Netflix’s new rendition of Persuasionwhich premiered Friday, has already been taking a lot of hits for its use of anachronistic language. Why? Plenty of other Jane Austen adaptations take the anachronistic route — see Clueless or Fire Island—And have been met with critical acclaim. But while this Persuasion blends Regency-era gowns with 2020s-styled language (at Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette), it’s a far cry from the joys of the Taylor Swift-soundtracked Bridgerton.
Persuasion‘s anachronisms, however, comprise the kinds of phrases you’d find scattered on a wine mom’s Facebook wall or overhear at a sorority pregame, where one of the girls can’t stop whining about her ex. The Netflix movie has lost the delight of those modern Austen re-imaginings by not being original enough. Yet the film has somehow also strayed too far from Austen’s light to succeed.
“It’s often said that if you’re a ‘5’ in London, you’re a ’10’ in Bath,” one character says, in complete earnest, near the beginning of the film. This joke is far too outdated even on the internet, where it was definitely stolen from, to ink into a script right beside some of Austen’s most beautiful lines about heartbreak and loss.
Defenders have ranted about the “Austen police,” who purportedly shoot down any adaptations of her books that aren’t as grand as the original novels. But even I, someone who has only read a lick of the acclaimed author but watched the very popular films based on her work, felt Persuasion was a disgrace. If youngsters discover Austen through Persuasion, good. Hopefully, though, it won’t remain their favorite take on the story for very long.
On top of the gonzo anachronisms — including “he’s just not that into you” phrases and Fleabag impressions — Dakota “The Face of Someone Who Knows What an iPhone Is” Johnson is an uncharismatic Anne Elliot, and both of her suitors (Cosmo Jarvis as Captain Wentworth and Henry Golding as Mr. Elliot) have so little tension with her that I wished they’d cast horny reality dating show contestants instead. Not really. Still: There were better actors to play these roles. (Sarah Snook, Joel Fry — I will avenge you.)
The dialogue is bad, but then, so is the whole movie. So, just as any snarky Jane Austen heroine might, I thought it my duty to round up the worst-of-the-worst of Netflix’s Persuasion.
Thirty, Flirty, and Thriving: When we meet Dakota Johnson’s Anne Elliot, she tells us she’s “single and thriving” —as a joke, because she’s so clearly perishing. Was there a better way to joke about her mental state here? “Thriving” is so 2015. That’s not 2022, nor is it 1817.
Wine Mom Alert: From the moment the film starts, there are wine mom moments to be had. First, Anne tells us she’s been coping by “lying face down on my bed,” drinking lots of wine, and taking the hottest baths. OK, girl, give us nothing! Yes to Netflix constantly glorifying alcoholism as “self care!” Later, Anne’s sister asks how she would dance to Beethoven. “Alone, in my room, with a bottle of red,” she groans. Again, a dated wine mom routine that has no place in 2022 or 1817 — or, really, ever.
He’s Just Not That Into You: “I don’t think she’s his type,” another girl gossips to Anne. I don’t recall what or who this was about, but this phrasing infuriated me. We’re not getting into “types” in a Jane Austen movie.
She’s a 10 But She Liked Persuasion (2022): As mentioned, there’s the “If you’re a 5 in London, you’re a 10 in Bath” quote that has been circulating. What we have not seen is the fact that the film doubles down on this joke. Later, chatting about Mr. Elliot, Anne says, “He is a 10. I can never trust a 10.” It wasn’t funny the first time, but the second time, I did have a laugh — only at how bonkers the straight-faced statement was.
Cut the Music: The movie’s score — composed by Rupert Coulson — is not frilly or fun, nor is it dramatic or melancholy. It sounds like the fluttering chords you’d hear in The Great British Baking Show: light, airy, unfocused, and all of a sudden, over-the-top when any slight drama occurs. It is either following the story too much, or it has veered off completely, nose-diving into the baking tent around two centuries over.
“I Am an Empath!” Anne’s sister, Mary (Mia McKenna-Bruce), shouts, talking about being unable to spend time with her children if they’re in pain. “Empath” belongs on TikTok and Twitter, and barely at that. Not in the Regency Era!
More Wine Mom: “Perfect,” Anne says directly at us, Fleabag-style, as she takes a glug of wine, upset about how her life is playing out after a long day. Poor Anne. (And poor us.)
Sorority Girl Grieving Her Breakup at a Pre-Game: “We’re worse than strangers. We’re exes, ”Anne says to the audience, as she breaks everything off with Wentworth. Later: “Now, we’re worse than exes. We’re friends. ” Did the screenwriters forget to annotate the best quotes as they were reading Persuasion in preparation for the film? Is that why they came up with these embarrassing clichés instead?
Self Care: Anne’s sister, who likely ties in the ranking with Anne for cringiest quotes, is trying to better herself. “How do I prioritize self care with everyone around me constantly bidding for my attention?” she asks. I like the sentiment of this quote, but god, drop the “self care” bit, especially in an era when such a concept just didn’t exist. The wine mom bit is enough.
The Sorority Girl Pre-Game Continues: “You will rally, and you will be happy again!” Anne shouts to herself near the middle of the film — but perhaps, in her mind, she’s really in the bathroom of a frat party, staring at herself in the mirror and holding a White Claw.
That Final Wink: The Fleabag of it all, in Persuasion, is so jarring. By that, I don’t just mean the brown-haired British girl mopery and sexual drama; the entire film dabbles in inconsistent fourth wall-breaking. Sometimes, Anne is breaking the fourth wall every other sentence. Then, for a whole half hour, she’ll pretend we aren’t here. There’s no purpose for this gimmick. It does not improve the story in any way; rather, it is merely a technique used to lure Fleabag fans (like myself).
But in the end, Persuasion delivers one of its most heinous bits. As she’s sucking face with her final choice between suitors — and yes, Anne does use the term “sucking face” in the movie — Anne glances back at us. It’s creepy. And then she winks. Horrifying. I had to shut the film off 10 seconds before the credits started playing.