Persuasion is arguably Jane Austen’s most mature work, reflecting not only the honing of her literary voice and sharpness of her dialogue, but also her most mature and sensible heroine, Anne Elliot, a woman in her “second bloom”. Disappointed in love as a debutante, years later—in her late 20s, a haggard old crone by the standards of the day—she gets a second chance with the dashing Captain Wentworth, whom she once refused upon the (bad) advice of her family. Anne is as intelligent and witty as any of Austen’s heroines, but she’s also wise in a way none of the others are (except maybe Elinor Dashwood). It’s with all that in mind that I say the trailer for the new adaptation of Persuasion, starring Dakota Johnson as Anne Elliot, is not what I expected.
I don’t necessarily dislike it, Johnson seems charming as Anne and casting Richard E. Grant as Sir Walter Elliot is brilliant, but having Anne break the fourth wall is a big choice for a period-set Austen adaptation. You could say it’s the Bridgerton influence, contemporizing the Regency, but this feels more like the Fleabagging of Jane Austen, which is sort of strange as Austen is one of the most timelessly appealing Western authors who has never really needed help being understood by modern audiences. Of course, other adaptations have taken liberties, but usually those liberties begin with moving to a more contemporary setting. It just feels a bit weird, like someone didn’t trust audiences to invest in Anne’s story of second-chance love without a push.
Also, if any Austen heroine is going to talk to the camera, it should be Emma Woodhouse or Catherine Morland. Again, a big part of Anne’s appeal as an Austen heroine is that she is wiser and more self-actualized than the others, her hard-won understanding coming from her heartbreak. She’s not a mope, far from it, but she’s not a girl, either. She’s a more mature creation of a more mature author and breaking the fourth wall with this particular character feels a bit…off. It kind of feels like trying to turn Persuasion into more of a rom-com than it really is. Again, I don’t hate this, I’m just a little apprehensive of this approach to this particular Austen heroine. Anne Elliot doesn’t need a hard sell.