I’m going to preface this review by stating that Jane Austen is my favorite author and Fleabag is my favorite TV show. The combination of the two should be something I absolutely adore, right? Unfortunately, no, not when said combination is an adaptation of Persuasion. The screenwriter butchered everything that made the novel so special, and Dakota Johnson has the comedic timing of a piece of wood. Alas, the most recent adaptation of Persuasion is absolutely dreadful.
What was easily the worst part of this film for me was the screenplay. It tries far too hard to be modern. Anne will give a speech that’s actually well-written and historically accurate but then ruin it with some BS modern quip about him “being a ten” or them “being exes.” It feels like Alice Winslow and Ronald Bass were inspired by the likes of the 2020 adaptation of Emma (an amazing film) and Bridgerton, then promptly decided to apply that style to one of Austen’s works without a popular adaptation. It’s unfortunate that the project they chose was her most mature work. The character of Anne Elliot is taken from this somber, emotional character to your average “girlboss.” She narrates her life and winks at the audience in true Fleabagian style. But the story just doesn’t fit it! There are zero similarities to the original novel aside from the basic story and characters.
My feelings on this movie’s acting are a bit more mixed. Right after giving an amazing performance in Cha Cha Real Smooth, Dakota Johson delivers a genuinely Razzie-worthy performance. She’s so dry and her line delivery is awful. She would be a decent fit for the character of Anne was written similarly to how she was in the novel… or written well at all. It’s not entirely her fault, as she gets nothing of value to work with. She has a few great scenes, but then she has a moment like the letter reading scene where she looks at the camera in the middle of crying and destroys any sort of emotional depth. The other performances are okay. Mia McKenna-Bruce is cringeworthy in an endearing way, Henry Golding is fine, and Cosmo Jarvis is alright.
The only parts of the film I will legitimately praise are its technical aspects. The production design is stunning. The cinematography is pretty good and leads to some absolutely beautiful shots in the film. The score is pretty and works for the tone of the film. However, that’s about it. The costumes are historically accurate, but also look so cheap. And despite some of the film’s technical merits, I can’t help but detest its direction. The vision is awful and does not remotely suit the novel being adapted.
I don’t know who exactly would like this. If you like Bridgerton and haven’t read the book, I guess you could check it out. It’s just neither the fun romcom it thinks it is nor a remotely faithful adaptation of the novel. A weak script, poor direction, and a terrible lead performance help make the 2022 adaptation of Persuasion one of the worst films of the year.