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Janey, relax. Austin can handle the worst of Netflix

Forced to study Persuasion as a first-rate book, I failed to appreciate the autumnal nuances of Jane Austen’s latest completed novel. At the age of 17, I tended to agree with the rougher characters in the novel about the 27-year-old heroine Ann Elliot as distant from her, and I found her lingering regret for lost love more annoying than touching.

My immature view of Austen’s late masterpiece was justly rewarded with a terrible test score. But now I have a second chance to evaluate a novel whose theme is second chance; of which Austen’s biographer, Claire Tomalin, wrote: “This can be seen as a gift … to all women who have lost their chance in life and will never enjoy a second spring.”

Directed by Carrie Cracknell, a new adaptation of Persuasion, directed by Carrie Cracknell, premiered on Netflix on July 15, starring Dakota Johnson as Ann Elliot and Cosmo Jarvis as her lost lover, Captain Wentworth. The trailer gives a glimpse of what to expect: tight corsets and heaving breasts, sultry 21st-century makeup (Johnson), designer stubble (Jarvis), pony horses galloping through pastoral landscapes, and more.

No clichés of modern drama: aside from the camera a la Fleabag, the “charming” unfortunate heroine in the Bridget Jones pattern, and the dialogue whose subtle resonators have been reworked with a club: Austen’s drawling reflections on the resumption of the meeting between Anne and her lost love: “Now they were like strangers ; no, worse than strangers, because they could never have met” translates as: “Now we are worse than the former: we are friends.”

Janites on Twitter are outraged: “I think writers should write what they want, but whoever wrote it should be sent to prison for life,” wrote Booker Prize-nominated writer Brandon Taylor in a series of shocked tweets. A strong nod to the film’s target audience can be found in Netflix’s “more like this” offerings: a flurry of bubblegum romcoms.

By its release, we can judge whether this latest adaptation of Persuasion is straight turkey or a nice piece of costume drama. But the film adaptation of the classics is always an accident. Every New Year’s Eve, my partner and I revisit Andrew Davis’s 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice, once again admiring not so much Colin Firth’s raw shirt—attractive though it is—but the wonder that Jennifer Ehle’s Lizzie Bennet is. .

But the list of shockers, many of which do their best to respect their source code, is huge. It includes Nancy Mitford’s horrific 2021 BBC miniseries “Chasing Love” and Anthony Powell’s dark Channel 4 version of “Dance to the Music of Time” that even Simon Russell Beale’s toad-like Widmerpool couldn’t redeem.

No one is (apparently) going to make a bad adaptation, just as no one (again, apparently – although some startling exceptions come to mind) is going to write a bad novel. But even if this version of Persuasion turns out to be as dumb as its trailer suggests, what real harm will be done?

Janite purists will love to rant on social media, and somewhere a capable 17-year-old boy, fascinated by the dizzying energy of a film adaptation, can turn to an Austen novel and find a portal to a rich world of imagination.

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