The Bastardisation of Persuasion

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!

78 thoughts on “The Bastardisation of Persuasion

  1. Dear god, that trailer. It’s tone makes it seem like they were going for an “Emma feel” but like it just feels wrong and makes me uncomfortable. But at least Baz Lurhman’s R+J kept the text the same!

    Thank you for doing the service of writing about it so I don’t have to hate watch it myself. I don’t want to encourage NEtflix lmao

    Liked by 4 people

  2. It has become all too common for movies to tell everything to the audience. It seen that film makers have lost the idea that movies are made up pictures and pictures are worth a thousand words. So it easier for a movie to show the audience.
    I wrote a whole on this and I need to re-post it up onto my blog again.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I have heard lots of terrible things about this adaptation, and suspect that this review is more entertaining than watching the actual movie! I definitely was wondering why audiences would believe Anne allows herself to be pushed around by her relatives if she’s being depicted as really assertive and self-aware! It’s an oversight. Maybe this was supposed to be a fun kind of satirical adaptation, but I’m not sure it would work well with Persuasion. Maybe having a character like Emma monologue to the camera would make more sense?

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    1. Hehe thank you! It was exceptionally disappointing. I was really looking forward to the adaptation when I heard about it as well :/ yes exactly!! She can’t be both assertive and pushed around!! And yeah it doesn’t work at all. It was trying too hard to be Emma (and even then I don’t know if I’d have liked the monologuing to the camera- it’s so hard to pull off!)

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  4. I was so excited when I heard they were making a new adaptation of Persuasion even more so when I saw the casting but omg it is sooo bad. I had heard terrible things about it but thought I’d give it a try. I lasted about 35 mins and don’t think I can watch anymore. It’s just so horribly cringy. Persuasion is my favourite Austen book and Anne Elliott a favourite character and they’ve ruined both. I’m going to have to cleanse it from my brain by watching the Rupert Penry Jones one on repeat.

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  5. When I saw the trailer, I knew that whatever we were getting, it wouldn’t be an adaptation of Austen’s novel, Persuasion. So I tried to approach it totally independent from the novel. I tried to approach it as a Hollywood rom com that was perhaps loosely inspired by Austen. I watched it with my mom (who doesn’t know the book) and she really enjoyed it. As for me…I enjoyed it enough when I was able to put the novel totally out of my mind. I wasn’t bothered by modern turns of phrase and contemporary music and such, because that seemed like an intentional choice. But a lot of the slapsticky humor made me cringe. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone really, but I would say that it’s only really offensive if you consider it in the context of an adaptation of the source material.

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    1. Yes! Same!! But even though I tried to just enjoy it, I ended up feeling bored and unhappy with it. I guess I don’t like the kind of film it was trying to be- even if it wasn’t a poor adaptation! Yeah the slapstick was a step too far! Haha yes

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  6. I haven’t read Persuasion, but this movie was obviously trying to relate to modern audiences and be funny. It was awkward. I can’t believe they altered her character or changed the key romantic lines. That should be first on the list of rules you cannot break when it comes to adaptions. If you have no connection to the original, maybe you’d like this one, but I dunno. The romance was so bland too—I didn’t care about him at all.

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  7. I am definitely not watching this film. The trailer alone was enough to put me off and your review just confirmed my worst fears.
    The sad thing is that, if the creators had decided to put it in a modern settings and changed the names/title, perhaps, it would had potential to be a good modern retelling like ‘Clueless’. I don’t know what the creators were thinking by keeping the 1800s setting other than a weak attempt to appeal to Bridgerton fans.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. It was so so bad :/ And yes possibly- although I still would’ve liked them to keep *something* of the original character (that’s why clueless works imo, although bridget jones doesn’t do that so much and it still works to be fair). Yes absolutely- that was the impression I got.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. book: ‘There could have been no two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison, no countenances so beloved. Now they were as strangers; nay, worse than strangers, for they could never become acquainted. It was a perpetual estrangement.’

    film: ‘We’re worse than strangers. We’re exes.’

    OH MY DAYS no thanks haha

    Liked by 5 people

  9. I attempted to watch this but gave up less than 20 min later. Such a shame. You have convinced me not to come back to it, and I have since permanently removed it from my “Continue Watching” queue on Netflix. Thank you 😊

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Haha, I knew this review was going to be good. I’ve only read the book once, but even I could see that the trailer had nothing in common with the book. The only thing that made it period was the costumes, and even there, it feels like the actors are a bunch of modern people playing dress-up.

    Also, Anne is way too pretty. She is supposed to be pretty in a very understated way, so much so that at the beginning of the book, she is plain.

    Finally, why oh why would you make an Austen movie and *not use any of Austen’s lines*? Austen’s dialogue is so great, so dry, so witty, so pithy. It’s the main reason to go to an Austen movie. It’s as if someone said, “People like Austen. I have no idea why, but let’s make a movie for them. But let’s make it *good* and put some *good* lines in there.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes!! I completely agree!! Haha I don’t even think it was fully in keeping with the costumes- why on earth was Anne wearing a beret?!? And why do these modern adaptations hate bonnets so much?!

      And yes I agree! They didn’t even try to make her look plainer at the start of the movie (as she’s supposed to only regain some of her looks as the story progresses) though I don’t know how they’d have managed it with such a lovely looking actress to be fair.

      And yes!! It’s like they didn’t even like the book or the writing. The reason that so many adaptations work so well is that they can literally lift lines from the book! Nothing beats Austen’s writing- so why try? And why try with cringey dialogue?! It was, to quote Austen, badly done!

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  11. The very look of the character in the pictures you have here are the very antithesis of Anne. Now there’s going to be a whole group of people who think they know what Persuasion is all about and they won’t even know just how off base they are.
    sigh….

    Liked by 3 people

      1. I have watched it (or rather skimmed through it!) and have a ‘film of the book’ post coming up… not a positive one, though. It wasn’t even entertaining as a film, let alone an Austen adaptation.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Wow. I’m not keen on the trailer, but I did wonder if – never having read Persuasion, or much Austen at all (yes, I know) – I’d hate it less. It sounds highly unlikely!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. This us happening to so many films. Straying far and wide from the original and imposing themes completely at variance with the original whilst pandering to every conceivable contemporary politicised interest group.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. IT WAS DREADFUL. At first I thought – ahhh it’ll be like Sharknado, so bad it’s good. I was wrong. I was so, so wrong. The octopus moment. ‘with a bottle of red’ the wine aunt energy … ???? It’s insane. And Wentworth was dreadful. The actor looked longingly and mumbled his lines and a burnt down chemistry lab would have more chemistry than the two leads. oh my gosh why was this greenlit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha yes unfortunately it wasn’t so bad it was good!! I wish it had been! But it was just awful! No idea why they had that octopus scene?!? He was terrible:/ they did nothing with him. Hahaha so true!

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  15. Oh my. I just watched this last night, and you absolutely nailed it. I suppose someone who isn’t familiar with Persuasion or Jane Austen and just wants to see people in a vaguely period-ish piece acting snarky might enjoy it. Great selection of quotes — the modernized slang is so awful. I think I yelled something inappropriate when a character used the phrase “farting around” at one point. I completely agree — whoever this character is supposed to be, she’s certainly not Anne Elliot.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I’m avoiding watching this movie like the plague! I have been loving people roast it though. As soon as I saw who they cast to be Anne, I was like, “Anne isn’t going to be Anne, is she?”

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