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Netflix's Persuasion Director Reacts To Backlash Over The Dialogue

Dakota Johnson in Persuasion
(Image credit: Netflix)

Creating a modern spin on a classic piece of literature can be a great way to draw in audiences like how Jane Austen’s Emma got a high school ‘90s spin in Clueless or Marie Antoinette added modern music and dialogue to add a twist. While this method can work when the film’s idea is to add a modern spin, it can go wrong at times, particularly when fan's feel the source novel is fine the way it is. Following the complaints Netflix's Persuasion received because of its contemporary dialogue, the Jane Austen adaptation’s director has something to say about it.

Persuasion is the latest book being made into a movie in 2022, and it has been receiving mixed reviews from critics and fans because of the contemporary slang the Dakota Johnson-starrer uses. Words like “exes” or calling someone “a ten” would neither be found in a Jane Austen novel nor anywhere else during the Regency era. Persuasion director Carrie Cracknell said in a recent interview with IndieWire that she understands why fans have been defensive about Persuasion when watching the film based on Jane Austen's work.

I think people have a really deep feeling of ownership over [Jane] Austen and, rightly, have a really sort of strong connection to the book.

The director actually considers herself one of those people. Like many British schoolgirls, her time in school was spent reading Austen's books starting with Pride and Prejudice followed by watching the 1995 Pride and Prejudice mini-series “seven times back-to-back” as a teen. She loved Jane Austen’s vision of her female characters trying to make sense of the world they were living in while adding a tone of warmth to the material. That’s why it made sense to her to choose Jane Austen’s final novel, Persuasion -- the last novel the beloved author wrote before her death in 1817 -- for her directorial debut. 

Yet, as soon as Persuasion’s trailer came out, fans of Jane Austen took to social media to rant about how Cracknell’s film was too modern. The British theater director defended her film by stating how important it was for fans to watch the film in its entirety. That way they can see which parts she stayed true to in regards to the Jane Austen material and which went in a different direction.

It’s really important to me that the film holds the grown-up longing and heartache and complexity of Anne’s journey, and I’ve tried to calibrate that really carefully, as well as finding this slightly more anarchic, comic energy. I suspect that the trailer possibly skews more towards that comic quality in the film. So I would really encourage people to watch the film and then there’ll be a really interesting conversation about which elements of the essence of the book we’ve held in the adaptation and where we’ve been a little bit more iconoclastic.

Another thing Carrie Cracknell defended was the main character, Anne’s, tendency to break the fourth wall which critics compared to the British contemporary comedy Fleabag. While the novel was written in the third person, she used breaking the fourth wall in order for the audience to access Anne’s inner thoughts as she observes her family and their bizarre behaviors. It’s an opportunity for the main character to connect with the streaming audience.

The 42-year-old director also stood by her casting choices for the film. It’s important to know that the actress playing the iconic role of Anne is none other than Fifty Shades of Grey’s Dakota Johnson. Cracknell felt like Johnson’s thoughtfulness, intelligence, and watchfulness are perfect qualities to play Anne Elliot. She felt the same way about casting Lady Macbeth’s Cosmo Jarvis as Captain Frederick Wentworth to bring out the character’s complexity compared to being your typical Jane Austen leading man. Just like with Netflix’s Bridgerton, Persuasion also has a cast of actors from different races and ethnicities to broaden casting options and appeal to many audience members watching. 

While Persuasion’s modern spin may not hit all fans and critics the right way, Carrie Cracknell stands by her project as she believes the period romance film captures the relatable themes of the fear of life passing you by and trying to find the right pathway. If you want to know how the British director did with capturing Jane Austen’s final novel, see it for yourself on your Netflix subscription now.

Carly Levy
Carly Levy

Just your average South Floridian cinephile who believes the pen is mightier than the sword.