TL;DR – against her own judgement, Anne breaks off her engagement with Frederick Wentworth. Eight years later they meet again. Let the mind reading begin as they both mis-read each other’s feelings entirely.
Review (warning: spoilers)
Is chivalry dead? Not in a Jane Austen adaption. Persuasion, based on Austen’s last novel of the same name, examines and often repudiates the social codes of its time for which Austen was renown for.
While chivalry and social class of landed gentry is not dead in Austen’s novels, she goes to considerable lengths to demonstrate that you can only go so far in sensing another person’s emotions and trying to read into what they are thinking and feeling without crumbling into a tragic mess. Especially when that emotion is love and it is a battle between the heart and head.
To point, the film begins with Anne Elliott (Dakota Johnson) very much in love with Frederick Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis) but has been persuaded by friends and family to break the engagement she has with him because he is of no notable name or rank (a mere sailor) and thus no suitable social status.
Eight years later and she hasn’t got over Frederick, and they meet up again through extenuating circumstances. Those circumstances being that Anne’s family is in financial trouble and they need to rent out their lavish estate, Kellynch Hall, and move to the less “lavish” town of Bath. Turns out Admiral Croft and his wife Sophia (Frederick’s sister) will be the ones moving into Kellynch Hall. And Anne meets Frederick once more who is now a decorated captain and is with considerable coin and social standing.
It’s as plain as day that the love between the pair has not waned. If anything, it has only grown stronger. And now that Captain Wentworth is higher up the rung on the social ladder, there should be no reason why he and Anne confess their love for one another once more and wed.
However, that would be a very short movie.
Instead, we have a lot of forlorn looks, uneasy chatter, and a surrounding cast that either treat Anne with tolerated disdain (i.e., her own family) or are making their own moves on Captain Wentworth or Anne respectively.
The humour is generated primarily from Anne’s narcissistic family who are all caricatures of the privileged social class (their fortunes obtained through inheritance or marriage as opposed to an honest day’s work). They’re a double edged sword that will either turn you off the film because they’re so annoying, or you’ll laugh out loud at how ridiculous they are as attention seekers.
Dakota Johnson carries the film well as the central character Anne, and her breaking down the fourth wall scenes about her thoughts and observations engage the audience.
However, for all her efforts, it’s not enough to carry a film that lacks any real drama. Though both she and Frederick capture the eye of interested others, which is meant to bring tension between the pair, there is never a sense that they won’t ever end up together.
All attempts at depth and being astutely scathing toward the upper class social structures of its time are filled with the hot air of its narcissistic supporting characters. And any insights about unrequited love and hope for a love that is found then lost then found again ends up being banal rather than thought provoking.
But perhaps that’s the aim of the film. In which case, enjoy the gorgeous cinematography and Dakota’s performance.
7 out of 10