Directed by Carrie Cracknell.
Starring Dakota Johnson, Henry Golding, Cosmo Jarvis, Richard E. Grant, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Ben Bailey-Smith, Izuka Hoyle, Mia McKenna-Bruce, Nia Towle, Edward Bluemel, Lydia Rose Bewley, Janet Henfrey, Agni Scott, Afolabi Alli, Stewart Scudamore, and Yolanda Kettle.
Eight years after Anne Elliot was persuaded not to marry a dashing man of humble origins, they meet again. Will she seize her second chance at true love?
You probably don’t need to be persuaded to watch Persuasion. Fans of Jane Austen or those familiar with the novel are probably already in, even if there have already been multiple adaptations. The question is if director Carrie Cracknell (working with screenwriters Ron Bass and Alice Victoria Winslow) has done anything to set this interpretation apart from the rest, and the answer would be yes. Like other recent period pieces, a racially diverse and inclusive cast allows these stories to feel modern even though they took place centuries ago. Some third-act changes are clever enough and help salvage some of the rushed pacing that the narrative otherwise suffers from.
For the oblivious, Persuasion follows Anne Elliot (a playful Dakota Johnson, also charming when in third-person narration mode). She’s the middle child to a vain baronet (Richard E. Grant having a quirky blast as Sir Walter) who, eight years ago, was convinced by her family and friends, which includes the trusted Lady Russell (solid work from Nikki Amuka-Bird grounded in regret and seeking forgiveness) who essentially took over the motherly role after Anne’s biological mom died, to break off an engagement to the ambitious but lower-class Frederick Wentworth (played by Cosmo Jarvis, a consistently impressive rising talent with heaps of vulnerability underneath his imposing frame) fearing that they would have no future.
Here’s how times have changed: The Elliot family has fallen on hard times and must rent out their home to an admiral that is actually related to Frederick, now a successful captain in his own right with plenty of heroics and cash under his belt, spurring a reunion but not so much a reignited flame. That’s because both Anna and Frederick are still dealing with the past in different ways, allowing the script to interrogate such heartbreak and pain while asking questions about whether their being friends would be worse than being exes. Nonetheless, it’s evident that Anne badly wants to be with Frederick, but in his hurt, he doesn’t necessarily have kind things to say about her, let alone express openness to the possibility of second chances.
That’s the serious aspect of Persuasion, which is also humorously concerned with many supporting characters. The most noteworthy of the bunch is Anne’s narcissistic married younger sister Mary (Mia McKenna-Bruce), constantly begging for attention and exaggerating illnesses. The joke is that while she is married with children, she often appears miserable and doesn’t always want to see the kids, suggesting that matrimony might not be for everyone.
It also allows for amusing banter between the two siblings as the writing navigates more questions about love and marriage. Frederick also seems to be pining after one of Mary’s cousins, Louisa (Nia Towle), with Anne aware that he enjoys the company of a woman that lets him explain nautical terminology and someone that doesn’t mind learning from him. Meanwhile, Henry Golding pops into the story playing another potential suitor for Anne, despite his insistence that he is not looking for romance but rather ensuring inheritance of some sort.
There does come up a point where Persuasion starts to speed up the storytelling (an incident involving a concussion that doesn’t feel organically executed, and from there moves on rapidly without checking in on the characters), somewhat struggling to tie up its numerous subplots cleanly. However, the script is unsurprisingly filled with thoughtful nuggets regarding multiple perceptions of romance and independence, often with beautiful craftsmanship (costumes and set design are vibrant and striking). And, while Dakota Johnson is a delight here, Cosmo Jarvis continues to make a case as one of the most promising new talents on the scene. Together, they have winning chemistry, with a moving climax, whether the characters are distant or mad for one another.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com