Persuasion (2022) features some innovative twists. Alas, it ends up too excessive and too incoherent.
Persuasion (2022) Synopsis
Anne Elliot found true love at a young age but was “persuaded” to retreat from the relationship as the man had neither rank nor fortune. Years later, Anne remains single, sidelined by her family, and deeply regretful over her decision. Would a chance renewed acquaintance with her beloved, the now Captain Frederick Wentworth, offer Anne a second chance at love? And even if Wentworth is willing, would Anne be able to love again, having resigned herself to solitude for years?
I watched/streamed this latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s final novel over two evenings, and it was a bizarre experience.
On the first evening, I genuinely enjoyed what I saw. Despite the unforgiving condemnation rained by major reviewers, I thought the fourth wall breaks and modernized dialogue were “something different.” Touches that were refreshing under the right mindset.
Yeah, some of the rewritten dialogue was cringe-worthy, no doubt about that. Much of the periodic taste was removed too. But how many times have Persuasion been adapted for the big screen and the TV? Change isn’t necessarily awful, upsetting as it might be for Austen fans.
Things were quite a different business on the second evening of watching, though. Suddenly, the fourth wall moments were excessive, bordering on unbearable. The plot struggled to wrap up the many sub-plots introduced and Anne Elliot’s abrupt transformation from a self-aware, wry outsider to a raft hopelessly tossed by seas of passion was incongruous, to say the least. And meanwhile, meanwhile, her great beloved Captain Wentworth remained as wooden as always. Not too unlike the weathered figurehead of a clipper.
I could barely stay awake. (And yes, I’m having a lame moment here with florid language)
What went wrong? So wrong? Well, I could have a field day here but to pin it down on one reason, I’d say it’s because this adaptation went overboard with the modern reinventions but still tried to preserve the original story.
Austen’s Anne Elliot was an intelligent, perceptive woman beyond her time and society. However, she still lived in the early 19th century and so the novel ended with her reembracing love the classic way. This conclusion simply doesn’t gel with the free-spirited, reinvented Anne portrayed by Dakota Johnson. If you ask me, Johnson’s version would more likely just ditch everything after an epiphany, say scr*w you, and go world-traveling with Lady Russell, or something.
But, the movie can’t do that sort of ending, because it’s still a Persuasion adaptation. It would be lynched had it done so.
The much-despised fourth wall breaks reflect this conundrum. In the first half of the show, the breaks were witty and refreshing to an extent. Beyond the Lyme Regis chapter, however, they became increasingly dreary and dry, till outright painful.
Not to mention, Austen’s signature observations on social stratifications were never expounded during these moments, despite there being plentiful opportunities. To me, this was a huge let-down as such differences began the entire story.
Long story short, I acknowledge the attempt to modernise a periodic literary classic for the modern generation. I feel the fourth wall approach is a great instrument too for exploring a character so many students have studied in classrooms. But sadly, things just didn’t “gel” as a whole.
A strict adaptation would have been much better, as so many reviewers noted.
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