The New & Ruined Persuasion

PC: Nick Wall/Courtesy of Netflix

So, at this point, nearly everyone who intended to has seen the 2022 Persuasion and we all have opinions. And now I will subject you to mine. I’ve made no secret of the fact that Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel, so you can imagine just how much of my soul died watching this latest Netflix adaptation (adaptation is a strong word, but butchering sounds a little mean). I mean, let’s be honest, the book is still the book and somebody actually read it in order to make the 2007 adaptation of Persuasion, so there’s hope. But I can’t help but mourn for the new generation that will think Anne is a sassy borderline alcoholic instead of the demure, stoic, self-controlled, smart, selfless, resourceful, strong woman that she is. Anne is amazing, we should all be striving to be Anne – just not the one from the 2022 adaptation of Persuasion. I don’t know who she is.

My Main Complaint(s)

If anything, the 2022 Persuasion is a good argument in favor of a Classics education. Because a Classical education doesn’t just put the book in front of you, it gives you the complete context. The all-important Why? that this director and writer seemed to have just forgotten about. Because that’s what’s most important when it comes to classic literature. These people weren’t writing their books because they liked the feel of a pen in their hand, they were writing them to convey a meaning, a truth, a moral lesson, and an observation of society and human nature. Anne Elliot and her personality and the words she says in Jane Austen’s Persuasion aren’t an accidental oops that Jane Austen happened to use for this story – it was all on purpose!

And that’s my main complaint. There was no “why” or purpose in this story. They changed it around, removed entire pivotal scenes, gave almost every important character a new personality, and expected the same story, emotion, and moral lesson to be conveyed. But that’s not how it works.

The purpose of Persuasion was lost. Because the purpose isn’t sad girl meets old boyfriend and they settle for getting married (which is what this new Persuasion felt like). It’s that a woman re-encounters something that was fulfilling and helped her be the person she is supposed to be and has to reconcile her past self with her present self. Anne Elliot has worked hard to forgive herself and her loved ones, accept the consequences of her actions, and move forward – no matter how painful that was. Anne Elliot, having lived and learned, has grown into herself and now knows, intimately, the ground upon which she stands. She has been lonely and found joy in life, she has stood, unmoved, in the face of her family’s criticisms and “you-shoulds”, she has served, and she is ready to believe that her actions and personal growth are recompense enough to uphold hope in a second chance with the one person who truly loves her.

Anne is grace and kindness and self-sufficiency.

She is not a sloppy, regretful, sad, and hopeless girl who never got past an old mistake, doing nothing but wallowing in her childhood. This is a woman, as women ought to be (and were expected to be in days gone by).

Persuasion by Jane Austen

No More Romance For You!

They literally took all the romance from the book and story as a whole and sucked it right out. It pains me to say that the 2022 Persuasion is completely devoid of romance. How they managed that, I will never know, but I’m blaming the dialogue and unnecessary talking. The number of times Anne and Wentworth spoke to each other made me furious. It was nonsensical and did nothing but reverse the story instead of develop it, bypassing the whole point of dialogue to create awkward scenes and incorporate out-of-place modern phrases that made me throw up in my mouth a little bit.

Though it’s suggested in the book that Anne and Wentworth get a little more comfortable around each other as their second encounter continues and time goes by, it’s made clear they are still unsure of what to make of each other and how to work the old relationship into the new. They don’t chat about feelings and say they should be friends (🤢). Modern language can be atrociously flat in the face of the poetry Jane Austen used to express the longing between these two people who want a complete do-over, to get back to where they were, and to figure out if that’s even a mutual feeling.

Also, every romantic scene was just cut out – like their encounter in the Bath shop while Anne is waiting for Mr. Elliot to get the Dowager’s carriage. It’s such a cute moment, and so much is revealed between them (and basically no words are said, please note). But it, and others were cut or modified and we lost huge turning points in their relationship that weren’t replaced with anything else of value.

The Good Stuff

Despite my barely-checked rage about this movie, I do love the cinematography. I have this same feeling about the 2005 Pride and Prejudice (which was a thousand times better than this adaptation). Though the story might have been tinkered with on some miniscule level, the cinematography of Pride and Prejudice made it a-okay. It helps though that they also kept the gist of the story and the depth of the characters.

Another small pro: the costumes in Persuasion were plain and perfect for the general setting. You wouldn’t expect Persuasion to have the same lavishness as Emma., so it was fairly well thought out.

Final Tidbits

We all know this can be done – we can have a modern, updated adaptation of a classic Jane Austen novel and not lose everything it was meant to be. We saw it with Emma. where, despite the little changes, the basis of the story and the core of the characters were unchanged.

I think subtlety is the name of the game. There was no subtlety in Netflix’s Persuasion. They took the clunkiest parts of modern society and sentiments and crammed them into the delicate sunshine and soft, pillowy emotions that make Persuasion the gorgeous piece of classic literature that it is.

So in conclusion: watch at your own risk. And always, always read the book.

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