“Have you seen the new Persuasion movie?” has been asked of me by nearly everyone I know who has any knowledge of Jane Austen. In fact, having a weekend to myself recently, I had decided to do just that when I received yet another text asking this question. Amusingly, I was finally able to do so that Sunday following an exceedingly appropriate church message. Stay with me on this.
Our pastor has begun a sermon series called Summer Jams. Each week, he is taking a secular song title and giving it a Biblical message. The first Sunday, he began by confronting criticism he had received regarding this idea. He broke it down this way: There is that which is Sacred (being of God), that which is Secular (being of man), and that which is Profane (being of the devil). Christians are often so intent on avoiding the profane that they miss out on the secular entirely. He said we need to learn how to be spiritual, how to enjoy the secular, and how to avoid the profane. In addition, he pointed out that Jesus used whatever means at his disposal to reach his audience. He spoke farming to the farmers, fishing to the fishermen, and used proverbs or whatever was on hand. In the end, what mattered was that he reached his audience in order to further his mission.
With this mindset, I set out to watch the new Persuasion movie and apply the Sacred to Austen’s original and the Secular to JAFF. (I dare not name a Profane lest my own past works be included. 😉 ) I also thought of Jane Austen’s sense of humor and her own satirical take on things of her time. Now, this is not a full review of the movie, and I will not be going into any real detail, so do not fear spoilers. (Plus, I dare say you all know the story as written, so how much could I spoil?)
Brace yourself and do not hate me, but I liked it. Was Anne like the Anne in the book? No. Was she relatable to today’s woman? Yes. (Think combination of Bridget Jones of Bridget Jones’ Diary and Fanny Price of the 1999 Mansfield Park.) Did the movie follow the book exactly? No. In all honesty, how many of them do? Not even the 1995 P&P is perfect on this point (though it comes closer than some others). Setting aside what I know from reading Persuasion, and not comparing it to the 1995 movie as I have yet to see the 2007, it was fun to watch. There was a tongue in cheek element to it. Were there scenes I thought could have been done better? Yes, but since my son works in the film industry, that is true of nearly every movie I watch. (A commonly repeated phrase in our house is “I hope Nick does better than that.”)
Like Amanda Kai and Diana Oaks have covered before me, there were scenes that did not “fulfill their intentions.” (Is that diplomatic enough?) The most memorable cringe moment for me was Anne blurting out that her brother-in-law had proposed to her first, followed by Wentworth clarifying it. Besides being embarrassing, it made her look petty and was unworthy of the character. I have heard many people hated the scene where she finds a spot to relieve herself within hearing distance of Louisa and Wentworth. In truth, my only concern with it was she was on the side of the tree most visible to anyone passing by. I have to go back and watch it again, but were they speaking when she first began . . . getting ready to . . .you know? There were other ways for her to overhear their conversation, so this was not necessary and was a pretty weak attempt at humor.
So, what did I like about it?
Mary! Not that I like this character or would want a sister or friend like Mary, but the representation was exactly as I imagine her to be when I read the book. (I think Jane Austen might even say, “Yes! That is precisely what I intended.”)
Wentworth’s awkwardness. In other versions, and I daresay in the book, Wentworth is almost cruel towards Anne when they first meet again. This Wentworth seemed much more lost, uncertain if he wanted to be cruel or sweep her up in his arms and carry her away, like he was in a constant battle with himself.
And the children. Yes, the children in most of Jane Austen’s books could be called spoiled, but I thought the boys were just that, boys: over-zealous, filled with uncontrolled energy, and ready for adventure at every turn.
Like any movie under two hours that is based on a full length novel, there were scenes, characters, and depth that had to be cut. The difference between this and other movies? Other than Mrs. Smith, I either didn’t notice or didn’t miss it. In all honesty, Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice vie for my favorite of Austen’s novels, and the winner depends heavily upon my mood at the time. The novel is far heavier than this light work, but right now, I’d prefer lighter. Going back to my pastor’s message, Jesus used different methods to reach people where they were and bring them to his way of thinking. There are times, I think, we Janeites have a tendency to be too demanding. If someone reads Persuasion because they saw this movie and finds a love for Austen, who are we to criticize?