The new adaptation of “Persuasion” (“Persuasion”), which has already arrived on Netflix, does not seem to have been made for fans of Jane Austen.
Her book about Anne Elliot, who at 27 is on the verge of being a spinster and regrets being persuaded to give up her true love years ago because of her lowly status, was the author’s last before her death.
It is notable and beloved for how different it is from her better-known and more adapted books like “Pride and Prejudice” and “Emma,” with their mature heroine, more reserved wit, and distinctly melancholic undertones. “Persuasion” also features one of his most romantic monologues.
This version, directed by British theater veteran Carrie Cracknell and starring dakota johnson like Anne, she includes modern catchphrases and “Fleabag” comedy tropes in a Regency-era setting.
It’s like an appetizer of Austen, an elementary version that tries to speed up the humor and speak directly to Gen Z using their jargon, or at least an advertising executive’s idea of what it sounds like.
But something in its execution feels wrong.
Austen’s works are hardly impenetrable to modern audiences. More than 200 years later, they are still accessible and relevant. There’s a reason it seems like every year there are several Austen-inspired movies or series on our screens: This summer alone, we’ve received “Fire Island” (“Pride and Seduction”) and “Mr. Malcolm’s List”. Her stories have not only stood the test of time; they have flourished delightfully in modern contexts. Just look at “Clueless” (“No idea”) and “Bridget Jones’s Diary” (“Bridget Jones’s diary”).
This “Persuasion” seems to underestimate its audience a bit, as if it doesn’t trust that it would empathize with Anne without seeing her cry in a bathtub and drink wine from the bottle while telling us in voiceover that she is “thriving”.
Maybe the part about crying in the bathtub and drinking wine has been done too many times. One can’t help but feel that Johnson, a talented comedienne, deserved something more creative and less hackneyed.
And yet Johnson manages to sell it convincingly. It’s subtle where many might overdo it and breaks the fourth wall as if it’s telling us a secret. It may be “Fleabag” style, but she’s not imitating Phoebe Waller-Bridge. She is making the material her own.
In fact, most of the cast is quite vibrant and full of new discoveries, especially Cosmo Jarvis (whom some will recognize from “Lady Macbeth”) as Anne’s old flame, Frederick Wentworth.
She rejected him at age 19 on the advice of a mentor (the lovely Nikki Amuka-Bird) and he has returned to her life eight years later with wealth and a good reputation. He now he is, as far as society is concerned, an important man. Jarvis, with his sad eyes, his warm smile and his inscrutable intentions, is a perfect Austen lead.
And he and Johnson, even when they’re on opposite sides of the room, have a spark.
Diminutive Mia McKenna-Bruce is brutally funny as Anne’s younger sister Mary, while Nia Towle is the picture of innocence as Louisa. Richard E. Grant, as Anne’s vain father Walter Elliot, also adds life to the film, but is used sparingly. Henry Golding has fun playing a scoundrel, Mr. Elliot.
The script is by Ron Bass — whose credits include “Rain Man” and “My Best Friend’s Wedding” — and Alice Victoria Winslow, who had the good sense to preserve at least that famous monologue. But when we got there, we almost wished this was just a simpler adaptation, without all those buzzwords.
This cast and its director could have done it and the audience would have been there. Or maybe this will bring some fresh blood to Austen after all.
To quote “Persuasion”: “I am half agony, half hope.”
“Persuasion,” a Netflix premiere that debuts Friday on the streaming service, is rated PG-13 (warning parents that it may be inappropriate for children under 13) from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). according to its acronym in English) for “some suggestive references”.
Duration: 107 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
Read also: What to see?: “Papás por orden” wants to reach the hearts and ears of young Latinos
Read also: What to see?: They strengthen the horror and comedy formula in “Scream”