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More than once I’ve said here that I don’t mind an adaptation changing elements of the original text. This is part of the effort required to transpose material from one medium to another. Some adaptations even manage to become better than the original because of these changes, as is the case with the boys, Shark (1975) or ET: The Extraterrestrial (1982). The point is not to change elements or follow the work to the letter, but to remain faithful to the spirit and ideas of the source material. It is in this aspect that Persuasion, newest adaptation of Jane Austen’s eponymous novel fails resoundingly. It is something so divorced from its source, so incapable of grasping its basic ideas and executing them with any competence, that it doesn’t even make sense to want to be an adaptation of Austen’s work.

The basic premise is the same as the book. In 19th century England Anne Elliot (Dakota Johnson) falls in love with Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis), but is persuaded by mentor and mother figure Lady Russell (Nikki Amuka-Bird) to walk away from him as a man without possessions or prospects. Eight years later Anne is still single and her family sees her as a failure. Anne’s vain father Sir Walter (Richard E. Grant) is mired in debt and the family needs to move. In the city of Bath, Anne is reunited with Wentworth, now a decorated naval officer.

In the first few minutes, it is evident that the film will not work because it cannot establish a minimum of internal logic. The original plot developed slowly and deliberately, being one of Austen’s more melancholy plots. Anne is a shadow of the woman she once was, consumed by grief and regret, melancholy and introspective. The film, however, decides to transform Anne into a mixture of Fleabag and Bridget Jones, who drinks wine, goes to parties and talks directly to the camera.

Once again, I emphasize that the problem is not the alteration itself, but that this change makes no sense in the internal logic of the plot. Here Anne is the soul of any party, sarcastic, witty, witty, good-natured, drawing attention wherever she goes. Why would someone like that, with so much talent and beauty go eight years without a single suitor in nineteenth-century British high society? Does not make sense.

Right off the bat, the film also removes all barriers to the romance between Anne and Wentworth. In the first few minutes, Lady Russell apologizes to the protagonist for having made her give up the relationship eight years earlier. At the first meeting between Anne and Wentworth, he lets out such a long sigh at the sight of her that it makes his feelings obvious. So all uncertainty as to whether or not Wentworth was fond of Louisa (Nia Towle) instantly disappears. What remains is a drama-free plot, whose conflicts either do not exist or sound artificial because the resolution has already been drawn up, making everything a tedious exercise in patience.

The fact that the protagonist speaks directly to the camera and narrates everything that happens also leads to an excess of exposure in which the film tells all the time how the characters act and feel, shows very little, taking away all the subtlety that the plot should have. The structuring of the dialogues sounds strange because it maintains the language of the time, but inserts contemporary expressions and slang out of nowhere, as well as references to memes, which sound out of place in the context. It all sounds like an intervention by some producer who asked to do something that youth could “identify with”, as if the current audience could only connect with a character who spoke like an influencer, and the result is awkward dialogues.

If the creative team wanted to temporize the plot, why not set it in the present day like they did Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), which adapts Pride and Prejudiceor The Patricinhas of Beverly Hills (1995), which is basically Emma? Or even do what Baz Luhrmann did in Cheese and guava (1996), bringing the plot to the present day and keeping the dialogue in archaic English to show its timelessness. They could fully assume a more pop language and look like it did bridgerton. As it stands, with an attempt at modern language clashing with the historical realism that the film tries to build, it all sounds like a tonal mess. It is not possible to simultaneously be like Fleabag and try to emulate the bucolic and contemplative style of other Austen adaptations such as Reason and sensibility (1995), by Ang Lee, or Pride and Prejudice (2005), by Joe Wright.

Dakota Johnson does what the material demands of her and gives Anne some charisma, the problem is that this goes against what the plot itself tries to build of the young woman as a devastated, gloomy and despised woman. Cosmo Jarvis spends most of his scenes panting and sighing like Wentworth and it makes him a very one-dimensional guy. The only positive highlight is Richard E. Grant’s work as Anne’s exaggerated, flamboyant and futile father, stealing every scene he appears in.

Failing to understand the most basic elements of the dramatic construction of the material on which it is based, Persuasion it is one of the worst Jane Austen adaptations and everyone involved should be strictly prohibited from coming close to any other work by the British novelist. Even ignoring issues related to adaptation, what is presented here is a narrative without drama, without conflict, with incoherent and uninteresting characters that give no reason for the viewer to get involved in them.

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