I have to be honest, when I heard Netflix was making a new Persuasion I immediately had a bad feeling about it. I decided to reserve judgement and hope that it wouldn’t be terrible, but I didn’t really believe we would get a miracle.
Then I saw the trailer and I knew it was going to be bad. I could see in those few clips they has completely misunderstood the character of Anne and that this was going to be another Mansfield Park (1999).
It was worse.
MadsenCreations and I watched it together, she did Instagram live while I live tweeted. You can read my tweets but more terrible and horrible moments happened that I actually couldn’t tweet as fast as the film went. It was a hot mess.
But before I go into what I didn’t like, let’s start off with what I did like
Set & Costume Design
The set was beautiful and the director knew how to utilize the home, forest, seaside, country and city. Unlike some other Austen novels these characters do spend a fair amount of time indoors and outdoors, the weather and scenery tying into the story and the emotions of the characters. This was probably the best thing about the film was how well the director understood to use the set.
The costumes are also well done, as MadsenCreations pointed out there are no large glaring zippers (Netflix has learned since Bridgerton). Although, I am sad that there weren’t any ones from previous Austen adaptions, or if there were any I didn’t catch it. I really love seeing the same gown pop up in adaption after adaption.
Visually the film was good, it was the other choices that were terrible.
As with Bridgerton they chose to do a rainbow cast (for those who have never heard the term before rainbow cast means that you cast people for characters regardless of the color of their skin, hence having a “rainbow” cast). While other productions that have done this have either made the character’s skin tone their only character trait (I hate when they do that), this production didn’t go that route. In fact it reminded me a lot of Cinderella (1997), the one that stars Brandy, where they had a family unit that contains a white father, African-American mother, and Filipino son; but nothing is made to explain it and being those races are not the characters only personality; instead they are just people. I really enjoyed it, and feel that of other films and TV shows want to that they should definitely go this route. Although I have noticed that like in Bridgerton, Persuasion has no one of Latin descent. As someone who is Latina. I do find that offensive that they promote how inclusive they are yet there is no one of Latino descent. And if someone wants to say that perhaps they couldn’t find a British-Latino person, while I find that to false. First of all Dakota Johnson isn’t even British and they gave her the main character, and secondly I googled it and found 24 right away. Netflix I’m expecting the next adaption to have someone!
The dialogue in this was horrendous. I’m not sure who was paid for this because it was beyond terrible. If I was Netflix, I’d demand that money back. First we have all these modern sayings, phrases, and slang that just do not fit right with the atmosphere. I think if that’s the route they wanted to take they should have just made a modern Persuasion. Or if they wanted to make this a cross between modern + Regency they should have done it Romeo + Juliet (1996) style with her in the Regency clothes and all modern language; or modern clothes and regency language. But this mishmash, some Regency and some Modern did not work out well at all.
There is a lot of truly terrible dialogue but the biggest offenders to be was when Henrietta tells Anne that to win a guy she should pretend she didn’t know how to use cutlery. Not only is that the dumbest thing I have ever heard, but now a whole generation are going to think that Jane Austen wrote that.
I asked a friend if that would be attractive to him and this was his response was “no” and that he would wonder about her mental capacities. The reason I find this particular scene so offensive is first of all Jane Austen wrote very strong and intelligent characters, there are silly ones but these women were not. And not only are we perpetuating this idea that women need to be dumb and have a man help them in order to be attractive, they are making it sound as if Jane Austen herself agrees with that and promoted it as well!
But that was just the beginning. So much of it is terrible that even the good dialogue is lost in the cesspool of words. And let’s not even begin on the octopus line.
The other truly terrible parts of this dialogue is that there is no subtlety or secrets. Everything is out in the open. In the book no one besides Lady Russell knew that Anne and Captain Wentworth had been engaged; in this everyone knows. In the book, no one is certain of Mr. Eliot’s intentions-he saying that he just wants to fix the rift; but Anne suspecting more. However, in this Mr. Eliot tells Anne right away he wants to keep her father from having a male heir. It’s like did anyone read this book?!!
They completely destroyed my two favorite parts: 1) when they discuss the loyalty of women and Anne points out that all the “proof” of men loving more are written by men; 2) the letter scene. It really felt like someone took the bare, bare, almost nonexistent bones of the story to write this production.
Mary Musgrove (Mia McKenna-Bruce), Sir Walter Elliot (Richard E. Grant), Charles Musgrove (Ben Bailey Smith), Elizabeth Elliot (Yolanda Kettle), & the Musgrove Children (Jake Siame and Hardy Yusuf)
So some of the characters and the decisions made about the characters were not good, but I’ll save my complaints for a little later. The ones I did enjoy were the above few. Sir Walter and Elizabeth were so horrible and rude, just as they should be, although I think it would have been better to include a bit more of them as they are hardly in there, but they did good.
Charles Musgrove although he too wasn’t in the film that much. The little Musgrove boys were adorable and they stole the scene every time they were on screen.
