It is a truth universally acknowledged that when another Jane Austen adaptation is released, one must watch it to dissect in forensic detail. Particularly if the most recent adaptation is of one’s favourite Austen tome.
Would I be persuaded by the new look Persuasion, now available on Netflix?
There is much to like about Dakota Johnson’s Anne Elliot: she has lovely hair, has perfected that no make-up make-up look, and enjoys crying in the bath.
She ironically calls herself “single and thriving” and is well used to her family’s discrepancies — her father’s “excessive excesses” (he’s played brilliantly by Richard E Grant) — and her sisters Elizabeth and Mary’s exclusive interest in themselves.
For those who haven’t read Persuasion — er, why not? — it concerns the Elliot family. Anne had the chance eight years ago to marry Wentworth, the love of her life, but was persuaded to say no by her father and her mother’s best friend, Lady Russell.
Basically, Wentworth hadn’t a bean and would have made a terrible match. Now still shockingly unwed at 31, Frederick has risen to the rank of Captain, is marvellously wealthy and back in Anne’s social circle. Neither have exactly moved on.
And, of course, Frederick is gorgeous.
Ironically, Daddy Elliot isn’t great with finances, so the family has to downsize and move to Bath from their country pile.
“You really think my skin will do well in Bath?” he asks anxiously.
While Frederick has had a career glow up, Anne’s a bit miserable, looking at her suitcase of objects dedicated to their once blossoming romance. This includes a play list of love tracks that Freddie compiled for her — a nice touch — and a lock of hair from his horse Samson.
Right. While the story paces along nicely, and the scenery is so beautiful, the houses so decadently decorated (eat your heart out, Downton Abbey), Persuasion 2022 feels like Austen’s been given a Fleabag make-over, with a smidgen of Bridget Jones for good measure.
An Austen purist (I’m aware of how that makes me sound), I was initially upset at this decision. But there’s something satisfying in Anne making eyes to the camera, well aware of the characters around her.
This includes younger sister Mary — a self-dubbed “empath” (pretty sure JA wouldn’t have heard of that) and her sister-in-law Louisa who takes a shine to Wentworth and who asks Jane: “Is it true he actually listens when a woman speaks?”
Anne comes face to face with Wentworth when she’s got a jam moustache and breadbasket on her head, the Regency equivalent of meeting your ex and his new partner when you’ve a stain on your jumper and were only popping out for a Twix.
But there is a charm about her, a worldliness that perhaps her age brings (27! And not married!) that is less caustic than Elizabeth Bennet and less self-promoting than Emma Woodhouse.
As Louisa becomes more and more entwined to Wentworth, Anne has to grimace and bear it. That is until she meets William Walter Elliot, her father’s cousin set to get everything thanks to those pesky inheritance rules, and well, it never hurts to look at someone, does it? He’s a slippery fish, but an attractive one, happy to court Anne and imply to Wentworth that wedding bells are not far off.
“He is a 10 and I never trust a 10,” says Anne wisely to Lady Russell after a picnic where the latter lamented over lack of macaroons. Lady Russell, incidentally, for all the young people’s chat on love and whatnot, is the sauciest character in the film. Hands down.
It’s all going reasonably smoothly until Louisa has a fall and needs months of convalescence. When it’s mooted she’s to be married, Anne gives up the ghost of that doomed former relationship and looks sadly at the camera.
But then Wentworth is to leave to go to sea again. Nooo. And he’s not marrying Louisa. Nooo. But he’s off to Malta. Nooo. Not before the best bit of the book when he writes a letter to his former inamorata wherein he says — one moment please while I prepare myself — “you pierce my soul… I am half agony, half hope”.
Ahem. Cue Dakota/Anne crying before running through Bath to claim her man. And then it’s all very lovely and there’s snogging from an unexpected pair, but sure, that’s life.
Reader, I loved it. It is Jane Austen with a modern twist without compromising the plot written over 200 years ago. It’ll bring the author into homes who may have thought her stories are merely about women doing laps of a room talking about boys and preparing for fancy dances.