‘Persuasion’: An Ode To A Love Once Lost
Narrated entirely from the point of view of the heroine, Anne Elliot, the film follows how she struggles to accept the end of her relationship with her first love, Captain Frederick Wentworth. When he returns from sea, sparks start to fly again but he is not the only man that is the subject of her affection; she takes a liking to her distant cousin, William Elliot whose charm sweeps her off her feet. With the two men’s hearts in the palm of her hands, she must decide whose must bite the dust.
There is nothing more fulfilling than reminiscing about a love that could have been but never was- first love. The heart never forgets and that is why Anne Elliot, played by Fifty Shades of Grey actress, Dakota Johnson, spends most of her time mourning her first love while drowning in a “bottle of red” and tolerating the colourful shades of personalities in her family. Interestingly enough, the movie is titled Persuasion because her family and friends persuaded her to give up the strapping Napoleonic captain eight years earlier. Why? Because he had no rank, no fortune, and no nobility.
Jane Austen’s works are no stranger to adaptation: there is the 2005 Oscar success, Pride and Prejudice, and the Anya Taylor-Joy-led Emma, but none explore the theme of burning for your first love quite like this one. The Bridgerton-esque, Regency drama tours the various stages of “self-induced” heartbreak through Anne’s Fleabag-styled narrations, asides, and dry humour.
First, there is denial. Anne struggles to accept that eight years is more than enough time to move on from a man whose personality is honestly quite stiff and boring. One begins to wonder why a woman so bright and knowledgeable in all things Byron would be longing for him for that long. In her defense, she claims that Frederick (Cosmo Jarvis) is the only person, save exception of her late mother and mother’s best friend- Lady Russell, who “ever really saw me and understood me and loved me.” Some sympathy should be bestowed in her favor because her father is vain, her older sister is self-absorbed and the younger one is too much of an overbearing narcissist for a mother of two young children. They barely see anyone but their reflections in the mirror.
Anne constantly denies herself from moving on by keeping the things her first love sent to her during their courtship: his notes, a sheet music playlist, a cowbell, and a lock of hair from him and his horse. She even channels her inner stalker by reading articles written about him and keeping tabs on his personal life.
It has been eight years, Anne. Build a bridge and get over it!
Next, there is anger. The captain returns to Uppercross to live a mundane life; he wants to settle down and have a family much to the displeasure of his friends who prefer him in the tides. He would make a fine Admiral, but a fine husband and father? That is yet to be seen. In his quest to find a wife, he takes somewhat of a liking to Louisa Musgrove, Anne’s sister-in-law. Louisa falls hard and fast for the eligible bachelor and his knowledge about the sea and constellations, leaving Anne in a state of jealousy and invisible anger. Visible anger is palpable but the invisible one is deadly. If Anne was the opposite of Van Gogh’s version of a classy and elegant maiden, she would have gone to war with her sister-in-law.
Louisa’s actions leave much to be desired anyway since she initially encouraged Anne to mingle with the captain (without prior knowledge of their history). When she put two and two together, she still unwittingly pursues Frederick, turning a blind eye to Anne’s feelings. He is her dream man but she is never in his wildest dreams. Frederick merely sees Louisa as a woman who is infatuated with him and strings her along to tingle Anne’s sensibilities.
Talk about putting the L in Louisa because no one likes being the rebound girl.
When news of Louisa and Frederick’s engagement becomes the hot topic in Bath and beyond, Anne feels nothing but pain and sadness because an engagement equates to losing her first love. It also means that Louisa won. What do you do in a flux of intense emotions? Bargaining. In response to Frederick’s rebound, Anne gets one of her own in the form of her distant cousin William Elliot, played by Henry Golding. Unlike the captain’s cold nature, William is smooth and suave with bountiful candour that makes the banter between him and Anne so pleasing to watch. The two men in her life are like fire and ice so it is no surprise to see them clash for her affections via insults baked into posh words spoken in a British accent.
Anne has more chemistry with her distant cousin than her supposed love interest. Even though he is not the one for her (that is how these tales always go), one cannot help but wish that maybe, just maybe she would ditch the captain and accept his (William’s) marriage proposal. Perhaps Anne’s family did her a favour by emancipating her from Frederick because other than prolonged longing, wistful stares, and a cliché smooch at the end, it is again very hard to see what part of him attracts her.
Anne is certainly depressed because she let her first love slip right through her fingers; her constant complaints and moans about how idiotic she is for allowing others to dictate her life are indications enough. However, she tries to suppress her worries by taking care of her sister, Mary (the narcissist), and being the best aunt to her two nephews. Red wine is her closest friend seeing as she constantly keeps it in her bedroom and drinks from it when her emotions become too much to handle.
Life seems to be going on swimmingly, but when Anne hears the engagement news, the depression comes back to rare its ugly head. Cue the breaking down and crying in a bathtub full of water while delivering a monologue about how gracefully she handles “cosmic loss.”
Indeed she is “thriving.”
Acceptance is the one thing Anne should have done a long time ago, but wallowing in self-pity is her coping mechanism. It seems to have worked for her though because the one man she truly loved never forgot about her. Frederick’s confessional letter towards the film’s end boasts of heart-fluttering words and honey-coated honesty with the power to make any debutante blush. The universe definitely has perfect timing because the exes reunite and get married.
All that crying leads to a happy ending after all.
Persuasion is no Pride and Prejudice. The latter is honestly better and that is saying something because Pride and Prejudice did not have the luxury of modernization, an entourage of crew members, and Netflix.
A lot of things in the film could have been better: the scenery of Uppercross, Lyme, and Bath could have been explored a little more, Anne should have ended up with William and Lady Russell deserved more screen time. Be that as it may, the film should be praised for its diversity in cast despite it being a periodic drama and the not-so-subtle reminder that your first love has the potential to be your last.
Streaming Service: Netflix
Release Date: July 15, 2022
Director: Carrie Cracknell
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Cosmo Jarvis, Henry Golding, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Mia Mckenna-Bruce and Richard E. Grant