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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

That trailer

During an overseas visit earlier this month, I was too swamped with family business to follow the news with my usual attention. This state of affairs proved curiously restful. For a week or so, I could shut out the usual drumbeat of doom: brutal warfare, polarized politics, skyrocketing inflation, controversial Jane Austen adaptations. . . .


But now I’m back, and the time for ignoring reality has passed. Yes, I’ve watched The Trailer. And no, I am not pleased.


I refer, of course, to the two-and-a-half-minute preview of Persuasion, the long-awaited adaptation that will air on Netflix beginning July 15. The trailer dropped nearly two weeks ago, and the howls of outrage have barely abated. (See, for example, here, here, and here.)


The problem, in a nutshell, is tone. Persuasion, the novel, is a quiet, melancholy book – the adjective of choice is usually “autumnal” – about two people, no longer young, who have squandered their first chance at love and are slowly finding their way back to each other. The action is internal and the satire is dark. It’s a story replete with that special loneliness that comes with being isolated and misunderstood at the very heart of family life.


Persuasion, the trailer, is altogether jauntier. Its heroine comes across as more histrionic than repressed, more irked than sad, and little effort seems to have been expended in making the gorgeous Dakota Johnson, as Anne Elliot, look like a woman who has lost the first bloom of youth. The vibe is Classic Romcom, all banter and physical comedy and knowing little asides to the audience. Whatever this is, it sure isn't the book.


So what can we expect from Persuasion, the movie? It’s always hard to draw firm conclusions from a trailer, and this one contains occasional hints – a look here, a line reading there -- of something truer to the spirit of the novel. A recent Vogue piece, brought to my attention by the indispensable Maggie Sullivan of AustenBlog, offers fodder for both optimists and pessimists: On the one hand, director Carrie Cracknell says Persuasion is “ultimately a piece about longing” (yes, exactly), but on the other, there’s much talk about Anne Elliot’s rebelliousness and biting wit, which strikes me as entirely at odds with the original.


Will it matter if this Persuasion, rather like the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice, turns out to be a Jane Austen adaptation that strays far from the sensibility of its source material? Not so much, really. I have my doubts about the claim (for instance, here) that “modernized” Austen adaptations do a service in bringing new readers to the novels – if those newbies come looking for something that isn’t there, how long will they stay? – but neither do I think that problematic adaptations do real harm. For those of us who love Persuasion just the way Jane Austen wrote it, the book will still be there long after the movie has faded to black.

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4 Comments


harriet
Jun 30, 2022

I love your measured response to The Trailer. I do plan on watching the adaptation, although I have significantly lowered my expectations.


I have one comment on your post. You say 'Persuasion, the novel, is a quiet, melancholy book', which I absolutely agree with. However, it DOES also contain humour - and quite a lot, in fact.


So one thing that rather annoyed me in the trailer is that they appear to have replaced the comedy of the book (which I love) with a Bridget Jones style of comedy (which is not to my personal taste - I don't do embarrassment comedy).


Possibly this will prove to sit alongside, rather than instead of, the comedy we see in the book.…


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Deborah Yaffe
Deborah Yaffe
Jun 30, 2022
Replying to

I completely agree: Persuasion's humor is wry, I would say -- it's everyone in the Musgrove household seeing their own point of view as the only reasonable one, or Admiral Croft innocently remarking on the number of mirrors in Kellynch Hall, or Anne noticing her own silliness in trying to make space for Captain Wentworth to sit next to her. It's not accidentally-looking-stupid-when-meeting-your-long-lost-love humor. (Fleabag, incidentally, is utterly, incandescently brilliant, IMHO. Not everyone is immediately captivated -- I wasn't! -- but I recommend sticking with it through the third half-hour episode. I started out the first season thinking, "This woman is so unpleasant -- I'm not sure I want to spend time with her," and ended the season sobbing. And season…

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amsprayberry
Jun 27, 2022

I plan to maintain my record of not watching any JA adaptations since the 2009 BBC Emma (with the exception of the 2016 Love and Friendship film, which was actually pretty good, despite the misleading title) intact. And if this is Netflix's way of persuading me to sign up for Netflix, the Persuasion is insufficient.

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Deborah Yaffe
Deborah Yaffe
Jun 27, 2022
Replying to

You are made of sterner stuff than I, Marie! I will be tuning in on July 15, braced for disappointment but hoping for transcendence. . .

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