The dismal reviews for Netflix’s Persuasion compare it to the streaming giant’s smashing success, Bridgerton.
It’s more like The Office with better shots and worse writing. Even the costumes fail to deliver the Regency fix a quality period piece should give.
For those unfamiliar with the classic Jane Austen work, our protagonist Anne Elliot is a single twenty-seven-year-old woman in Regency England. Persuaded to scorn an honorable but penniless sailor by her shallow family, she spends the next seven years regretting it. He returns, an accomplished naval captain, and so it goes.
Wry and dry, with plenty of direct addresses to the camera, the movie falls short. It neither delivers on the humor it attempts nor manages the romance it ditches for the sake of a laugh.
To be fair, the movie is meant to be a modern spin on the book, not its mirror image. But even a twist on a story should still convey its spirit. The romance is unconvincing, and the longing stifled by too many asides to the camera and stilted conversations between the starring, star-crossed lovers.
Not to mention, the writing is truly bad. Search “Persuasion” on Twitter for some of the greatest hits. I can’t stand to list them here.
The movie’s fatal flaw is losing Austen’s biting satire because of poor attempts to pair Regency aesthetics with millennial personas: Anne a quirky wine drinker, vacillating between pity and meh one-liners. This Anne is often just as self-absorbed as her family.
Austen’s genius lies in many things: maybe especially her ability to observe and then lacerate society. Given ten minutes among today’s privileged, she’d mark this idiosyncrasy too: that our most accomplished among us spend so much time hiding behind layers of cynicism.
The movie hits this mark occasionally, particularly with Mary Musgrove, Anne’s married sister, but never manages to make it work with our heroine.
This feigned nonchalance is as much a social signifier as performative stoicism was then, except today’s Austen is completely oblivious to it.
The Netflix adaptation could have turned this on its head. In the same way Anne was so overcome by his love for Wentworth that she was willing to risk ridicule—convention be darned—we could have seen a love that was worth throwing off Anne’s chronically online cynicism.
We didn’t, and we couldn’t have. In making Anne cool, Netflix’s Persuasion forgot to make her fall in love.
Juliana Knot graduated from Calvin in 2021 with a degree in philosophy, mathematics, and German. She covers Southwest Michigan business and agriculture as a reporter for the Herald-Palladium.
I just finished “The Jane Austen Project,” a novel where two researchers travel back in time and cozy up to Jane and her family in an attempt to retrieve some lost letters and an unfinished manuscript. It was a bit more somber than the silly romp I was hoping for, but still a fun glimpse into how Jane’s wry wit might have manifested in person.
Spot-on review, Juliana. I feel similarly about the new show Dickinson (admittedly, I’ve only seen the first episode, so perhaps it moves past its attempts to be cool and succeeds in telling a compelling story).