Directed by: Carrie Cracknell
Premise: An adaptation of the book by Jane Austen. Set in nineteenth century England, a woman (Dakota Johnson) who passed on an offer of marriage is reunited with her former suitor (Cosmo Jarvis) who is now a successful navy captain.
What Works: Persuasion is a period piece with a contemporary sensibility. The plot and everything about the look of the movie places it in the nineteenth century. Any given shot looks familiar to this genre of costume period dramas. But the dialogue and the line delivery of Persuasion has a contemporary feel. The characters speak with an anachronistic vocabulary and the line delivery has a sly, winking-to-the-camera style. This could be obnoxious but it generally works for the movie because it is in touch with the material. Jane Austen had a famously glib writing style and the performances bring that quality forward. The film succeeds in this regard because of the lead performance by Dakota Johnson as Anne. Persuasion is one of the best uses of Johnson in a movie because it capitalizes on her talents for romance and comedy. She nails the English accent and embodies the mix of period and contemporary values. Johnson narrates the movie and occasionally breaks the fourth wall in a way that is likable and mischievous. The film also has an amusing supporting performance by Mia McKenna-Bruce as Anne’s cousin. McKenna-Bruce is very funny in a self-absorbed way.
What Doesn’t: The chief weakness of Persuasion is the love story. The romance of this film is not involving and the movie is often dramatically flat. Anne is in love with Captain Wentworth but other women have their eyes on him as well. It’s clear that Anne and Wentworth still have feelings for each other but just need to act on them. Love stories require a tangible obstacle keeping the lovers apart but the only things separating Anne and Wentworth are their pride and cowardice. That is not an interesting obstacle. The romantic urgency comes and goes and other complications are similarly introduced and discarded. One of the supporting characters gets seriously injured and much is made of it at first but then the injury and the character are cast aside. The film’s portrait of women is a little troubling. These sorts of stories are about women in love and their longing for romance and the politics and gossip of nineteenth-century high society. But the women of Persuasion come across girlish and even infantilized in their starry-eyed airheadedness.
DVD extras: On Netflix.
Bottom Line: Persuasion is a mixed effort. It has some likable and very funny performances but it is not an involving love story. The movie has no romantic heat and the storytelling is clumsy.
Episode: #915 (August 28, 2022)