AAt first, everything seemed to be going well. When the new adaptation of netflix of Persuasion of Jane Austen, the music is solemn and vaguely symphonic, appropriate to both the century and the situation. Even if you skipped reading this particular work in your classics curriculum, you quickly get the gist: the 19th century, the English countryside, the deepest depth of grief ever recorded.
Anne Elliot – played by dakota johnson with a clever English accent that’s not enough to disguise the fact that he comes from Hollywood royalty – he’s dedicated to touching the grass, evoking a chaste sensuality. So far all Georgians. Cosmo Jarvis’ Frederick Wentworth is all tanned leather, rugged looking and vintage sideburns. Yes, at this point adapting Austen’s latest novel for the screen for the fifth time – and that only counts the English versions, like the Persuasion 2007 with Sally Hawkins and the interpretation of BBC from 1995 – looks like it will be fine.
But at about 90 seconds, something happens, slowly then suddenly. The sad melody gives way to a joyful and insistent cadence, typical of a Miss Marple mystery. Anne, who was exquisitely melancholy moments ago, glares slyly at the camera, saying that since breaking off her engagement to Wentworth, she’s been single and “thriving”, a word that appears exactly zero times in the Austen’s 1817 novel.
Lamenting Hollywood’s obsession with preconceived stories is exhausting enough. My local theater is currently showing a Marvel movie (Thor), the fourth sequel to a children’s film (Minions: The Rise of Gru), a late sequel to an 80s classic (the new Superior gun) y Elvis, by Baz Luhrmann. In that context, an IP-based movie that’s really, you know, IP should be an oasis. Ambitious period adaptations attract new readers to old books. The best eliminate the distance between the present and the past. They show that all the suffering and joy of being human has never really changed, even when human circumstances change. Merchant Ivory’s A Room with a View remains the norm, while the excellent 1995 version of Sense and sensitivityby Jane Austen, with a screenplay by Emma Thompson, follows closely behind.
But when the trailer for the new Persuasion created in June, the “Twitter of books” let out a huge groan. Where to start? There are erroneous, horrible anachronisms the falls (humiliating failures) and smiles at the camera that mostly reminded me Office. My favorite part (to hate) was the fact that Jane Austen herself is mentioned in the trailer as “the author of Emma there Pride and Prejudice– thanks for clearing it up! Instead of an oasis, this reimagining of Persuasion seemed like a disconcerting mirage.
In the novel, Anne is a young Englishwoman whose family is forced, due to money problems, to rent their stately home to an admiral and his wife. Coincidentally, the woman’s brother is Wentworth. Providence granted him and Anne a second chance to marry. As per usual, Persuasion it is considered Austen’s most mature novel and Anne her most complicated heroine. The characteristic genius and humor of the writer compensate for the desolation of the protagonist. If Hollywood is going to return again and again to the canon of English literature, this is a book to do so.
However, by “updating” the story for contemporary ears, the Netflix version abandons its own potential for cheap relevance. “What if Anne Elliot was a little more like Fleabag?” seems to ask the film. Anne describes her and Wentworth, a man she has desired for nearly a decade, as “ex”, a term as anachronistic as it is woefully informal. Al hacer que Anne se parezca más a la acerada invención de Phoebe Waller-Bridge, la película traiciona su propia superficial lectura del personaje, que, tal y como lo escribió Austen, es en realidad un poco como Fleabag: solitaria, desafectada y fuera de the society.
Many period films and television series have used the anachronism to good effect. Dickinson, the Apple TV+ series about the early years of American poet Emily Dickinson, goes beyond adding a contemporary soundtrack to an ancient story. His use of modern language is apt; the more Emily bristles against the limits of 19th-century femininity, the more likely she is to call something “bullshit**”, a word that would not be coined until three decades after the poet’s death.
But Persuasion, the anachronisms take on an air of absurdity. Here are some of the liberties taken with Austen’s text in the first five minutes: Anne drinks wine alone, cries in the tub, and throws herself face down on the bed. I’m not saying people in the 19th century didn’t do these things. I agree with the idea that a heartbroken Anne Elliot, on an unwritten page of the novel, got a little drunk. But that’s how she does it here, like she’s acting out her emotions for an Instagram reel. All that’s missing are crumpled handkerchiefs and Insomnia in Seattle play on a TV in the background. In trying to make Anne modern and relatable, she came across as corny and unserious.
And so on until nausea. The note Wentworth hands to Anne at church simply says “Boring!”, like something a high school student might send to a friend. It turns out that ever since they broke off their engagement, a lovesick Anne has been collecting Wentworth’s clippings; basically, it’s stalking your Facebook. The film is full of these corny parallels, each diminishing the reality of Anne’s sadness.
I’ve seen good adaptations of Austen (Emmaof 2020, with Anya Taylor-Joy, is one of the most outstanding) and I have seen other mediocre ones (Emma, 1996, with Gwyneth Paltrow), but never before had an Austen adaptation had me so emotionally drained. To insist that all the aspects of the modern life hold a parallelism in the XIX siglo, the film descends so that the films of the period sean tan reliably affect: no importa la década, las emociones humanas no evolucionan y el amor no es easier.
While I was thrilled to hear that Netflix was bringing Austen back, I now wish they had left her alone. Imagine the teenage girl who watches the movie and picks up the novel, only to throw it away when she learns that Austen failed to anticipate the ins and outs of modern life. If Hollywood insists my only options are movies I’ve already seen, I’d rather take my chances with Tom Cruise. Top Gun 3someone wants?
“Persuasion” is now on Netflix