Firstly, we’ve all been waiting for it, and it’s here:
There’s a lot to like here, and a lot that makes us wary. The teal deer, lo, they run freely throughout this blog post, so get your snacks beforehand.
We had a post all written and ready to go about the trailer, asking questions and wondering about various things based on what is available there. However, we then saw a link to a “first look” article in Vogue posted on Twitter (h/t to Alert Janeite Ailish) that did two things: it answered a lot of our questions and required a rewrite of this post; and pretty much destroyed almost all the curiosity and excitement we had about the movie. This feels more like fan fiction than an adaptation, which is fine, but not what we were hoping for. We understand other people’s mileage may vary, and we don’t expect film makers to cater exclusively to our desires (which is why it is so delightful when it happens). But you come to AustenBlog for the Editrix’s unvarnished opinions, so buckle up, buttercup. No Cluebat needed right now, but we dare say it will surprise no one to learn that we have Opinions.
Just from the trailer, it looks like there will be some comedy, which is appropriate for both Jane Austen in general (her books are funny!) and for Persuasion in particular, which has some laugh-out-loud funny scenes and characters. The article bears this out, repeating several times that IT’S SOOOOOO FUNNY and JANE AUSTEN MOVIES AREN’T FUNNY SO WE MADE THIS FUNNY (we actually agree that most of the novels should be filmed as rom-coms, but Persuasion and MP not so much). Anyway, we guess it’s funny? From the article:
Delving deeper into Anne’s voice, Bass and Winslow identified a crackling sense of humour that spoke to a very contemporary strain of comedy, recalling the incisive, self-deprecating work of Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Michaela Coel. “I think the humour [in Persuasion] absolutely speaks to Jane Austen’s writing, but it also has a sort of modernity,” Cracknell says. “We really hoped it would help the material to connect with a new or younger audience.”
We feel like this will age as badly as the
1980 1971 adaptation, but for different reasons.
Readers and critics alike have noticed the reflective “autumnal” feeling of the novel, written a year or so before Jane Austen’s death. In the novel, Anne Elliot has a quiet, self-deprecating sense of humor–recall her laughing at herself for trying to finagle a seat near Captain Wentworth at the concert in Bath, and comparing herself to “the inimitable Miss Larolles,” a very silly character in Frances Burney’s novel Cecilia. She sees the humor in Mary’s behavior and the Musgroves’ general family relations as well as her own family’s posturing. Anne is a funny person and has a good sense of humor. But, as Ailish points out in her tweet, is she stand-up comedy funny?
In the novel, Anne has been suffering from melancholy at best and flat-out depression at worst for several years and to make a lolfest out of her pain, turning her into Bridget Jones, strikes us as a trifle icky. But yes, Mary is funny, Sir Walter is funny, they should be funny and their scenes should be hilarious. However…
In a Bridget Jones-esque montage, she cries in the bathtub, drinks wine straight from the bottle, and describes herself as “thriving.”
They apparently filmed in Bath! That’s a good thing. Bath is one of our favorite places on the planet, and not just because Persuasion and Northanger Abbey both take place partly there.
The diversity of the cast is lovely to see. And don’t give us any grief about “historical accuracy.” There were people of color in Regency England and it’s about time they are represented in film adaptations set in that time period. So any discussion of this being “wrong” will be shut down with extreme prejudice. It’s right for a film being made in 2022, and it’s right for Jane Austen. Deal with it. (And we’re disappointed to not be able to find a Jane Austen “Deal With It” gif with the sunglasses. Somebody get on that, please.)
After viewing the trailer, we were a little shocked at the complete lack of dialogue from the actual novel. Certainly film adaptations require a certain amount of rewriting, but this seems like a rather too sweeping change. Speaking only for ourself, we love Jane Austen for the wit and style of her writing as much as the stories, so a film adaptation that eschews her words so entirely will never be as satisfactory as one that honors her work.
We had no major arguments with the costumes from what we could see in the trailer. We don’t actually get hung up on absolute period-correctness, though we are delighted when it happens. We just don’t like ugly. These are plain, but from the photos and trailers not absolutely ugly. And it appears the filmmakers have a Vision, to wit:
Instead of slavishly recreating every dress or interior design feature down to the very last detail, the freshness and modernity of Cracknell’s Persuasion is reflected in costuming that intentionally dials back the sumptuous bonnets, bustles and crinolines of Austen adaptations past, instead leaning towards something a little more understated.
