Content Warning: Spoilers for the 1818 Jane Austen novel “Persuasion,” if you can spoil a 200-year-old romance novel.
The Netflix film “Persuasion,” starring Dakota Johnson and Cosmo Jarvis, premiered in July 2022, and like many fans of the book, I eagerly awaited its release.
Actually, scratch that. I eagerly awaited its release until I saw the trailer for the movie, and then I modified my expectations so that my spirit could go on in case this movie was trash. I thought the trailer was okay, and I wanted to give the movie the benefit of the doubt. “Persuasion” by Jane Austen is one of my favorite books, and even if I did not love the movie, I was at least grateful that there was more Persuasion-related content.
Now that I have seen the movie, I can be honest in my assessment and say that it was pretty terrible. Other reviewers could happily tell you why this movie sucked so hard, and I think it would prefer if you read the disparaging reviews from them. If pressed, I could find parts of the movie that I enjoyed, like when Anne showed off the momentos she had kept from her relationship with Frederick. However, those good moments were all outweighed by the intense disregard the screenplay showed to the book. It’s as if the director said, “I like this ‘second-chance romance,’ but this version of Anne sucks and needs to be more like the bastard love child of Bridget Jones and Fleabag.” I’m not exaggerating when I say “Persuasion” is an important book to me. Even though I enjoy trashing a bad movie as much as the next person, I wanted this adaptation to be good, and I was disappointed by it.
For those unfamiliar, “Persuasion” is the story of Anne Elliot, a 27-year-old woman who lives a quiet, unappreciated existence. Eight years before, she had been engaged to a talented young navel officer, Frederick Wentworth, but due to his lack of connections, wealth, and rank, she was persuaded to give up the engagement. Years later, Frederick returns, though now he’s the wealthy Captain Wentworth, and he is furious with Anne for breaking his heart.
In some ways, “Persuasion” is something of a revenge fantasy. Captain Wentworth is ready to return to Somersetshire and flaunt his well-earned success right in Anne’s stupid face. But instead, he’s determined to flirt with other girls, be charming, and show Anne everything she missed out on. And y’all, that is exactly what he does. So Captain Wentworth gets his revenge! And it makes him feel great!
You know, for all about ten seconds.
Then he realizes a different truth: this person who hurt him so deeply is still Anne. She is still the woman he always loved, only she’s matured and knows herself better. From there, the story becomes one of two people falling in love again. And even learning to forgive each other for past mistakes. It’s a thoughtful, mature story that accepts how the people we love make mistakes, but we have the power to forgive them and move forward.
Even though Persuasion was written in 1817, it is such a profoundly human story that it remains relatable years later. Therefore, I wouldn’t call it a story that needs to be updated for “modern sensibilities” because so much of what the characters felt in the 1800s is what we would feel now.
So yes, I was disappointed by the Netflix adaptation because I think it lacks understanding of what makes “Persuasion” such a timeless story. However, a few other adaptations of “Persuasion” are worth watching. With that in mind, I thought I would share them with any readers who love the works of Jane Austen and would appreciate a recommendation. This is by no means a definitive list of every adaptation of “Persuasion,” but I hope readers will like the ones I’ve discussed.
This TV miniseries stars Ann Firbank as Anne Elliot and Bryan Marshall as Captain Wentworth, and it has a special place in my heart for its shamefully ugly 1970s costume design. However, I think this adaptation is fine. I selfishly enjoy it because it features a longer reconciliation between Anne and Wentworth (which is closer to the book’s events). Other than that, I only recommend this version if you’re a Persuasion fiend like me and are willing to watch 250 minutes of story.
This adaptation is the crown jewel of my collection. I think the 1995 adaptation of “Persuasion,” starring Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds, is the best adaptation of the book and arguably the best of Austen’s work. I think this movie is absolutely incredible, from the use of natural lighting to the subtle expressions displayed by the actors. This kind of movie is worth watching more than once because you’ll catch something new with each viewing.
Also, most importantly, the tension between Anne and Captain Wentworth is palpable. In every scene, you can feel how Captain Wentworth is so aware of Anne’s presence, even when he tries to ignore her. Your heart breaks with Anne’s as she tries to retain her composure in the presence of the person she’s always loved.
This was the movie that made me fall in love with the story. As much as I enjoy “Pride and Prejudice,” this movie spoke to me on a level I wouldn’t even understand until I finally started growing up.
I have mixed feelings about this adaptation. This television movie starring Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones was released in 2007 and received some positive reviews, but it pales compared to the 1995 version. Sally Hawkins is a talented actress and played Anne’s character beautifully, and Rupert Penry-Jones also did a good job, but I didn’t like the script. I thought it needlessly jumbled scenes from the book without improving the flow of the story. That being said, if you’re a Jane Austen fan, then I think you would still enjoy this movie.
