Jane Austen’s Anne Elliot is surprisingly feisty (and clumsy) in this new adaptation of her final completed novel.
It would be fair to say that Carrie Cracknell’s directorial debut is a bit of a mixed bag – not because of the way in which it has been filmed, but rather down to the mixed way in which Jane Austen’s novel has been adapted in this screen play by Ron Bass and Alice Victoria Winslow try and use modern expressions to highlight character’s thoughts and opinions which seem oddly jarring.
Now, please don’t think I’m saying this because I don’t like contemporary twists on Jane Austen’s stories – Bridget Jones’s Diary, Bride & Prejudice or Autumn de Wilde’s 2020 adaptation which retained the period style while adding a quirky twist that felt contemporary all work really well. But I think the main problem is with this adaptation of Persuasion is that it too bluntly tries to blend the era in which the story is set in with the present day to reach a new audience.
For those unfamiliar with Persuasion, the story is centred on Anne Elliot who was persuaded to turn down a proposal of marriage from the dashing Captain Wentworth and has been regretting it ever since. But now several years on their paths are set to cross once more – but will Anne get her second chance at happiness? It is a truly romantic story and one of my favourite stories to return to.
There is a real sense of elegance in the way in which Carrie Cracknell has brought the story to life – it has the feel of a faithful Jane Austen adaptation and certainly draws out strong performances from Dakota Johnson who has exactly the right temperament to play Anne and Cosmo Jarvis brings a real soulfulness to Wentworth that is utterly charming for example. It is just such a shame that some of the dialogue and incidents that occur don’t quite fit in – whether it is Anne knocking back red wine or calling out Wentworth’s name to grab his attention – there are moments when it is a battle between different portrayals of Anne in particular – it misjudges the character Jane Austen created altogether. Sadly, these moments made me wince.
The costumes, the locations used and Stuart Earl’s music help to retain the romantic vibe of the story beautifully. I particularly loved the scene in which Wentworth and Anne have a proper conversation together on the beach at Lyme – it feels tender and its a lovely additional moment that enhances the story well. The softer and more emotional moments of the story have been framed well it has to be said and are the film’s strongest scenes.
The performances are excellent throughout. I particularly enjoyed Mia McKenna-Bruce as Anne’s sister spoilt and self-indulgent sister Mary, Nikki Amuka-Bird as the forthright Lady Russell and Henry Golding as the charming Mr Elliot – all give detailed performances that bring the characters to life as they should.
It is just such a shame that the script is all over the place – one minute being swept away by Austen’s wonderful language to then be suddenly hearing words that wouldn’t have been familiar at the time the film is set in. There is some aspects to this film to be admired but also things that could have been changed to keep the contemporary vibe it was looking for without taking away from the story.
Persuasion is out in cinemas and on Netflix now.