Depending on one’s familiarity with Jane Austen and romance films, Persuasion may surely be one of the better adaptations to emerge in recent years. 2022’s iteration of this oft-told tale will either be the most predictable film one has ever witnessed, or one can bask in the comfort of its familiarity and classic charm. For this viewer, Persuasion just plain worked for me off the strength of its leads and from director Carrie Cracknell’s willingness to take time with the film’s characters. Straight from Netflix, get a bottle of wine ready for a brand-new trip down Jane Austen lane!
Eight years ago, Anne (Dakota Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey, Cha Cha Real Smooth), the middle child of her family dynasty, very nearly married the dashingly handsome and super sweet sailor, Frederick Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis, It Is In Us All, Annihilation). Alas, due to Wentworth’s lack of “rank or fortune,” Anne was persuaded by her deceased mother’s closest confidant Lady Russell to call off the union. In the years since, Anne has reveled in being single, drinking fine wine, and taking long baths. With her vain father and snooty sisters on the brink of complete bankruptcy due to his excessive spending, the family home at Kellynch Hall appears to hang in the balance. Reluctantly, Sir Walter Elliot (Richard E. Grant) agrees to rent out the estate to his brother-in-law Admiral Croft (Stuart Scudamore), whilst relocating to more affordable lodgings in Bath. Croft’s wife’s brother just so happens to be Frederick Wentworth!
Now, Wentworth has come into Anne’s life once again, for the first time since they were unfairly “persuased” to end the relationship. Ironically, Wentworth is now a wealthy captain longing for a quiet existence away from his travels—and a woman to take his hand in marriage. Anne’s sister-in-law, Louisa, initially attempts to nudge Anne back to Wentworth to rekindle the secret romance. Johnson and Jarvis play up the reunion with longing glances and unspoken connection. It is clear to even an outsider that Anne and Wentworth once had a history, yet Louisa is drawn toward Wentworth in spite of her own misgivings. How can one possibly root for any coupling other than a nearly decade-long build of unrequited love? Anne and Wentworth agree to stay friends, which is worse than being exes in Anne’s mind.
As Wentworth is drawn to Louisa, Anne too is captivated by the mysterious and alluring William Elliot (Henry Golding, A Simple Favor, Crazy Rich Asians), whose true intentions remain opaque. “Never trust a 10,” Anne wisely observes, and boy is William a 10 in his top hat and flirty demeanor. Still, I never really believed a love triangle existed, mainly because the script doesn’t bother to taint Austen’s prose with the addition of overly-steamy sex scenes or dramatic banter that was not previously present on the page. Waiting for Anne to choose which man she will ultimately embrace appears to directly contradict her earlier opinions that women are so much more than a transactional prize. One cannot predict the direction on which love will take you.
A constant narration from Anne is a great way of keeping us inside the character’s headspace, rather than having to guess what she is thinking. It also likely allows the script from Ron Bass and Alice Winslow to lift directly from Jane Austen’s timeless novel. As I previously said, this being a book published in 1817 means that it may feel dated or predictable by modern standards. Personally, I adored the vintage vibe and the willingness to stick mostly to the text. Dakota Johnson has great chemistry with both Henry Golding and Cosmo Jarvis, making Persuasion an engaging watch any time these three are sharing the screen. Exploding with romance-novel accuracy, Persuasion is a feel-good Austen treat that binge-watchers will gobble up without thinking twice.
Persuasion enters a class all its own when it debuts exclusively to Netflix on Friday, July 15th.