Will 'Persuasion' live up to earlier Jane Austen adaptations?

As the Dakota Johnson starrer releasing Friday on Netflix draws mixed reactions we take a look at some memorable big screen versions of Jane Austen's novels.


Enid Grace Parker

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Lydia Rose Bewley, Richard E. Grant, Dakota Johnson and Yolanda Kettle in a scene from 'Persuasion' (Photo: AP)
Lydia Rose Bewley, Richard E. Grant, Dakota Johnson and Yolanda Kettle in a scene from 'Persuasion' (Photo: AP)

Published: Wed 13 Jul 2022, 5:28 PM

Last updated: Wed 13 Jul 2022, 7:10 PM

Watching the trailer for Persuasion (Dakota Johnson, Cosmo Jarvis) the latest screen adaptation of a Jane Austen book making its debut on Netflix Friday, left me with mixed feelings.

As a fan of the 18th century English novelist whose literary heroines have resonated with readers from around the world for over 200 years, I felt the essence of Anne Elliot, the quiet and reserved yet steadfast leading lady of Persuasion, hadn’t quite been captured in this latest screen version.

Many fans reacting online to the trailer echoed my sentiments especially with regards to Anne (Dakota) who is pining for a lost love. One lamented how the trailer was nothing like the book Persuasion — a “quiet, intense novel about desperately wishing you could go back and fix the worst mistake of your life.” The feeling one gets from 2022’s Persuasion, at least judging by the trailer and Anne’s snarky comments and attempts at humour doesn’t seem to fit the tone of the novel which is more of a melancholic reflection on love and longing.

Movie adaptations often don’t stay true to their literary inspirations and sometimes this works like a charm; in 1995’s Clueless (Alicia Silverstone, Paul Rudd) a breezy modern update on one of Austen’s most endearing novels, Emma, the wit, charm and spirit of the original story is captured perfectly.

Perhaps we shouldn’t judge Persuasion by its trailer but give the benefit of the doubt to the film releasing Friday on Netflix. Meanwhile let’s have a look at some of the best screen adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels.

Clueless (1995)

Starring the sparkling Alicia Silverstone as Cher, this modern ode to Austen’s Emma remains as brilliant, witty and fresh as when it was first released. Cher is a rich, pretty and meddlesome teenager who thinks everyone will benefit from her gift of matchmaking — but she’s quite ‘clueless’ when it comes to her own emotional life. And she learns the hard way that this cluelessness extends to her so-called matches made in heaven as well. Aren’t most of us know-it-alls as teens? This film struck a chord as I first watched it at age 20, freshly graduated from the teenage school of hard knocks; I mused at the time — don’t we all have a Cher inside us somewhere? Silverstone led a talented young cast including Scrubs’ Donald Faison, the late Brittany Murphy, Paul Rudd way before he was ‘Mike’ or ‘Ant-Man’, and managed to impress us all with her ‘Emma-ness’.

Emma (2020)

Starring the fabulous Anya Taylor-Joy as the titular heroine, this hilarious screen adaptation of Emma has a lot going for it, especially the two vibrant leads (actor-musician Johnny Flynn takes on the role of Mr. Knightley and is just the right mix of broody and charming). Emma (Taylor-Joy), a young heiress full of youthful hubris, believes herself to be a splendid matchmaker but will eventually come to realise that her meddling can have seriously consequences. She has a well-wisher and silent lover in Knightley who watches her misadventures with evident disapproval; the sparks between Flynn and Taylor-Joy are a joy to witness; even if you’re not a fan of the story, watch this film for Taylor-Joy’s expressions alone — her eyes speak volumes and despite her more serious roles (The Queen’s Gambit) she seems to have a wonderful knack for comedy. You’ll find yourself laughing out loud, quite often.

Mansfield Park (1999)

Tracing the fortunes of a poor girl Fanny Price (Frances O’Connor) brought to her wealthy uncle’s household, this is probably one of the less acclaimed Austen adaptations. However, it has everything you could hope for in a great story brought to the big screen — a bad boy, morally questionable beautiful people, upright characters, unrequited love… With stunning cinematography and a charming lead pair (Jonny Lee Miller plays Fanny’s cousin and love interest, Edmund Bertram), the film delivers layered performances and is a unique period drama worth revisiting. It blends the original story of Mansfield Park with biographical elements from Austen’s own life.

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Jane Austen’s first published novel found a near-perfect big screen vehicle in this film that follows the fortunes of the Dashwood sisters after the death of their father. A young Kate Winslet is perfectly cast as the beautiful but petulant Marianne Dashwood; cinema stalwart Emma Thompson apart from playing her sensible older sister Elinor also spent five years working on the film’s Oscar-winning screenplay. The most notable takeaway from this film is the patient courtship between Elinor and the shy Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant). Of course there is heartbreak — and learning as well; Winslet and Thompson are convincing enough as completely opposing personalities — a phenomenon often found in real life sisters as well who turn out to be the perfect foil for each other. Sense and Sensibility is a hopeful yet sometimes melancholic coming of age film that will stay with you for years to come.

Pride and Prejudice (2005)

The world of one of literature’s most endearing couples, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, was never so richly inhabited on screen! One of the most popular and commercially successful Austen adaptations, this 2005 film brought together a stellar cast including Keira Knightley (Elizabeth), Rosamund Pike (Jane Bennet), Carey Mulligan (Kitty Bennet) and Matthew Macfayden (Mr. Darcy). Supported by a clever screenplay with additional dialogues by the uber-talented Emma Thompson, that has us smiling, emotional and ecstatic at just the right moments, this big screen version left us enchanted and just a little bit more enamored of Austen’s most-loved heroine, the feisty Elizabeth Bennet, who is as proud and sensible as she is lovely.

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