Though heads up, the first kiss between Anne and Wentworth is not great from a cinematic standpoint.
This was a fun one and entirely a product of the times. In 2014, spurred on by the incredible success of “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” nerds everywhere clamored for modern web adaptations of classic novels. And there were tons of adaptations, from Anne of Green Gables to Much Ado About Nothing, and I watched them all. There was some talk about adapting “Persuasion” as a web series, but there was a slight caveat: the novel wouldn’t work with the format. A key factor of these web series was that the story’s main characters, Anne Shirley or Beatrice, would pick up the camera and narrate their experience to the audience, with the occasional side character joining in. Of course, many fictional characters could hypothetically have vlogs, but Anne Elliot? Never. She was not the kind of character to start a Youtube page and spill her heart out on the internet where thousands of people could potentially identify her.
But she might start a blog.
Enter “Project Persuasion,” an online blog by a mysterious person named “Anne Elliot.” This 27-year-old woman started a blog to share her experiences about starting a non-profit. Only, of course, things become more complicated as an old flame enters her life.
(The old flame is Wentworth. There is only one romance that matters in this article.)
“Persuasion” is a story that can be adapted to fit a modern timeline, but I think it will only be successful if the characters’ intentions remain intact.
Speaking of other modern adaptations, “Rational Creatures” is a web series that premiered in 2019 and is set to debut its second season in 2022. Starring Kristina Pupo as Ana Elías and Peter Giessel as Fred Wentworth, this modern series depicts Fred Wentworth as a cool, hip travel writer and Ana as the woman who has no idea what she’s doing with her life. Kristina Pupo does a great job portraying the incredibly relatable Ana (there’s a reason I fancast her as Krissy in my Ice Planet Barbarians fancast).
“Rational Creatures” deserves a shout-out for featuring several queer characters within the cast, like Louis Musgrove and Charlie Musgrove-Elías. The series has also made another creative choice that I appreciate. The writers took Mary, a profoundly selfish character in the original book, and rewrote her as Marisol Musgrove-Elías, a sympathetic person living with arthritis. Much of Mary’s selfishness was played for humor in the original novel, as well as to demonstrate Anne’s lack of snobbish behaviors. Still, I like that this show has updated her to make Mary less of a caricature.
Other Notable Mentions:
This web series is not strictly an adaptation of Persuasion, but more of an alternate universe telling. In this series, Jane Austen hosts a game show in which the heroines from her books compete in a reality show for a grand prize. Emma Woodhouse, Marianne Dashwood, Lizzie Bennet, Cat Morland, Mary Crawford, and Anne Elliot all have the opportunity to meet and work with (and against) each other to win the grand prize.
Is the premise a little odd? Yes, absolutely, but I think that’s part of the charm! It even allows the characters to be funny in a way that’s not exactly possible in other adaptations. For example, this is the only series that acknowledges human sack of wet flour that is Fanny Price.
I recommend this series to anyone who went feral during the literary web series trend or to anyone desperate for more portrayals of some of Austen’s less-popular works (the show’s portrayal of Cat Morland is a particular favorite of mine!).
I haven’t seen this one and, as of now, have zero intention of doing so. Does anyone want to tell me why I should? (Aside from my pathological need to be a completionist)
Also, I think the BBC destroyed all the existing copies of this series, so I guess I couldn’t watch it even if I wanted to.
As a treat, here’s yet another modern Persuasion adaptation, starring Alicia Witt. This gets a “special mention” because I haven’t watched it yet, but I know I will look at some point, even if it’s hot garbage. The plot is like “a woman’s ex-boyfriend hires her firm, and she has to deal with it.” I assume they overcome their differences and fall in love again because otherwise, I would riot.
I guess there may also be some gentle criticism lobbed at the main female character for being too career-oriented, but not so much as to be anti-feminist. Think like the level of criticism shown to Claire Dearing’s character in “Jurassic World.” You’re allowed to have a career, but be careful that it does not get in the way of having a family. You wouldn’t want to end up in your thirties with a fulfilling career and no babies with a husband that calls watching his own children “baby-sitting.” That kind of thing.
However, if I’m incorrect in my assessment, I will happily issue a retraction. I’ve done it before! Believe it or not, I like being incorrect about movies being bad. After all, I had hoped I would be wrong about Netflix’s “Persuasion.” Unfortunately, it was what I expected. Maybe sometime in the future, I’ll play script doctor with the screenplay and offer my ideas as to how to make it a better movie. For now, I’m probably just going to rewatch the adaptations I do like.
And who knows? Maybe Joel Kim Booster will write a persuasion-inspired sequel to “Fire Island.” My only request is that it be titled “Mykonos.”