So, the new Netflix version of Persuasion: much anticipated, much trashed by Austen fans.
Still, it seems most of us have watched it, some more than once. So Netflix was smart, knowing Austen fans would automatically watch it, good or bad, and others might be drawn in, too.
Here’s my personal opinion:
This is a modern adaptation or variation of Persuasion, NOT a retelling (the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice movie is a retelling, staying pretty close to the original). Look at it as a modern show, with loose connections to Persuasion. Actors wear Regency clothes, though not always correctly, and walk through lovely Regency scenery (also not always correct, since the Royal Crescent subsitutes for Camden Place). It uses color-blind casting like Bridgerton, which is fine, but thankfully does NOT add sex scenes like Bridgerton.
The attitudes and worldview are very modern. Anne is an independent feminist. Very self-assured, she carries a rabbit around and talks to it and directly to the audience. (I don’t know where the rabbit came in; I’m pretty sure they ate rabbits back then.) Anne and Lady Russell even have a conversation referring obliquely to sex, which was totally inappropriate, IMHO.
Captain Wentworth, who usually looks half-asleep, actually apologizes for trying to protect Anne! His greatest naval accomplishment is apparently rescuing a beached whale. He and Anne communicate much more directly than in the book, removing any potential suspense.
But, if you’re NOT looking for Austen’s actual Persuasion, for the characters and conflicts and nuances and moral messages—this show is funny and entertaining. Since I already knew I wouldn’t find those things, I sat back and enjoyed it.
I laughed repeatedly at the very unlikely comments and incidents in the movie. People constantly say things they shouldn’t. Did Mary Musgrove really just call herself an “empath”? And say Anne needed to come to Lyme so someone would still listen to her when the others stopped feeling obligated? Then Anne snarkily called Mary “self-aware”?
Or, even worse, did Anne really tell Lady Dalrymple that she dreamed about an octopus sucking her face?
This movie reminds me of the modern adaptations of Mansfield Park that make Fanny forceful and independent, totally unlike her character in the book. Or the 2020 Emma with its lavish settings and hilarious Mr. Woodhouse—Sir Walter is similarly exaggerated and funny. He and Mary Musgrove are the most entertaining comical, narcissistic characters in the Netflix Persuasion.
An extremely unlikely wedding at the end caps the whole.
If you are looking for relatively pure Austen, go to the BBC (1971 or 1995), not to Netflix. Netflix really should have called this one something different, “Snarky Persuasion,” perhaps. Though I’m not sure there’s really any persuasion involved in the movie.
However, if you’re looking for a fun, light, evening’s entertainment, and you’re ready to laugh every time it goes off-track (which is constantly), enjoy this variation on Persuasion.
Then, when you want some serious beauty, depth, and morality, go back and re-read the book!
For more on this movie, see Vic Sanborn’s entertaining review, “Persuasion-lite: An Annotated Recipe of the 2022 Netflix film version.”