Netflix's Persuasion is a surprisingly camp adaptation

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By Jake Tickle, Third Year, English

The Netflix adaptation of Austen’s Persuasion, starring Dakota Johnson, is a surprisingly camp modern interpretation of the period genre without the need for a classical rendition of Despacito.

Persuasion is one of Jane Austen’s shortest completed novels and is regarded as one of her most sophisticated too. It begins with Anne Elliot, quietly heartbroken after being persuaded to move on from the love of her life, Frederick Wentworth, due to his lack of wealth. Eight years later, he suddenly appears with newly acquired riches,  and upon seeing him again, all of Anne’s feelings for him come rushing back.

Courtesy of IMDB

Going into this film, I was nervous, to say the least. Not only am I a die-hard fan of everything Austen and a lover of Persuasion, but just a 30-second Google of the new adaptation of Persuasion told me exactly what critics think of it: they hate it.

And I can see why; it’s so far detached from Austen’s work that it becomes almost unrecognisably Austen, and instead ‘Fleabag-esque’ with Dakota Johnson’s witty remarks to the camera and sneaky side eye, and yet I couldn’t help but enjoy the ride.

Once I detached myself from the mindset of ‘this has to be a film that is faithful to the book’, and my initial surprise at the film's modern and colloquial lexicon – Anne starts off the film by sarcastically asserting that she is, in fact, thriving – I began to take the film for what it is. Loosely adapted. And that’s fine!

Courtesy of IMDB

The humour in this film is great too, and although it’s not exactly Austen’s sense of humour (this is a little more on the nose), I still found myself laughing throughout. Anne, played by Dakota Johnson, along with the majority of her siblings and friends, are all just like teenagers. They throw tantrums, shade, and are completely horrible in the best way.

This is what made the film, at least for me, the most enjoyable and relatable. It did not feel like there was some sort of impenetrable wall that required me to concentrate to even understand what was going on. At the heart of it, there was something charming about the characters and their lives; that is what Austen is so well-known for.

Courtesy of IMDB

Now, I won’t ignore, of course, that Netflix’s adaptation is not the best. I don’t think I’ll be rewatching it any time soon, and it has nothing on the 2020 film Emma or the 1995 Pride and Prejudice BBC series. But for me, a significant slip-up is the scene in which Anne reads her letter from Wentworth. If you haven’t read the original letter Austen wrote, I implore you to do so; it is Jane Austen at her best. Not only did the film offer an abridged version of the letter, but they had Dakota Johnson read it to the camera with very little regard for Wentworth’s voice – after all, he wrote it.

So, although this film may have missed the mark when traversing Austen’s nuance and sophistication, as so many others have attempted before, it still stands as a great summer movie, stuffed to the brim with sobbing, fine-wine drinking, and romance.

Featured Image: IMDB


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