Netflix’s Persuasion vs. Other Adaptations

This post contains spoilers!

I watched the Netflix adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion…so you don’t have to.

Okay, it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but I was definitely disappointed with it. If you’ve never read the book, or seen the other films, maybe you’d like it. In fact, I’d probably watch it again, now that I know it’s not Persuasion at all. It’s a silly romantic comedy about two people obviously still in love, even though she ditched him years before.

Here’s what I liked about the Netflix version:

  1. The diverse cast.
    Finally, a diverse cast that simply exists, that doesn’t try to explain itself a la Bridgerton.
  2. The guy who played Wentworth.
    He looked just the right age and had the right amount of grizzled-ness for a sea captain of eight years.
  3. It was fun and funny.
    The use of today’s vernacular by people supposedly living in 1800s England was hilarious. (Supposedly, because this film was not at all historically accurate.)

Here’s what I didn’t like:

  1. Anne.
    It’s as if the filmmakers just didn’t like the main character so they changed her completely, thus making the story inane. If Anne never misses an opportunity to speak her mind, as Wentworth claims, why is she in this situation in the first place?
  2. Wentworth’s behavior.
    Wentworth was constantly mooning over Anne every time she walked away from him. It was clear he was still in love with her. Well, there goes all the mystery. The whole point of the original work is that we don’t know if Wentworth still loves Anne and in fact, despite a few moments of kindness, we’re pretty sure he’s over her.
  3. The writing.
    The story doesn’t work all that well and the dialogue is so silly at times. The characters lacked any of the charm they had in the 1995 version.
  4. Mrs. Smith is entirely missing.
    But of course she is. If Mrs. Smith were there, we’d see a side of Anne–selfless, caring, and kind–that doesn’t fit with this Netflix “Bridget Jones” version. Even though Wentworth says she’s all those things, her behavior says quite the opposite.
  5. Mr. Eliot
    Don’t even get me started here. His gig is up almost immediately, because he tells Anne what he’s up to!
  6. The ending was ruined.
    Am I to believe, seriously, that Wentworth just left the note to Anne on the table? Just left it there hoping she’d find it? What if she hadn’t? And then…where was the great scene in which Wentworth asks for her hand in marriage in front of everyone and we get to see the look on Elizabeth’s face?
  7. The final scene
    So, Anne has found the letter and she’s running after Wentworth and, I guess to wrap up the whole Mr. Eliot plot line, she catches him smooching with Mrs. Clay and wishes them well. Wait…what?
  8. I just can’t even.

All of that being said. It was fun. Sure, you’re caught off guard a few times. Anne Eliot shouting Wentworth’s name out the window? It’d never happen. Anne blurting out at a dinner party that her brother-in-law proposed to her before marrying her sister? Impossible to imagine. Anne entertaining Lady Dalrymple with a story about an octopus sucking her face? Wha? And she’s saved by Mr. Eliot offering up a sexual innuendo, to which she replies, “In your dreams.” But, Lady Dalrymple makes it all just good fun by saying “In mine, too!” But then refers to a bite of moldy cheese.

Fun. Yes. Ridiculous to a point. Not a great film by any means.

But how does it stack up to the other versions? I know what most of Jane Austen’s fans think–they think this is the worst version of Persuasion ever made. I’m not so sure. If I had to rank them…

The 1995 version with Amanda Root and CiarĂ¡n Hinds is, hands down, the best. Root plays the subdued, spinsterish Anne to perfection. Her subtle reactions to Wentworth, her determined dignity, and her quelled anguish are perfect.

The other characters are charming and delightful, especially Mrs. Smith played by Helen Schlesinger.

The story is told with greater and greater intensity until the end when Wentworth makes a point to show her he’s left a letter for her on the desk…until we hear their voices reading the letter! The perfect kiss (never mind the strange circus coming down the street). And the get-even scene at the party where the stunned family learns that dashing Wentworth wants Anne of all people! It’s just a wonderful telling of Jane Austen’s last story and a great depiction of her most mature heroine.

Then there’s the 2007 version with Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones.

I love Sally Hawkins…but she wasn’t enough to help this film. Penry-Jones was so young and fresh–hard to picture as a sea captain. The other characters were less appealing, their parts lacking the subtle humor and wit found in the older version.

While they kept Mrs. Smith’s role in the film, she was not at all as charming as Schlesinger’s portrayal. And in the end, she was out running after Anne. Mrs. Smith running? She’s supposed to be something of an invalid. She’s got a nurse after all.

They left out the whole scene when Wentworth wrote the letter, after overhearing Anne talking about her sex loving the longest when all hope is lost. I mean…why? Instead Captain Harville just hands her the note while she’s running around Bath looking for Wentworth.

So…about the running. The running and running and running. Where is Wentworth, Anne? Is he here? No? Let’s run to the next place. So much running. And I’ll grant that the few moments in which her breath echoes over Charles’ bantering once she’s found Wentworth is lovely…that kiss. Egad. Give me a break. That kiss was ridiculous. What did it take? Three minutes for their lips to finally connect? Kill me now.

Worse, not only was there no get-even scene with the family, there also wasn’t an Anne on the ship scene with Wentworth as captain. Instead, we got this fabulously impossible scene in which Wentworth has somehow managed to purchase the Eliot estate for Anne. Somehow, I don’t think that would be possible in that era–and even if it was, I’m supposed to believe that Mr. Eliot sold it to him? Sold his birthright? I just can’t even.

But what truly ruined the 2007 version and I mean completely, inevitably, turned it into mediocre melodrama, was the giving away of the ending completely before Wentworth even went to Bath.

So, we, the audience, know that Wentworth isn’t going to marry Louisa before Anne does. And we know that Wentworth actually loves Anne. So, naturally, when he shows up in Bath, we already know why. I guess we’re supposed to worry that she won’t reach him in time and he’ll be off on a sailing ship and their love will be forever doomed. Give me a break.

Here’s the thing. Of course we know he loves her and they’re going to end up together. But still, watching the 1995 version, every single time, you are living Anne’s anguish because you’re able to suspend your disbelief, forget what you know, and wonder how these two people could ever find their way back to one another. And that happens because it’s a great, well-made film.

So there we are. Considering which versions I enjoyed the most (despite many obvious flaws in some) and which I can imagine myself watching again and again, I’ve ranked them in order of worst to best:

#3 Persuasion 2007

#2 Persuasion 2022

#1 Persuasion 1997

Now I suppose I should read the book again…

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