Review by Sean Boelman
There’s no denying that Jane Austen wrote some of the most timeless, persisting romantic comedies to have ever graced the page, hence why it is such a disappointment when a film adaptation fails to recognize what is so special about her writing in the first place. The new version of Persuasion really struggles to capture the wit of its source material.
The movie follows a woman who gets a second chance at finding true love when she reunites with a dashing man eight years after she was persuaded not to marry him. One of Austen’s two novels that was published posthumously, this became one of her most popular works, and as such, it will be familiar to most audiences.
Austen’s writing naturally has a very acerbic wit, and is frequently written in a unique voice, but screenwriters Ron Bass and Alice Victoria Winslow really oversimplify things. They have the protagonist break the fourth wall frequently with a narration that feels like it desperately wants to wink at the camera.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the film is that it loses much of the social context of the source material. All of Austen’s books have something to say about the absurdity of courtship, but this story was known for its particular insight. The movie loses much of its bite in how it discusses the social stratification aspects of romance.
The film also fails to effectively establish what is arguably the most important part of this story: the love triangle. Henry Golding is horribly miscast in his role. As great as Golding is at being charming, there’s a lot more to this role than being merely likable, and he isn’t able to get across those deeper aspects of his character.
Dakota Johnson fares better in her leading role, but there is a slight feeling that persists throughout the whole movie that she isn’t entirely sure how to deliver lines with this type of language. Cosmo Jarvis is without a doubt the best part of the cast, giving a performance that is genuinely lovely. Richard E. Grant is good too, but underused.
Visually, there are some gorgeous things in the film, from picturesque cinematography by Joe Anderson to exquisite costume work from Marianne Agertoft. Director Carrie Cracknell has primarily worked in theatre up to this point, but she does well in a cinematic medium nevertheless.
Persuasion isn’t awful, but it is one of the most uninspired Jane Austen adaptations to come out in quite a while. Although there are a few redeemable aspects to it, it’s not enough to recommend it to most viewers.
Persuasion hits Netflix on July 15.