What fresh hell have we entered? Persuasion is, as for many Austen fans, one of my favourite novels. Beautifully romantic and emotionally complex, it is an intensely personal story. And yet, it’s clear that whatever film the producers of 2022’s version wanted to make, it wasn’t an adaptation of Austen’s Persuasion. For many a mere glimpse of the trailer will convince you that this is an unmitigated disaster, but should you need further persuading, read on…
The most glaringly obvious example of how this
blatantly disrespects Austen differs from the source material is in the characterisation of Anne. Now, let’s be clear, this boozy, boisterous, snarky woman *is not* Anne Eliot. To be clear, Anne Eliot was such a kind soul that she gives and gives without realising that she’s being taken advantage of. This “Anne” is nothing like that. Almost gleefully aware of how horrible her relatives are and simultaneously resentful of her lot in life, she literally can’t experience the growth of her bookish counterpart, because she knows from the beginning that she made a gigantic mistake and that her family are all pigs. All her lovability and goodness is stripped away so that she can seem more #relatable.
Of course, this change massively disrupts the tone of the whole story. Where the original is a delicate romance of lost love and personal growth, this has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Here, we get to have the lead constantly bitching to the camera about how much she’s being pushed around… which makes very little sense since they recharacterized her into someone who can so clearly stand up for herself. I honestly wondered why she was even in this position, since she clearly didn’t have a kind bone in her body, despite other characters helpfully telling us that she is. But why show when you can have characters monologuing what they think and feel? We may as well have Anne simply inform us that her sister is a narcissist. We may as well have the villain tell us his motivations. And we may as well have the juvenile humour of Anne saying “got much further to fall” followed by a literal fall. Fun. If your version of fun is circus-style antics where the leads wear jam for face paint. Which doesn’t exactly fit with the story. Still who cares, because clearly this is the only way to appeal to a modern audience, right?
Speaking of which, all the dialogue is modern and cringey as hell. I’m sure you’ve already heard that this bastardised version of Austen contains the line: “We’re worse than strangers. We’re exes.” A line “so good” that they decided to follow it up with “now we’re worse than exes. We’re friends.” I swear, it’s actually more gagworthy in the context of the film. Yet in case you’re still not convinced how utterly awful this writing is, allow me to give you a few other choice quotes:
“I am an empath.”
“He’s a ten. I never trust a ten.”
“Sucking my own face.”
All lines you can be sure were straight out of an Austen novel… if you’ve never actually read an Austen novel.
Which brings me onto yet another complaint. And that’s the way this treats the historical context. And I’m going to skirt right over the issue of rewriting the past into a magical anti-racist haven and point out some of the other more obvious problems. Like having Anne shouting “vivre la revolution!” and joking about Marie Antoinette getting her head cut off. I know someone somewhere thought this would be a clever and fun way to differentiate Anne from her snobby relatives… but did any of these people ever think to research the time period? Because no, even a rebellious lady (which incidentally Anne is decidedly not in the books) wouldn’t be cheering on the mass murder of their peers in a foreign country. And yet they were so vested in this idea that they decided to stick Anne in a beret- perhaps as some symbolic gesture of protest to the idea of making an adaptation in the first place. While the writers clearly think they are showing off a certain amount of progressiveness to praise the bloodbath of the French Revolution, it merely shows their extreme ignorance and disdain for history. As much as it might be fun to watch a hungover lady slurping tea… it’s actually no fun at all and isn’t at all the reason people watch period dramas in the first place.
And if you can so easily dismiss the importance of history, because all you care about is the romance, then allow me to inform you that this movie is utterly devoid of romance. There’s no real tension of will-they-won’t-they, since the leads so clearly still care for each other. Well, Anne cares for Frederick and Frederick is a damp cloth. I haven’t bothered to talk about his personality up until this point, because he doesn’t have one. But never fear coming out of this movie with no emotions whatsoever, because we are told what to think at the end of the movie with this gem of a quote:
“It’s okay to love on your own terms, however unorthodox. Don’t let anyone tell you how to live or who to love.”
So very Austen. We are expected to have simply take this modern interpretation, the bizarre breaking of the fourth wall and the desecration of the character… and just run with it I guess. All in the name of modernising a classic.
Well, have you suffered through this movie as well? Or are you doing the sensible thing and avoiding it like the plague? Let me know in the comments!