By Christina Schultz
Many reviews of the most recent Austen adaptation of Persuasion directed by Carrie Cracknell have been unfavorable, with the most common gripe being inauthenticity to the original source material.
To name a few "issues" I have read so far: Anne Elliot (delightfully played by Dakota Johnson) displays unladylike behavior throughout the film, such as drinking wine straight from the bottle and dramatically lamenting her long lost love with frustration and tears (eight years later, no less; it's Regency Britain, she needs to "get a grip", Mrs. Russell would claim); the cast is anachronistically diverse (the most problematic critique on the list); conversations revolve, albeit nuancedly, around sex; and Captain Wentworth offers moments of woke remorse for the societal repression of women.
While the slight enhancements, as I shall call them, to the story do not stem from Austen's writings of the early 1800s, they are meant to do primarily one thing, I would argue, and that is to bring Jane Austen's literature to a completely new audience. The makers are clearly striving for a Bridgerton vibe, and seeing how wildly successful the Netflix adaptation of Julia Quinn's best-selling novels has been, I can't blame them. Wider viewership will hopefully bring new readers to Austen's works.
Yet I can hear some Austenites groaning at the lack of accuracy. Myself an Austenite for decades now, I will extol the virtues of the BBC's 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle (who played Johnson's mother in the Fifty Shade of Grey movies) like Mr. Collins of Rosings Park. It simply cannot be topped. You have a different opinion? Then "you take delight in vexing me" and it simply cannot be borne. Yet I too giggle with glee whilst watching Austen-based romcoms such as Austenland (2013), Lost in Austen (2008) or even Clueless (also from 1995). As silly as they might be, Austen is there, but generally with more Americans and modern technology. But I digress. The 2022 version of Persuasion is not meant for those who call themselves Austenites - I know, I just called myself one, but let me finish - and turn up their noses at the modern adaptations and sometimes make racist statements about the non-white cast members. They represent the vain and snobby Elizabeths and Mr Elliots of this world. Shame on them! This is much bigger than portraying the world as it was, and haven't we seen enough of the drier period pieces? The new Persuasion gives us a bit more realism, a bit less whiteness, while still sticking to the story and doing Jane Austen's witty storytelling justice.
So why not embrace the modern take? Why should anyone be so offended by a black Mrs. Russell? Or an imbibing Anne Elliot who breaks the fourth wall and carries around a cute little bunny? Or a rather wooden Captain Wentworth (honestly, he's channeling Firth, but no one can beat Firth's Mr. Darcy)? These details certainly don't detract from the plot, because let's face it, Austen's writing is that good. The love letter Anne reads at the end of the story still melts your heart.
Jane Austen continues to persuade readers and audiences alike, more than 200 years after her works were first published. Case in point that I have written about her and the newest adaptation of Persuasion. If you haven't read the book or seen the movie, allow yourself to be persuaded.
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Buy it on Amazon now! Click on the book cover to be taken to the Amazon page.