Persuasion
Derrick Dunn

Derrick Dunn

Dakota Johnson barely saves Persuasion

British theatre director Carrie Cracknell dips into the oeuvre of literary legend Jane Austen for her feature film debut in Netflix’s Persuasion. Scriptwriters Ronald Bass & Alice Victoria Winslow writes the screenplay adaption of Austen’s 1817 novel. Our heroine is Anne Elliot (Dakota Johnson), the unnoticed middle daughter of Sir Walter Elliot of Kellynch Hall (Richard E Grant), a vain and lavish baronet. 

Living with her snobby family on the brink of bankruptcy, Anne Elliot is an uncomforting woman with modern sensibilities. When Frederick Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis), the dashing one she let get away, crashes back into her life, Anne must choose between putting the past behind her and listening to her heart regarding second chances.

Cracknell begins her film seven years after Anne Elliot’s engagement to Frederick Wentworth ended. Anne had just turned nineteen when she fell in love and accepted a marriage proposal from Wentworth, then a young and undistinguished naval officer. Anne’s friends and family viewed Wentworth as unsuitable because of his low social status, despite his intelligence, confidence, and ambition. 

In the eyes of her father and her older sister, Elizabeth (Yolanda Kettle), Wentworth was an unsuitable match for a woman of Kellynch Hall. A distant relative, Lady Russell (Nikki Amuka-Bird), whom Anne considers a second mother to her since her own passed away, also thought the relationship was imprudent for one so young and persuaded Anne to end the relationship. The only members of Anne’s family who knew about her engagement were Sir Walter, Elizabeth, and Lady Russell.

Outside of Amy Heckerling’s nineties classic Clueless, a modernized version of Emma and Seth Graham’s 2009 novel Pride + Prejudice + Zombies, a parody of the 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice, I was never into the work of Jane Austen. Nevertheless, knowing that Persuasion stars two of my favorite actors (Dakota Johnson and Henry Golding) who had breakthroughs in the last decade, I decided to give the film a chance.

In hindsight, a film like Persuasion will only work with a strong lead. Now while Johnson is not on the level of, say, a Meryl Streep, she brings a charismatic, relatable approach to Anne. Johnson is easy on the eyes and delivers her lines with grace. One of the things I want to commend Johnson is her Taft approach to the numerous fourth wall breaks in the film.

In addition, Johnson has scenes with numerous men in the film, but there is never a moment where the scenes come off as sexual. Instead, they are tasteful, and you can see why any man would want to pursue her. I was fond of the handling of Mary (Mia McKenna-Bruce), Anne’s narcissistic wedded younger sister.

The script gives the character a decent arc as they paint Mary constantly clamoring for attention and exaggerating ailments. The jest is that, although married with kids, she often acts melancholy but does not always like to see them, insinuating that matrimony is not for everyone. I must also mention the diversity in the cast. Some of the melanin talent featured in the film include Afolabi Alli, Ben Bailey Smith, and scene-stealer Nikki-Amuka Bird.

Mostly, the film kept my attention, although they were some gripes. As our male lead, Cosmo Jarvis was a bore, and I much preferred seeing Henry Golding as Mr. Elliot. Johnson even had better chemistry with Golding than Jarvis. In addition, the time setting began to drag, and I wish the screenwriters set the film in modern times. So many of the ideas presented in the film are timely, and I know a few writers who could make this story work in 2022.

Nevertheless, I recommend Persuasion as a one-time watch for its intended audience

Final Grade: C+

Persuasion is available to stream on Netflix this Friday, July 15th

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