Netflix’s luxurious new version of Jane Austen’s classic novel, Persuasion, has been causing a critical hit.
The film stars Dakota Johnson, Henry Golding of Snake Eyes and Richard E. Grant, with British director Carrie Cracknell taking her first steps outside the theater and into films behind the camera.
The story follows Anne Elliot (played by Johnson), the neglected middle daughter of Grant’s conceited and spendthrift Sir Walter Elliot. Having been persuaded by her family eight years earlier to break off an engagement to Captain Frederick Wentworth of Cosmo Jarvis – a decision she has never recovered from – Anne is shocked when Wentworth re-enters her life.
He does so when his father is forced to leave the family estate to none other than Wentworth’s brother-in-law to try to reduce the family’s debts. Naturally, when the pair start seeing each other again, sparks fly.
The film’s first trailer, which was released last month, drew comparisons to Fleabag as Johnson’s Elliott breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the camera throughout the film. While Fleabag was adored by critics, Persuasion was less well received, with the film currently holding a 32% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (opens in new tab) – not to mention some really terrible reviews – ahead of its July 15th release.
How bad are the reviews?
Really bad. The Observer’s Wendy Ide (opens in new tab) called the film’s script – which comes from Ron Bass and Alice Victoria Winslow – “a farce”, and was unimpressed with the narrative choice of speaking to the camera. Ide called the device Fleabag-esque “…deaf, demonstrating so little sensitivity to the delicate precision of Austen’s writing that you wonder why she just didn’t get carried away by some comedic trombone charlatans and a soundtrack audience of laughs.” There.
The Geeks’ Wealth Noah Berlatsky was also unimpressed, saying that “Austen fans will find this a dark and irritating adaptation”, while Mashable’s Kristy Pushko (opens in new tab) wrote that Persuasion “… gets in the way of its heroine, humor and romance”, as did Kevin Maher of The Times (opens in new tab)called Johnson “…wildly misunderstood here as Anne” and described the film as a “chaotic mess”.
Peter Bradshaw from the Guardian called the film “…presumptuous and ill-conceived”. About that, Tim Robey of the Daily Telegraph compared Persuasion unflatteringly to Bridgerton, describing the film’s take on Austen’s story as “…displaying an old copy of the novel in a full cosplay selfie, but holding it upside down”, which it did not. it’s kind. Leah Greenblatt from Entertainment Weekly was also harsh, writing that the film “…chooses to use its source material as a thin throwaway skin, discarding many of Organs vital organs (brain, heart) and most of the subtlety as it goes along”.
A handful of reviewers were more positive, however. Robert Kojder from Shimmering Myth was on board, giving the film three stars and praising Johnson’s turn. David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter It wasn’t full of praise, but it didn’t put the boot on either, calling Persuasion “…an independent rom-com only loosely tied to its origins, the film is a sweet distraction”. Needless to say, these aren’t the reviews Netflix expected.
Analysis: Will Netflix care?
The movie doesn’t come out until July 15th, so who knows if audiences will like it or not?
Bad reviews didn’t stop The Interceptor from getting big ratings on Netflix, but that’s a different kind of thing. In years gone by, Jane Austen’s novels have won many stardust awards. 1995’s Sense and Sensibility won Emma Thompson an Oscar for her screenplay among seven other nominations, while the 1996 remake of Emma won Best Original Score in 1996. In 2005, Keira Knightley was also nominated for Best Actress for Pride and Prejudice. Netflix execs love winning awards, so this will be a hit. Having spent money to secure an expensive cast, with in-demand talent like Johnson and Golding, this movie was a priority for Netflix.
Still, with The Sea Beast faring much better since launching on July 8, and The Gray Man arriving on July 22, perhaps the streaming giant shouldn’t worry too much about Persuasion’s less-than-stellar reception. We’ll have to see how Persuasion gets to audiences and how many people stream it next weekend.
For more Netflix-based content, check out our selection of the best movies and TV shows on the world’s most popular streamer.