Watching Persuasion as a Jane Austen fan: Sense and sensibility sacrificed to sass

It is a truth universally acknowledged that female leads must be saucy and sexy. Thus, the sweet, shy, strong Anne Elliot turns into a gorgeous being who drinks constantly, makes sexual innuendos, and is oh-so-trite!

If you watch Persuasion, now streaming on Netflix, as just another movie, you will find it a harmless, light, possibly even pleasant romance. Dakota Johnson dazzles, the locations are beautiful, everyone wears pretty clothes, and the side characters perform better than the script demands of them. But if you happen to be a Jane Austen fan — then, however, err err.
Austen had once described her work as “a little bit of ivory, two inches wide”, on which she worked with a “fine brush”. Austen was being modest, but her work does have the delicate finesse of an exquisite ivory miniature.
The Netflix movie, on the other hand, is a giant glossy canvas, on which blobs of colour have been merrily, and inexpertly, flung. Neither the heroine nor the movie can decide whether they want to remain loyal to Austen or to trendy cool girl-ism.
Termed ‘the perfect novel’ by literary critic Harold Bloom, Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth. Anne and Wentworth fall in love, but swayed by her wealthy snobbish family, she refuses the promising-but-penniless man. Eight years later, Wentworth returns as a rich Naval Captain, and they are thrown in each other’s path. It is a bittersweet romance, playing perfectly with the pull of longing and the push of circumstances and human flaws.
Carrie Cracknell’s Persuasion, for some reason, chooses to be a romcom. Only, neither the rom nor the com is particularly well done.
If the intention was to make a romcom, why not take up Pride and Prejudice or Emma, the “light, bright, and sparkling” works that lend themselves more easily to the genre? If the intention was to show a simmering romance, why give the heroine a flare that washes out everyone else, including the hero? If the intention was to ‘modernise’ Anne, why limit her alleged new spunk to wisecracks at the camera?
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Anne gets a glow-up, not a grow-up
Movie-makers will seemingly never get the memo that Austen’s heroines are not the prettiest girls in her novels. Thus, in Cracknell’s hands, the sweet, gentle, strong and dignified Anne Elliot, whose “bloom had faded”, metamorphoses into a sassy, klutzy, and of course sexy being, who can’t decide if she is Anne or Bridget Jones or Fleabag.