July 15th, 2022
STARRING: DAKOTA JOHNSON, COSMO JARVIS, HENRY GOLDING, RICHARD E. GRANT
DIRECTED BY: CARRIE CRACKNELL
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 STARS (Out of 4)
The combination of Dakota Johnson reading the words of Jane Austen sounds like a dream come true. But making the writing of Austen work is not always a given and when it doesn’t work it’s about as heartbreaking as a bad movie could be. I would say that Carrie Cracknell’s interpretation is not a total disaster, but midway through the constant thought I had was that none of it moved me. The romance of Anne Elliot is void of any charm or the kind of butterflies one would feel when an old fling walks back into their life. This version of Persuasion fails to capture any of those feelings, as it has the right looks, but none of the passion. It would take a whole lot of Persuasion for me to recommend this one to you.
There is an instant reveal that this interpretation of Persuasion, Austen’s final piece of literature, would be a blending of meta style, and classic settings. Dakota Johnson is Anne Elliot, the middle child of the Eliot family. Her mother has passed away. Her father (played delightfully by Richard E. Grant) is narcissistic and filled with vanity. Her other two sisters Elizabeth (Yolanda Kettle) and Mary (Mia McKenna-Bruce) are either too self involved or unwilling to be kind to their middle sister. Through voice-over and then talking directly to the camera, we learn that eight years ago, Anne had broken things off with her boyfriend Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis), who at the time had no prospects of money or rank. She was persuaded to let him go, but now he has returned, now with the rank of Captain and his own financial stability. The question remains how Anne will navigate this second chance. Will love conquer or will she find love elsewhere, which is typically the fun part about an Austen story, and in this version it feels closer to homework.
The production value is where most of my positive commentary rests on Persuasion. The cinematography from Joe Anderson captures beautiful images of rolling hills, or sunsets on the beach. The costume design by Marianne Agertoft is right in line with the typical period piece look. The problems, however, lie strictly on the adaptation by Ron Bass and Alice Victoria Winslow, bouncing back and forth between meta smirking at the camera and genuine dramatic sequences. The performances are relatively fine as well, but the chemistry between Johnson and Jarvis lacks, where I was constantly hoping her character would end up with Henry Golding’s Mr. Eliot. There’s at least a thrill when it becomes a bit of a love triangle, as the narrative finally finds its vibrancy, only to revert back to lifeless patience.
This Persuasion marks a rare misfire for Dakota Johnson. She’s not entirely miscast, her adorable smile casts a spell of mystery, but her timid behavior is better suited for a character similar to Cha Cha Real Smooth, and less so here. The best moments of dialogue she has involve conversations with Lady Russell (played excellently, but sporadically by Nikki-Amuka Bird), but seldom lights a spark when the narrative veers towards the romance. There have been a countless amount of Jane Austen adaptations and one doesn’t have to know them all to know that this work is missing that sense of self.
It’s a shame really, as director Carrie Cracknell is undoubtedly going for a witty, and winking approach to stuffier material. That might not be the wrong approach either. It just didn’t work for me. I found myself checking the clock as I sat at home on my own couch. I wondered why we needed to care if Anne Elliot found love? By the end it just felt like we were going through the motions. This Persuasion left me longing for a film that I know could be better. I still love Dakota Johnson, just not in something like this, but there is an adorable bunny rabbit. It’s possible that something like that could coax you into watching, but this review is not very convincing.
PERSUASION IS AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX FRIDAY JULY 15TH, 2022
Written by: Leo Brady