Initially intended to reflect the film’s intense focus on the inner life of Anne and to let the actors’ performances shine, costume designer Marianne Agertoft’s sleeker silhouettes and muted palette of cool tones come with their own delicate beauty too.
The importance of the narrative voice in Jane Austen’s novels can be difficult to transfer to the screen. The most recent adaptation of Northanger Abbey, the novel with perhaps the most distinct narrative voice, used a voiceover to get in the exposition, particularly the beginning of Catherine’s childhood, which is not only important to her character but too delightful to do away with entirely. So the filmmakers used a narrative voiceover, which works, but we feel like it’s just been done so many times. We have long thought a good adaptation of Northanger Abbey should employ a separate Chorus character appearing on screen, not unlike the Chorus in Shakespeare’s Henry V. Kenneth Branagh’s HV used Derek Jacobi in this role in modern dress, clearly part of the production (he begins the film literally behind the scenes), which suits the way the Chorus is written as the character who walks you through the historical backdrop and explains scenes, such as battles, that are too complex to portray on stage. We have seen many stage productions of HV (our favorite Shakespeare) and the performance of the Chorus can really make the play. We would have the narrator in NA interacting with the other characters, but still sort of outside. It would afford the opportunity to bring in a lot of the delightful narration without the rather tired and twee “have a character self-consciously say the narrative line aloud” or the equally tired voiceover narration.
Persuasion offers some difficulties in exposition, as in the novel it’s all done in narration of the history of the Elliots and Anne’s former romance with Captain Wentworth. As much as we love the 1995 adaptation, we wonder sometimes if people who haven’t read the book really understand that part of the story, as it’s done quickly with Miss Elliot whispering about “the SAILOR” and no real explanation. In this adaptation of Persuasion, judging by the trailer, they’ve chosen to go with the Breaking the Fourth Wall method, which is at least slightly less tired than voiceover narration but can still go awry. It remains to be seen how it will all work out, of course. There is a flashback scene as well, which would be our choice for cinematic exposition for Persuasion. And we begin to maybe think that Persuasion needs a Chorus character as well. But we’ll see how it goes with Fourth Walls and Flashbacks, Austen’s unpublished novel we just discovered in a drawer. (And it’s curious that Netflix didn’t include Persuasion in its breaking-the-fourth-wall 2022 Movies trailer a while back. At the time we said they probably didn’t have a chance to have Dakota Johnson record something for it, but there she is breaking the fourth wall anyway. Maybe that’s where they got the idea for the trailer?)
Anne as an “unconforming” woman of modern sensibilities…how does that fit in with the reason the romance ended in the year six? If she was unconforming, she wouldn’t have taken Lady Russell’s advice (or call it persuasion) to not marry Wentworth, as Anne considered Lady Russell in the place of a parent and therefore due a daughter’s duty. Austen mentions that Anne was also convinced that marrying Wentworth would be bad for his career, though she has changed her mind about that over time. So it wasn’t all duty, but duty was a big part of it.
We felt a hint from the trailer that the marriage was forbidden by Anne’s family, rather than that it was Anne’s choice to end the engagement. From the article, that appears, thankfully, to not be the case, because that trope was tired when Jane Austen made fun of it in Northanger Abbey, written in anno domini seventeen hundred and ninety-five.
So there are our initial thoughts on the trailer and the accompanying article. Don’t think for a minute the publication of that article on the same day that the trailer dropped was accidental. This is the first carefully placed bit of publicity for the film, just about a month before the movie drops. It’s all planned to get us talking about it, and here we are, helpless to resist the evil publicity people’s wiles.
We’ve lost a lot of our initial interest in this film from that Vogue article. We should just talk more about the book (and stay tuned for something in that vein). But as we said in our review of A Modern Persuasion, Persuasion is our heart novel. We love it perhaps not wisely but too well. We are opinionated about Austen adaptations in general, so expect us to be opinionated on this one (and if they mess up The Letter, it’s on). However, we recognize that the films, even the ones we don’t like as much, bring new acolytes to the altar of Herself, and that’s a good thing. So we will attempt to temper any negative opinions with understanding of those discovering the stories for the first time. But the First Law of Blogging is still in effect, and while we don’t think the Cluebat of Janeite Righteousness will be needed, we are keeping it handy nonetheless.