Watch the latest adaptation of Persuasion getting roasted by Jane Austen fans online was deeply fun. As an enlightened major, I find it fascinating every time a new Austen-inspired thing comes out because it’s still divider.
sandit has been criticized for not being a good continuation of the unfinished novel, and the 2020 Emma was favored, but everyone should note that appreciation of the tone “depends on your tolerance for bow, twee, and lightly deployed Andersonian tics”. There have long been blood feuds between fans of the Pride and Prejudice mini-series against the 2005 film. Sense and sensitivity The 2008 miniseries is so deeply in the shadow of Ang Lee’s film that even a sex scene and a duel doesn’t make it a topic of conversation.
Persuasion is one of Austen’s most difficult novels to adapt because it is Austen’s most introspective. In David M. Shapard’s annotated version of the classic novel, he writes, “Although it contains a comparable number of characters, most of these characters, most of these characters are developed in much less detail. It contains fewer passages of dialogue, relying much more on author descriptions to encapsulate what the other novels show through character speech and action. […] Finally, this novel stands out as the least humorous of all the novels, the only one without two or three supporting characters that provide substantial comic relief.
All this to say that what makes Persuasion both a difficult book to adapt and a deeply personal book for fans, is that it is more introspective and thoughtful than many of Austen’s other novels. Anne Elliot is a passive heroine. To quote Shapard again of Anne Elliot, “Her feelings for Captain Wentworth are already established and she has no important discoveries to make about herself. She observes nothing of great importance that the others have not witnessed; her superior insight into Captain Wentworth’s mind results primarily from her state of prior knowledge, not from anything she does during the novel.
Apart from two major moments, the fall of Lousia and that of her nephew, she waits, watches and reflects.
Previous attempts at adaptation Persuasion
Looking at previous adaptations of Persuasion, the two most recent are the 1995 BBC film and the 2007 TV film made for ITV’s Jane Austen season. The 1995 film, which I saw referred to in relation to this latest adaptation, had to change the character of Anne to make her less passive. He also took much of the book’s proto-feminist subtext and made it more explicit, with regards to class and gender. Professor Nora Foster Stovel, in “From Page to Screen: Dancing to the Altar in Recent Film Adaptations of Jane Austen’s Novels”, said of this adaptation,
In the 1995 BBC adaptation of the novel, directed by Roger Michell, screenwriter Nick Dear ups the ante by adding a scene in which Wentworth gives up his place at the piano to Anne in order to dance with the Musgroves, leaving Anne to play the solo accompaniment. . This scene provides a good example of a director adding a dance scene that enhances Austen’s characterization.
Still, this movie was overshadowed and didn’t get much attention until 1995. Pride and Prejudice and Reason & Sensitivity came out and sprouted in this mid-90s Jane Austen Revival. It’s now considered one of Austen’s best adaptations, but it’s not as common as some others.
When I went back to see reviews from 2007 Persuasionwhile they were overall good, the bad reviews tell a very similar story to 2022 Persuasion: “the script telegraphs its themes along the way, rather than letting them emerge, because the word ‘persuasion’ comes up one too many times.” The 2007 version is also very dry; Anne is still so wet in the eyes. Without the text to add depth, I found it quite forgettable. The funniest part was Amanda Hale as Mary, which is very similar to the 2022 version.
Why do I have to direct all of this before I get to the much-maligned 2022 movie? Because we’re talking about adapting a book that’s over 200 years old, a book that’s been adapted multiple times and struggled to have a passive heroine as the lead.
How 2022 works Persuasion compare?
Make a modernized version of Persuasion is a good idea. It is the oldest story. Anne, at 27, feels left out, has a love she gave up too soon and a family that is demoralizing her. She is lost and afloat. I can see how the Anne of the book becomes Dakota Johnson’s Anne Elliot. The major problem is that they should have done it After anachronistic, or if it had happened nowadays.
Even the breaking of the 4th wall of the film is not so troublesome. Anne is an introspective character, and having that voiceover would have worked; they should have simply modified it to have Anne write letters, as they did in 1999’s Mansfield Park – another book whose adaptation struggled under a passive heroine.
There are many fair and good arguments against 2022 Persuasion, but I find that some of them treat Jane Austen as if it were the same. I’ve seen people take issue with the idea of the novel being spoon-fed to them, but I think that’s true for most adaptations of any classic text, especially in film form.
I first saw Ang Lee’s perfect adaptation of Reason & Sensitivity before reading the book, and one of my favorite moments is when Marianne tells her mother about Edward and Elinor:
Mrs. Dashwood: Why so serious? Do you disagree with his choice?
Marianne: Not at all. Edward is very kind.
Mrs. Dashwood: Kind? But…?
Marianne: But something is missing. He is too calm. His reading last night…
Mrs. Dashwood: But Elinor doesn’t have your feelings. His reserve suits him well.
Marianne: Can he love her? Can the soul really be satisfied with such polite affections? To love is to burn – to be on fire, like Juliet or Guinevere or Eloise.
Ms. Dashwood: They made some rather pathetic endings, my dear.
Marianne: Pathetic? Die of love? How can you say that? What could be more glorious?
Ms. Dashwood: I think that would be pushing your romantic sensibilities a bit too far.
This scene is not in the books, but in her wisdom Emma Thompson added it because it tells the audience exactly where Marianne’s spirit is. Most people are familiar with Juliet and Guinevere and their tragic endings. It’s shorthand for the character of Marianne. Is that leaps and bounds better than “in Bath she’s a 10”? Yes, but it’s the same instinct.
I believe Persuasion The biggest sin of 2022 is not getting the better of Anne. Dakota Johnson can play a passive character with an inner fire, and I think if she had been the straight woman in this world, the comedy would have worked better. I think people like Persuasion because of Anne’s character, and if it had been done well, the rest of the sins would have been basic.
Despite his problems…
However, I do not find in me the strength to hate this film because I understand why it made its mistakes. I don’t think it was done out of malice or hatred of the source material; it was done with a mistaken understanding of what audiences expect from modernized Austen – and it will always be difficult because even we don’t know that.
Persuasion is, in many ways, Jane Austen’s finest work. It shows massive growth in terms of theme and (with mansfield park) is deeply critical of the class system of the time. I understand the desire to see it done well, especially because Jane Austen is always maligned as a writer.
But I also understand why writers would think, Wow, look at all the depressed millennials who love Anne Elliot. Let’s get her thinking about it. The problem is that if you do that, it changes everything, so change everything. Persuasion 2022 is afraid to be a modern rom-com reimagined, and that’s exactly what it was meant to be.
And I think I love Jane Austen, but when are we going to look at the things that inspired her or the works of her contemporaries? Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Elizabeth Hamilton, etc. I will never get tired of Jane Austen and her heroines, but I’m tired of focusing only on 2 (sometimes 3) works by women authors.
OK, now you can yell at me. But also stream Fire Island for a grand reimagining of Austen.
(featured image: Netflix)
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