Persuasion on Netflix | Movie Review

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*Disclaimer: I’ve read “Persuasion” by Jane Austen but am much more familiar with the 2007 adaptation starring Rupert Penry-Jones and Sally Hawkins. Just assume that’s what I’m referencing during the entirety of this review. This story has been around since 1817, but I’m still issuing a warning. There will be book spoilers as well as 2022 movie spoilers. SPOILERS AHEAD! YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!

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After feeling immense disappointment over the official trailer, I was prepared to hate this movie with not a trace of positivity in sight. To my credit, I gave it a fair chance and actually liked some elements in the first sixty-eight minutes. The scenery was beautiful, and most of the acting performances were a pleasant surprise. Suddenly, Anne Elliot squatted in the woods to relieve herself, and I was done. My good opinion once lost is lost forever, and boy oh boy was it lost.

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The cast as a whole is satisfactory, so much so that they deserve to be listed one by one. Richard E. Grant and Yolanda Kettle are unbearably snobby as Sir Walter Elliot and his daughter Elizabeth, and Nikki Amuka-Bird’s Lady Russell is an endearing mother figure to Anne, despite her lapse in judgement regarding Frederick. Lydia Rose Bewley doesn’t have much screen time as Penelope Clay, but she did a good job with what she was given. Ben Bailey as Charles Musgrove is an attentive father and a husband with the patience of a saint. Mia McKenna-Bruce did a darn good job as Mary Elliot Musgrove, bringing a youthful spin and humor to a role made so hilarious by Amanda Hale in 2007. Izuka Hoyle and Nia Towle are the picture of beauty as Henrietta and Louisa Musgrove, young and wild and free; I was expecting them to be a bit sillier, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. 

Continuing with the cast, Edward Bluemel is fine as Captain Harville but overshadowed by Captain Wentworth’s other best friend. Afolabi Alli is incredibly sweet as Captain Benwick, making the most of very little screen time. When we first meet him, he looks like a lost little boy while mourning the loss of his fiancé; in the end, he finds love again and is the picture of unadulterated happiness. He’s an absolute teddy bear, and that interpretation works for me. I was scared to see Henry Golding as the “villain,” but he took the bull by the horns as Mr. William Elliot. He was so despicable that I found myself hating him, which I didn’t think possible, while also applauding the performance. I am, however, still wishing upon a Jane Austen star that we see him as the dashing love interest one day, someday, soon. Please make it happen somebody, anybody!

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I apologize to Austen enthusiasts who are familiar with this story, but I’m going to recap for those who aren’t. “Persuasion” is a romance based on reconciliation. Once upon a time, Anne and Frederick were young and in love, but she allowed her family to persuade her that a wealthier man would be a more suitable husband. Seven years later, Frederick returns to town as a naval captain with status and money but still very much heartbroken and angry. Anne is also nursing a broken heart, regretful over the life-changing decision she made; she bears the sting of Frederick’s coldness as penance, believing he will forever hate her and rightfully so. They start to find themselves in each other’s company constantly, and the discomfort slowly melts away. When their tension reaches a point just beyond agony, a new beginning is right around the corner. Down the street actually. Wink wink!

Let’s look at the leading pair, starting with Cosmo Jarvis as Captain Frederick Wentworth. The writing and portrayal of this character was not well done. Frederick wasn’t angry enough; he’s supposed to be bitter and soften little by little as he witnesses how Anne’s embraced her own mind and opinions. Yes, he’s still in love with her, but he fights those feelings and hides them behind a cold exterior. This version of Frederick was soft around the edges from the beginning, right on the border of being an awkward, “cinnamon roll” character. Dare I say the term “wishy-washy” comes to mind! I’ll add that I didn’t like the accent used for this performance. At times it felt off, like an impression of a posh gentlemen rather than the voice of an austere naval captain.

Dakota Johnson’s portrayal of Anne Elliot was better than expected. She did well with the humor and breaking of the fourth wall. My favorite acting moment of hers was the bathtub scene. Anne thinks Wentworth is engaged so she’s sobbing over losing her first and only love for a second time. As someone who’s experienced similar heartbreak, that moment was uncomfortably authentic. Shifting to the cons, I didn’t like the way Anne was written. She reminded me too much of Lizzie McGuire, clumsy and shouting out random nonsense in uncomfortable situations. Also, she consumes a lot of alcohol; I don’t want to sound snobby, but that’s not a trait I would’ve chosen for this character. Don’t make me mention the moment by the tree again! Injecting bleach into my brain won’t be enough to scrub that traumatic image from my memory. The modern dialogue was present but not heavily featured which made it stand out even more. They should’ve gone all in or scrapped it because I almost stopped watching due to secondhand embarrassment. Let me lay out what I was expecting: Anne’s father and sisters are greedy and needy so she spends a lot of time caretaking and completing the adult tasks no one else will touch. In her late twenties, she’s considered an old maid and nothing special to look at, an underappreciated wallflower despite her kindness and sense of responsibility. The 2022 version of Miss Elliot is conventionally pretty and missing a dose of maturity therefore she’s not as recognizable as she should be.

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The writing woes don’t stop there! I felt zero chemistry between the leads, exacerbated by unnecessary changes to their love story. Anne and Frederick have a heart-to-heart conversation halfway through the movie and put aside their differences to be friends, squashing any and all tension leading to their romantic reconciliation. Tension to the point of agony is the bread and butter of “Persuasion,” and Netflix made a huge mistake messing with that. The ending is the cherry on top of this warm, melted sundae. Instead of giving every branch of the story it’s moment to shine, everything is crammed into one scene. The “Lyme group” reunites, and while Anne talks to Captain Harville, Frederick writes his classic letter, staring at the back of her head and eavesdropping on the conversation. Cringey with a capital ‘C’! When she turns around and finds him gone, she walks over to the table, discovers his letter, and runs after him. She sees Mr. Elliot making out with Penelope Clay and wishes them happiness, an absolutely bonkers moment considering that level of affection while unwed is extremely inappropriate in Austen times, and Anne had yet to answer William’s proposal from two scenes prior. Don’t blink because you’ll miss her finding and kissing Wentworth. Yes, that is indeed how fast everything wraps up. As if there weren’t enough idiotic changes, the film ends with Miss Clay and Mr. Elliot’s wedding because who the heck wants to see the leads get married onscreen. Since they were so set on showing the wedding of two side characters, I would’ve rather seen Captain Benwick and Louisa’s ceremony because I actually cared about their chemistry and happy ending. At least Anne and Frederick share a lovely moment on the beach before the credits roll, the best chemistry out of one hour and forty-seven minutes.

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I’m proud of myself for giving this movie a chance because initially I was going to ignore it. A few elements were a pleasant surprise, but this will not be a new addition to my Jane Austen rotation. Thank you for reading all seven of my opinionated paragraphs, and shout out to my besties Katie and Traci for ranting with me before I started writing my review. This has been quite the experience. Now I’m going to cleanse my palate with a rewatch of the 2007 adaptation. Rupert and Sally are still the gold standard! ❤️

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