a true adaptation? If that’s the case, lines like “a 5 in London is a 10 in Bath” immediately disqualify it. Does it want to be a modern adaptation? Because if that’s the case, they should’ve committed to it. This adaptation feels like it’s trying to be both TRUE and MODERNIZED, and in trying to have it all, it fails at both.
- It really felt like they were trying to hitch their wagon to the Bridgerton cash cow. The costuming and art direction, especially in the city scenes, had that signature Bridgerton garishness, though the country/seaside scenes felt less so. The big modern letters announcing each new location also felt Bridgerton-esque.
- I’m glad they’re taking a page out of Bridgerton’s book with the diversified casting, though Bridgerton did this better by not relegating BIPOC to side character love interests and villains. (Cosmo Jarvis is Armenian, but his character feels white-coded.)
- The modernized language was so distracting. Farting around? Exes? “I’m an empath”? “He’s a ten”? It wasn’t utilized enough to be a THING, so sprinkling it in only occasionally took me out of the story every time. Jane Austen doesn’t need to be modernized to attract new audiences – if she did, we wouldn’t have new adaptations of her books coming out every few years.
Stephanie: It’s not as bad as the internet is making it out to be. It’s not the “worst movie” I’ve ever seen. It’s biggest crime (aside from the sporadic modern dialogue intrusions) is that it’s dull. And that’s not totally the movie’s fault, because from what I can recall, it’s fairly faithful to the major plot beats of the novel…and while I love the drama of the yearning second-chance romance, I find the side characters boring (yes, I said what I said). It IS the movie’s fault that it threw away any nuance regarding Anne’s internal struggles, which is the entire point. It was visually very pretty to look at, at least. I wish it either played it more straight or went full camp into the anachronistic bits (or just went full-modern), because the tone we got was just…weird.
As an Adapta-sion
Rosemary: It’s not that I have a problem with modernizing an Austen novel. Clueless is a top three all-time favorite movie of mine! (Stephanie: Same, girl, same.) And what makes Clueless such a perfect adaptation is that its writers UNDERSTOOD the source material. They understood how Jane felt about Emma, that she was poking fun at her fondly, the way you’d tease a beloved niece. That you can love someone while also knowing that they are flawed.
These people did not understand the source material. The tone is all wrong here. Persuasion features Austen’s signature wit and irony, yes, but it’s not a comedy. It’s a more mature story about a woman whose deep regret and societal expectations of propriety have dimmed her light, and she’s forced to bear it nobly and internally. But over the course of the story as she rediscovers her self-confidence, her light begins to shine again. There are so many nuanced themes in the novel about sense of self, class, social mobility, shame and regret that were all just glossed over (or completely done away with) here.
This adaptation turned Anne Elliot into the hot mess star of a 90s rom-com, comedy crying in the bathtub and drinking wine straight from the bottle. And what – WHAT – was that whole octopus-face-sucking outburst about?!
Listen, I binged Bridgerton just like everyone else, and I LOVE Fleabag. But Persuasion is NOT the Austen novel to Fleabag-ify (that would obviously be Northanger Abbey!), and the fact that the writers don’t seem to understand that makes me feel like they don’t understand Persuasion at all.
Stephanie: Dakota is so pretty, and there is something about her I like watching on-screen, but she did not feel right for Anne Elliot and I can completely understand people’s grievances with that. It was like she was playing Dakota but in a historical costume. She’s got a very modern face, especially when she’s constantly running around with her hair down and her curtain bangs falling in her eyes, and it’s laughable that everyone keeps calling her plain. Add that to all the winking at the camera, her “adorkable” tendency of blurting out of inappropriate things, and the very sassy quips/personality, and it all feels very un-Anne, thus negating the point of her character arc from mousy to self-confidence.
Rosemary: Dakota IS really beautiful, and really beautiful women have played mousy characters before. The right styling and cutting out all the knowing winks at the camera would have certainly helped. But ultimately, I think Dakota Johnson doesn’t work as Anne Elliot because she has the innate complacency of someone who has never been denied anything in her entire life – to the point of smugness. And while she’s a good actress, she’s not good enough to make me see past that.
Our Official Conclu-sion
Stephanie: While there was a lot I didn’t quite love about season two of Bridgerton, they could’ve taken some specific notes about the pining and steamy, yearning glances (even if those looks needed to happen when someone’s back was turned since both Anne and Wentworth don’t really know how one another feels). I wanted some ROMANCE and DRAMAAAAH, but all I felt was boredom.
Rosemary: One thing that the best Austen movie adaptations have in common is that they say a lot without saying anything at all. A yearning look or a brush of hands can be even more powerful than a speech. And that’s where this adaptation ultimately failed: they did a lot of telling instead of showing. I hated Dakota breaking the fourth wall for a lot of reasons, but most of all because it felt like exposition dumping. Really great writing wouldn’t have relied on her telling us how to feel.
Anne and Wentworth’s time on-screen together is limited so when they are together, we need to FEEL THE YEARNING. I just did not feel the chemistry between these two actors, much less years of complicated, regretful feelings of lost love. And after two whole hours of not feeling anything and being annoyed at the fourth wall breaks, to have Anne/Dakota read Wentworth’s letter directly into the camera was just the icing on the cake of disappointment.
So was it the worst movie ever? Absolutely not. I wouldn’t even say it was a bad movie, there were parts I enjoyed! But as an Austen adaptation, it just doesn’t rank.
Have you watched Netflix’s Persuasion yet? If so, let us know if you agree or disagree with our scientific findings in the comments!