The one they blew me away though was Mia McKenna-Bruce as Mary Musgrove. You liked her and hated her, she was extremely awful but at the same time she also said a lot of things I agreed with when it came to Anne. Anne was such a mess that Mary (yes Mary), seemed to be the only adjusted character. She was a narcissist, that didn’t change, but she was more together than Anne (which is not how it should be). Out of everyone, I think she did the best.
Henry Golding as Mr. Elliot
Henry Golding was charming but too charming. He’s supposed to be somewhat suspect from Anne’s pov as he hasn’t done anything outwardly wrong, but she is questioning his interest and sudden appearance with her family. When Anne’s friend warns her against him and tells her she spotted Mrs. Clay and Mr. Elliot together, Anne immediately believes her and thinks something is up (which of course we later discover later that he ran off with Mrs. Clay to keep Sir Walter from siring a male heir [although he should be more afraid that Sir Walter will lose all his inheritance]).
However, someone in their great wisdom (read that sarcastically please) decides to reveal Mr. Elliot’s intentions in the first meeting. That’s supposed to be a big plot point! That’d be like if in Great Expectations when Pip goes to school if Magwitch sent him a letter saying that hey I’m your benefactor! By the way I also have a little girl that was adopted named Estella, do you know anyone by that name?
In this adaption Mr. Elliot also asks Anne to marry him (something not in the book), is messing around with Mrs Clay (which Anne catches instead of everyone finding out later), and they also change his character when he marries Mrs. Clay instead of just putting her up as his mistress. They completely changed the character and while it fit for Henry Golding; I this role was not the right one for him. He would have been better as a Frank Churchill, Mr. Tilney, or as Captain Wentworth as as Golding and a lot more chemistry with Dakota Johnson/Anne than Cosmo Jarvis.
Captain Harville (Edward Bluemel) and Captain Benwick (Afolabi Alli)
These actors did well in their parts but the problem was that there wasn’t a lot of them in the film. Benwick and Anne are supposed to spend quite a bit of time together, that’s why when he is engaged to Louisa all are surprised. In this he and Anne have one conversation and didn’t even use the amazing dialogue that Jane Austen wrote. Harville was also just used as a piece of the scenery.
Louisa (Nia Towle) and Henrietta Musgrove (Izuka Hoyle)
Most adaptions hardly use Henrietta but this one does it the least, blink, and you’ll miss her.
Louisa was not very well done in this either. She is made to be so silly, such as that line about how to get a guy. She also doesn’t make sense as a character. In the original book, she and Anne are close but she doesn’t know about their previous engagement, so when she meets Captain Wentworth it makes sense that she goes after this nice, rich, single man. However, in this production they show Louisa and Anne as best friends; Louisa knowing about the engagement and encouraging Anne to go after him. However, after dinner she then reverses that and tells Anne she is making a play for him. Seriously, what a jerk move to do.
The other thing that didn’t make any sense was that there was hardly any flirting and time spent between her and Captain Wentworth for us to even believe they were interested in each othe. In the book the two flirt a lot as Louisa is interested and Captain Wentworth appreciates having her attention in front of the woman who rejected him. The two do several jump and catch me little scenes, that later caused the accident as Louisa does it in an unsafe area. In this they cut out the previous scenes so when she does the jump it doesn’t make any sense and looks like she just decided to yeet herself.
Cosmo Jarvis as Captain Wentworth
I really didn’t care for Cosmo Jarvis as Captain Wentworth. I felt this version of the character was pretty boring and seemed to have no substance or relation to what was going on in the scenes. He never seemed upset or at all like the book character. And of course a big chunk is off because there are no secrets in this adaption like in the book.
I also didn’t feel as if Jarvis really fit in the regnecy times. He seemed out of place to me, as if he was not really apart of his surroundings.
Dakota Johnson as Anne Elliot
I haven’t really seen Dakota Johnson in that many things so I can’t really attest to her acting but in this it was deplorable. A major portion of it has to do with her being the main character and pushing the film forward, but the script was terrible. Like Jarvis, I feel the bigger problem was that she never seemed to really inhabit the scenery as well.
Also her character is terrible. She’s trying so hard to be the “quirky” girl but it feels so out of place. They also made a majority of her character like little wine memes; basically this was her in a nutshell “It’s always wine o’clock”, “don’t give a carafe”, “wine not”, etc. She drank way too much, that is basically all she does-drink and fall down. She looks and acts like she needs to get help as she can barely function and cannot without alcohol.
In conclusion, I don’t care how much Netflix is trying to convince me this movie was “good”, I feel this is one of the worst Austen adaptations I have ever seen.
For more Austen adaptations, go to I Watched Austenland (2013) With My 14 Year Old Niece
For more on Persuasion, go to Recipe for Persuasion Audiobook Narrated by Soneela Nankani
For more Jane Austen retellings, go to Lean on Me: Austentatious (2015)