From the first trailer for Netflix's new Persuasion adaptation, it was clear that the film would depart from the source material in a way that Jane Austen's novel is sober, melancholy, and ruminative. Dakota Johnson won the camera, Fleabag-style, and profaned the shocking line, Now were worse than exes. Were friends. Austen fans were surprised, but waited to see what the whole feature would have in store.
The losers in Austen's novel and of its self-possessed heroine, Anne Elliot, have not been kind: At this writing, the film from Carrie Cracknell has a mediocre 33% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. According to L.A. Times critic Justin Chang, the film appears to have lifted sentences from [Persuasion] and fed them through some kind of Instagram-filtering, catchphrase-generating, text-summarizing idiot bot.
Below is an overview of the main differences between the novel and the film.
What was the origin of your persuasion?
Persuasion is Jane Austen's final completed novel, published six months after she died in 1817. It's considered her most mature, serious novel, although it's not without her trademark satirical humor, and it focuses on Anne Elliot, a 27-year-old woman who still regrets an engagement she took at the age of 19.
Anne goes to stay with her married sister Mary, who lives near the family estate, and is thus reunited with her ex-fiance, which causes her great distress and emotional turmoil.
What makes the new film adaptation different?
Persuasion, a Netflix adaptation by Alice Victoria Winslow and Ron Bass, maintains the plot of Austen's novel. Anne does temporarily stay with her sister Mary (Mia McKenna-Bruce) and her in-laws, one of whom becomes infatuated with Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis), which sets the film and the novels final act into motion, sending Anne and Wentworth back into each others arms, though not before much fear.
When Cracknell, Winslow, Bass, and Johnson misapprehend the book's tone and misinterpret the main character, it's difficult to appreciate the film's basic fidelity to the novel's plot, but the result is that it doesn't convey how it feels to read the book. All film adaptations have to modify plot details, or change storylines, in order to fit hundreds of pages of text into a few hours of runtime.
Johnsons Anne lets everything out. She flops on her bed, drinks to forget, and shouts Wentworth's name at the camera when she notices her sister Mary annoys her, rather than just enjoying her company as a dutiful and single older sister must. In the novel, Wentworth is a charming, accomplished man who has been around for years and has arranged to meet with the Crofts specifically to meet her.
Okay, that sounds awful.But what about the plot?
The film version of Persuasion changes one big thing from the novel. William Elliot, the Elliot family's cousin, will inherit the estate. (Austen used a similar plot device in Pride and Prejudice, in which the Bennet sisters' cousin, the unappealing Mr. Collins, will inherit the house.) Anne meets William in Lyme Regis, where he implicitly suggests that the two might marry.
Anne's instinctive character judgment is correct: In the final chapter of the novel, she reconnects with a widowed school friend, Mrs. Smith. William has been ruthless and punitive as an executor of his estate. Mrs. Clay has also been courting her sister Elizabeth's companion, to ensure that she does not marry their father, Mr. Elliot.
William (Henry Golding) is a sly person who courts Anne and proposes to her while seeing Mrs. Clay (Lydia Rose Bewley) on the side. This sequence of adjustments makes no sense. But William does not have to marry Mrs. Clay to keep her from marrying Mr. Elliot, as Austens' novel suggests.
The changes, while minor, smooth out the most distressing aspects of Austen's novel, a choice that is consistent with the films changes to the books melancholy tone. Though Mrs. Smiths situation is improved by the end of Persuasion, Austen still carefully portrays her own circumstances; similarly, she does not shy away from the possibility that a charming, wealthy man might persuade a woman from a lower social class to be his mistress.
Despite all of these annoying situations, this adaptation instead provides a crisp, meme-able version of the novel. Viewers may find the film entertaining, but it will not stick with them long after the credits are over.