Updated: Jul 16
In case you are unaware, because I don't like to assume, a new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion has released on Netflix, July 15, 2022. Leading up to it, there has been a lot, a lot, of hubbub about the casting, costumes, dialogue, etcetera, etcetera. I was asked for an interview by The Wall Street Journal arts reporter Ellen Gamerman. You can read the fantastic article by Gamerman here. How cool to be quoted in The Wall Street Journal, especially about Jane Austen and Austen-adjacent work. And especially since my own MrB is such a fan of that paper. To be mentioned amongst some of Who’s Who in Austen academics makes me think of that time when director Whit Stillman asked a group of us “Who here are the academics and who are the fans?” That’s me. Fangirl to the core!
I chatted for about forty minutes (anyone who knows me knows how I can go on and on about Jane Austen topics.) The following are some notes I made before and during the interview (and obviously polished for my own post) to keep me from wandering too far off topic:
Regarding how half the Austen world reacted negatively when the trailer released:
The two-minute Persuasion trailer made me wonder about writers Ross Bass's and Alice Victoria Winslow's word choice and syntax and intent—and who their target audience is and how adapting Austen’s most famous lines might contribute to the tone or emotion of the film.
Austen fans are scrupulously picking apart the trailer. I think we are versed enough with her novels and adaptations to recognize when it strays. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Have you seen Firth’s wet shirt scene in Pride and Prejudice 1995? Of course, you have. And then the 2020 Emma with the horrid bloody nose proposal...
Directors and writers love to make their own interpretation in films, and we love to critique their choices. Because Austen fans feel such a personal connection, some sort of ownership and protectiveness for her work, everyone has an opinion—an ardent opinion.
Regarding my own reaction to the trailer given my occupation: I subcontract as an editor often for women's lit and romance and about 40+ Austen adjacent novels, and part of what I do is point out character issues...questioning if Austen’s original character would behave or make those same decisions or speeches in their Austen variation, point out language that is not period correct... And yes, that trailer did make me furrow my brows. Despite the liberal changes with Austen’s masterpiece, it looks beautifully shot, the cast is talented...so I simply look to be entertained. I’ll withhold my opinion till after I’ve seen it. So far it looks like a diverting fan fiction. Let’s hope it brings more Austen fans into the fold.
Honestly, they had me at Henry Golding. Half agony. Half hope. All anticipation.
Regarding the dislike for lead actress Dakota Johnson: I have wondered if some are annoyed by the casting of Dakota Johnson. It seems some on social media have had it out for the film since they announced her as Anne: too pretty for Anne, the Fifty Shades of Grey connection, she is an American. Some seem to be annoyed how Anne breaks the fourth wall—that it makes Anne a cheeky, comic character rather than thoughtful, serious, and somber. But again, I’ll wait to see how the whole thing is put together. I think it could be an effective “device.” I think Dakota has talent. (I also think her beauty alone could hold the devotion of a man for eight years!)
Regarding Persuasion as Austen’s most serious work: Some think this new adaption too lighthearted for Austen’s arguably most serious, complex piece, especially as it was written at the end of her life. But I like to imagine that this adaptation injects bits of Jane herself into Anne, at that age. Around 1801, she would have been 26, there was a gentleman she met at the seaside and in A Portrait of Austen by David Cecil says that there might have been something more to that, but they learned he had died. I like to imagine Persuasion as Jane’s own fantasy novel of second chances. And despite the critics, I will try to enjoy this interpretation, thinking of her as a more playful aunt with lots of opinions not readily expressed.
I am desperately hoping there will be a balance between the humorous bits and the somber and angst of the original masterpiece.
Regarding costuming: The costuming sets a mood and I think, in my non-expert costumer opinion, that it lends a lot to Anne's character, all the characters. I think the modernizing is subtle. Any only the most discriminating eye would notice any oddities. But any scene, in any adaptation, when the adult heroine has her hair down or is not wearing gloves in public waves a red cape to the Austen fandom.
Regarding streaming the film: I guess I’ll be in the minority and queue up to watch it with an open mind. I mean, the critics hated the recent The Time Traveler’s Wife series with Theo James too—and the second season has been cancelled. And I loved the adaptation. (I’m not crying, you’re crying.)
It’s an adaptation for heaven’s sake. I’m defending the new Persuasion now. Who knows? Maybe after I’ve seen the whole thing, I’ll claim it a travesty like the rest. But at the moment, I could use an Austenesque happily-ever-after diversion. I would be streaming it right now, but MrB asked if I’d wait to watch it with him this evening. NOW THAT is “breaking news” in my house!