Sunday, August 14, 2022

Netflix’s Jane Austen adaptation is a disaster

Netflix’s Persuasion is a mess. Flashes that were almost as annoying as the movie’s source material maltreatment. Henry Golding’s Mr. Elliot seems beamed in from another film.

Persuasion is toned and set differently than Austen’s previous novels. It’s about losing love and embracing it. Anne Elliot, daughter of a baronet, is persuaded at 19 to break off her engagement to Frederick Wentworth. Anne fears Wentworth’s love has turned to ashes when he returns eight years later.

Anne, played by Dakota Johnson, drinks, cries, and makes outrageous statements. Awkward. Only when she plays Sir Walter’s successor and Wentworth’s competitor, Mr. Elliot, does she seem human.

Wentworth is jolted out of his resentful lethargy by Mr. Elliot’s affection for Anne. In the film, Mr. Elliot stares at Anne so shamelessly that he and Wentworth exchange salty words. Mr. Elliot is a reinvented character, unlike the others.

One of the book’s main themes is the gap between who you are and how others see you, and whether former lovers can still communicate. It’s not subtle. TikTok-sounding talks convey all subtext. This concern with following the text saps the film’s urgency—except for Mr. Elliot.

In the book, he’s a paragon of dishonesty, but in the movie, his charming villainy works. Golding’s performance throbs with electricity, and the apparent delight he takes in his escapades is funny.

Even the most clear example of fabricated dialogue—Anne telling Mr. Elliot in Lyme that Wentworth misunderstood him—works. Like Matthew McConaughey in True Detective, Golding pulls off this line.

Mr. Elliot is not a heretical interpretation of Austen’s figure, therefore he is unburdened, new, and thrilling, offering a different film choice. Reinventions of classics from a fresh perspective can be tough, but done right—think Longbourn from Pride and Prejudice’s servants’ perspective—they stand on their own.

This Persuasion wants to abandon the novel’s constraints, tone, and seriousness, yet it sticks to the plot and setting. Henry Golding shows how this film could have worked if it hadn’t crushed the novel.

In the movie, unlike the novel, Mr. Elliot marries Mrs. Clay. Their probable marriage is alluded to in the book’s epilogue. Sir Walter and other family members would not have attended the wedding. Mr. Elliot performs better than in the book when he states, “I choose this woman.” In Bridgerton’s parallel universe, King George marries Black Queen Charlotte and promotes all races to the peerage.

It’s exhilarating to imagine an Austen where such pairings wouldn’t considered humiliating. Mrs. Clay’s planning and flattery bother me, but I appreciate her marriage to Mr. Elliot.

This Persuasion doesn’t work because it mocks the novel’s characters. Not liking a character is different. Mr.

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