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Why Austenites Are Raging Over the ‘Persuasion’ Trailer

The rom-com-ification of period pieces has found its next victim in Jane Austen.

Netflix—the birthplace of today’s premier yassified Regency-era heroines, also known as the protagonists of Bridgerton—just dropped the trailer for its adaptation of Persuasionbased on the last completed novel by the 19th-century writer.

Dakota Johnson stars as Anne Elliot, our leading lady who laments breaking off her engagement to an inconsequential naval officer, Frederick Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis), at the behest of her vain family. Seven-plus years after their farewell, the former lovers are reunited. Wentworth, now a wealthy captain, returns to find Anne unmarried—practically a spinster at 27 years old. Chaos, of course, abounds. There are balls, trips to the sea, and a love triangle featuring one devilishly charming Henry Golding.

Netflix’s take on the classic Austen tale is Fleabag meets empire waistlines; Throughout, Anne exchanges knowing, tongue-in-cheek glances with the camera, breaking the fourth wall to wink at feelings of incredulity or schadenfreude. It’s a fresh perspective from director Carrie Cracknell for her debut feature film, one that clearly leans into Austen’s signature humor and satirical observations—traits often lost in so many of her novels’ adaptations. It’s also one that feels like an utter miscalculation of the story’s true essence.

Anne, like all of Austen’s heroines, is indeed a woman with biting wit and a keen eye for the societal impositions placed on her and others of her sex and station. But she’s also a brooding wallflower, oft overlooked by her thankless family yet still motivated by duty and patience, devotion and gumption. With Wentworth’s return, she is ever more introspective and penitent, being forced to quietly confront years of repressed regret and resentment over a love lost to familial piety.

dakota johnson as anne elliot in persuasion photo credit nick wallnetflix © 2021

Dakota Johnson as Anne Elliot.

nic wallGetty Images

Austenites are a tough crowd. Known to renounce any adaptation that isn’t a faithful, sacred rendering of the source material (the bitter war over Joe Wright’s 2005 take on Pride and Prejudice wages on to this day), they are unforgiving of interpretations that seem to favor consumer universality above historical accuracies. Unfortunately for them, quirky quasi-rom-coms on traditional Regency love stories seem to be on the rise as of late, if the Bridgerton boom is any indication.

The commercialization of a story as widely celebrated as Austen’s most mature body of work has, at first glance, produced a cast of unrecognizable characters from their origins. Would Anne Elliot quip snarky, girlboss one-liners to a knowing audience? Would we even want her to? When we lose the beauty of subtext—Austen’s greatest storytelling strength—what else exactly do we gain?

We get our answer when Johnson’s Anne delivers a stunning line of dialogue during the two-and-a-half-minute trailer, seemingly translated from a passage in the novel about the incalculable despair of being estranged from a former lover: “Now we’re worse than exes. We’re friends.”

Only time will tell if the rest of the adaptation falls to the same bewildering anachronisms as the trailer shows. But in the meantime, fellow Austenites on Twitter have gathered to commiserate.

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