Dir: Carrie Cracknell. Cast: Dakota Johnson, Cosmo Jarvis, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Richard E Grant, Henry Golding. PG, 109 minutes.
Autumn de Wildes Emma, from 2020, was such a grumpy treat – it met Jane Austen’s funniest and most prickly heroine on her own terms, defiantly selfish yet endearing. A confectionery construction of florals, pastel colors and gilded frames that has found a way to satisfy modern tastes without betraying Regency-era authenticity. It remains one of the finest modern adaptations of Austen’s work. I only mention this because I can’t find another way to describe Netflix’s cessation conviction than that: It’s like someone tried to recreate it Emma from memory, but they had only seen the film on an airplane, and while the airplane was experiencing extreme turbulence.
Let me take a different route. The film version of Anne Elliot (Dakota Johnson) — a 27-year-old on the verge of her virginity and still pining for the handsome naval officer she had to turn down — has a compulsive habit of making eye contact with the camera. She looks at us when her spoiled sister Mary (Mia McKenna-Bruce) says something rude, or when she has to admit that her claims of being “single and thriving” are actually a total construction. See, she’s such a “messy woman” who drinks red wine out of the bottle and cries in the bathtub. She’s Fleabag, albeit the only option you’ve ever consumed fleasack was posted to Twitter through reaction GIFs.
Above all, at no point during Carrie Cracknell’s directorial debut does one get the feeling that someone is actually reading conviction. For those with even the slightest affinity for Austen’s work, it’s a little humbling to watch – to see one of her most beautifully sculpted protagonists, a sad ship haunted by the ghosts of lost love, stripped of her poetry and cast on a Instagram caption about the pitfalls of reducing millennial dating.
Revisionism itself is never unwelcome – and breaking the fourth wall has already been applied to Austen, in Patricia Rozema’s charming interpretation Mansfield Park from 1999. But it’s pointless if there’s no purpose behind it. How exactly does the line “They say if you’re a five in London you’re a 10 in Bath” enhance Austen’s work or make it more palatable to modern audiences? Or what about the comments about being “an empath” and focusing on “self-care”? These are all just marketing buzzwords. When Anne is reunited with Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis), the man she once rejected, Austen writes: ‘Now they were like strangers; no, worse than strangers, because they could never get to know each other. It was an eternal alienation.” In the film? We get: “We are strangers. Worse than strangers. We’re exes.”
While Cracknell boasts an impressive portfolio of work on the Young Vic and Royal Court stages, there’s nothing here that seems to push her work and that of screenwriters Ronald Bass and Alice Victoria Winslow beyond the guideline of capitalizing on current trends hit. This is exactly what happens when art becomes a brand exercise.
It further covers the production design Emma as pure aesthetics, rather than a sincere (and admirably successful) attempt to remind audiences how colorful that period was. No attempt is made here to be exact – Marianne Agertoft’s costumes only look like Regency dresses if you were somehow led to believe that this month’s pages Tatler Magazine had been shot out of a time machine. And as much as I hate to defend myself Bridgetonthe Netflix production conviction clearly recreated, its anachronisms feel at least carefully chosen to give the series a pop irreverence. It’s pure chaos here.
Johnson, an otherwise talented actor, is woefully miscast as Anne. She was drawn into all of this under the illusion that her California girl cool would bring a refreshing sense of belonging to the character. All we actually get is a flimsy English accent. It feels particularly unfair when the rest of the cast, including Jarvis and Henry Golding as love rival William Elliot, deliver exactly the kind of measured, elegant performances you’d expect from a romantic period drama. It’s just Johnson left out to dry.
One can’t help but wonder what Austen would make of it. She was almost 40 when she wrote conviction, inches from her deathbed. Anne’s pain in the novel is sharp, laced with fear that she has reached a point in her life where she will overtake any last chance, especially for love. How do you absorb all this sentiment just to give us an Anne performatively sighing after bumping a jar of sauce on her head and boasting about being alone in her room with Beethoven “with a bottle of red”. to dance? How would the latter even happen in an era before turntables? That’s the bad thing about Netflix conviction – seems to think his own audience isn’t smart enough about Jane Austen.
Persuasion opens in select theaters on Friday, July 8th and will be available to stream on Netflix on July 15th
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/reviews/persuasion-2022-netflix-review-dakota-johnson-b2119480.html Persuasion 2022 recap: Dakota Johnson is woefully miscast in the humiliating Jane Austen adaptation