Persuasion film review: Just so tame
his Netflix adaptation of the Jane Austen novel wants to be seen as wet-your-knickers funny. Oh dear. You need only take precautions if your bladder is loosened by cringeing.
All the problems stem from the sub-Bridget Jones/Fleabag/Bridgerton script, which is credited to British newcomer Alice Victoria Winslow and 80-year-old American Oscar winner Ron Bass.
Austen’s heroine, Anne, is supposed to be a “faded” average-looking aristocrat. The film’s Anne is played by Fifty Shades star Dakota Johnson, who is too blooming beautiful, though she can’t be faulted on her English accent.
Anyway, Anne is mired in regret, because, as a teen, she allowed herself to be talked out of marrying low-born naval man, Frederick Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis), who has since become a rich and feted captain. Upon the pair meeting again, 27-year-old Anne gets extremely excited. Over the following months, she breaks the fourth wall (a lot), trips over a log, leaps into the sea, keeps grabbing the nearest “bottle of red” and, after displaying her knowledge of Greek myths, gabbles, “Sorry, Agamemnon joke!” She also has a fluffy bunny that she sporadically snuggles.
In other words, the film’s Anne, unlike Austen’s quivering and stifled introvert, is that rom-com mainstay, the manic pixie dream girl, an ostensibly smart and capable woman whose klutziness and all-round-adorability ensures she’s completely non-threatening.
While we’re on the subject of travesties… As well as dropping Austen’s wonderful thread about swindled, gossip-cherishing commoner Mrs Smith, the scriptwriters attempt to create suspense via a convoluted “misunderstanding”, regarding an engagement. Plot mechanics… yep, can’t trust Austen to handle those.
I’m all for irreverence and some of the modern Austen adaptations have done justice to the author’s wit (see Clueless). What’s gutting about this version of Persuasion is that it’s so tame.
It has been designed to show off Johnson’s strengths, but only one interaction (with Jarvis, on a beach), allows the actress, who gave such a subtle performance in The Lost Daughter, to show those strengths. Sad but true, she is upstaged by the wallpaper on several occasions.
The famous ’letter scene’ is shrug-worthy. The final kiss moved me not.
Still, the supporting cast are good value, particularly Mia McKenna Bruce as Anne’s outrageously discontented and diva-ish sister Mary, and Nia Towleas Louisa, the desperately bright young thing who, literally, throws herself at Wentworth.
Acclaimed British theatre director, Carrie Cracknell has made the best of a job she now surely wishes she’d never taken. Her pretty pantomime contains two fascinating females. If only Anne was one of them.
Persuasion is available to view in cinemas from July 8 and on Netflix from July 15