Written by: Ronald Bass & Alice Victoria Winslow
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Cosmo Jarvis, Richard E. Grant, Henry Golding
Works of adaptation run a fine balance of trying to be faithful to the source material but also standing out in their own right. It’s what makes valiant attempts to be different and something to be admired even if they do not work. However, there comes a point where separation from the spirit of the text deviates to a point of ridiculousness and simply hampers everything it wants to achieve, which this adaptation of Persuasion ends up doing. Far too busy wanting to be modern that it fails in capturing what makes the author of the story so special.
Anne (Dakota Johnson) still lives at home with her vane father and remains unmarried following the decision forced upon her to forsake the man she loved, Frederick Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis). Upon his return with titles and esteem that would make him a suitable match brings back old feelings contending with others trying to win each of their affections.
Jane Austen’s stories have remained in prominence for decades now for a reason. Its lessons and ideas can relate to any generation. It becomes the special sauce that allows for adaptation in different decades to still have these stories feel incredibly fresh. A film can have its own twist on the story, sure, but the route taken by this iteration of Persuasion proves to be absolutely appalling in several ways, which takes away from the few good things the film manages to do well.
Let’s get the good out of the way before we dig into the many bad things about this film. One, the cinematography is gorgeous in the way it captures this English countryside. Some of the shots genuinely stunned me. Also, the cast assembled is quite impressive but not all of them were made for this material and it showed.
Dakota Johnson has been quite the figure with her career taking some interesting turns. One can say she’s a good actor but many of her projects completely let her down and do not provide her with the material to succeed. She never should have been cast in this role seeing as her British accent lacked any real continuity. In no way could she possibly pull off this role. Johnson has one of those faces where you just know she owns a cell phone, which does not befit a period piece within an Austen story.
Take the bad decision to cast Johnson in the lead role and add that with the tongue-in-cheek storytelling perspective undertakes and it just astounds how misguided this adaptation proved to be. Much of this comes from how Anna narrates the story and occasionally looks at the camera. This happens in moments where she looks at the audience in disbelief or in joy because of what occurs in the narrative. Something that becomes distracting and ultimately does nothing positive for the story. Compound that with the idea this feature wants to take on this hyper-modern approach to this story, which deeply misunderstands what has made Austen’s stories timeless. While being no Austen scholar, her stories have progressivism within their periods, which renders a sense of viability to the story. Incredibly radical in their time even if it does not match the standards of our more modern society. This film presents Anne as someone from the 21st century dropped right into this story, which defeats the whole purpose of what Austen accomplished during her period as an author. It brings this sense of superficiality that should not be the case for a romance where we need to build and believe in the central love story at play.
Then you have the absolutely stale romance meant to be existent between Wentworth and Anne in a way that fails to sell us on this meant-to-be love. Johnson and Cosmo Jarvis have no chemistry and it comes to the detriment of this feature seeing as these two individuals are meant to be so magnetic that they become untenable. None of this comes across in the feature at all, which leaves not much to appreciate in this film as a whole.
An unfortunate adaptation that deserves some credit for being different but proves to be quite horrible in how it tries to modernize a story that never needed it. This shift and the little looks into the camera becomes something so artificial and unenjoyable that made me question why this film needed to be greenlit. Completely forgettable and something that just never needed to exist if this was the route they were going to take.