Review: Persuasion

As an Austenite and longtime lover of period dramas, I’ve been keeping tabs on the new Netflix adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” since it was first announced, which was finally released on July 15. It’s the first time the novel has been adapted for film, and despite the mixed reactions I heard from friends who watched the movie before I did, I was looking forward to giving it a shot.

Let’s start with what Netflix’s “Persuasion” does well. And please, keep these things at the forefront of your brain, and try to hold onto them – it is a short list. 

I was exceptionally pleased by the diverse casting, for one. As a long-time lover of period dramas, I’m so glad that major studios like Netflix are casting non-white people in period films. Much like the subject they portray, the genre can often be elitist and inaccessible, so this inclusion in recent projects such as “Persuasion” and the TV series “Bridgerton” helps bring period dramas to a wider audience, and brings important representation to the screen. Although diversity and inclusivity in casting has a long way to go, this change is a positive one. 

Despite this movie’s many flaws, the story moves along at a consistent pace, not dragging or losing itself in meaningless tangents. It adequately adapts the plot of the novel, and the storyline was straightforward and clear.

Otherwise, the movie largely fails in its attempt to modernize and adapt the story it is trying to tell. The only real change that enhances the story are the frequent fourth wall breaks by main character Anne Elliot, played by Dakota Johnson, which breathe life into an otherwise failed attempt at social commentary. 

When there are interesting or comedic moments, the viewer barely has a moment to laugh before they are jolted out of their suspension of disbelief by such beautiful little phrases such as “It is said if you’re a five in London you’re a ten in Bath,” or “Now we’re worse than exes. We’re friends.” (If you couldn’t tell, that was sarcasm.) I’m sorry, what? Why am I hearing characters living in 1815 speaking like they’ve just been scrolling through stan Twitter in 2022? Out of all the things this movie does poorly, this is the most egregious offense – it is disrespectful of Jane Austen, and dilutes the heart and emotion of her original story.

If the producers wanted to make a modern day adaptation of “Persuasion” á la “Clueless” or “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” they could have. The one question this movie leaves with its viewer is: why didn’t they?