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The Last of Austen: The Delectable Joy of Devouring Dakota Johnson’s ‘Persuasion’

The Last of Austen: The Delectable Joy of Devouring Dakota Johnson’s ‘Persuasion’

  • It’s a trip down nostalgia lane with the lustrous American actress with a lilting British accent.

I am a long-standing Jane Austen fan. After Amar Chitra Katha, Enid Blyton, Nancy Drews and in the company of Louisa May Alcott was Jane Austen. I have read “Pride and Prejudice” at least fifteen times, followed by “Emma,” and “Sense and Sensibility.” So wrapped up was I playing Elizabeth Bennet to my imaginary Fitzwilliam Darcy that I forgot to read Austen’s last novel, “Persuasion.” 

In a way, I am happy that I didn’t, because I could watch director Carrie Cracknell’s “Persuasion” with unprejudiced eyes. Dakota Johnson plays Anne Elliott in her “on and off” romantic drama with Captain Frederick Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis). Anne is resigned to a life of loneliness after her friend Lady Russel (the gorgeous Nikki Amuka-Bird) and her family “persuade” her to reject Wentworth’s proposal because he has “no rank and no fortune.”

She spends her days asking her nephew for tight hugs, drinking red wine from the bottle, and weeping inconsolably in her bathtub (been there, done that). Johnson looks delicious in her well worn blue linen gown, olive green overcoats and  jam smeared on her face. And she portrays Anne’s existential angst (of not making a love match with a justifiable sorrow but with an unexpected dash of fatalistic humor. But she portrays the practical Anne’s existential angst (of not making a love match with a suitable sorrow but with a perfect dash of fatalistic humor). I have not watched “Fifty Shades of Gray” but I recently saw her in “The Lost Daughter” (2021) in which she plays a young married woman with a daughter who is having trouble with her husband. In both roles, the actor has shown her natural ability to embody her characters artlessly.

In “Persuasion,” Anne has remained single eight years. Her family fortune is dwindling because of the spendthrift Richard E. Grant, as Sir Walter Elliot who looks like he just walked out of the pages of a limited edition Austen novel in his golden robes and scheming blue eyes. When the family downsizes to fit their budget, their estate is occupied by Admiral Croft and his wife (Wentworth’s sister), so it’s meant to be that Frederick Wentworth runs into Anne after being away fighting Napoleonic wars.

The most riotous exchange was the breaking of ice between Anne and her distant cousin the Duchess about a vivid dream of “an octopus eating her face.” Johnson seemed to have a ball with it.

Now he has a status but he is as stiff and as reserved as a cardboard cut-out.  He does confess that he has not forgotten Anne and admires her for her aptitude and intellect but still does not pursue her single mindedly. The one quality, he extolled in Anne, and I liked the best was “knowing what to do in an emergency” but unlike Mr. Darcy, he does not make Anne’s heart beat faster. We know that these two are eventually going to tie the knot but there are some obstacles like an unexpected romantic overture from Louisa and lingering pride and prejudice. The lack of chemistry is so apparent that one wonders why would Anne want to settle down with him? She seemed to have more in common with her cousin.

Apart from Johnson’s performance, I  loved two supporting actors. The first one, hands down, was Mia McKenna-Bruce who plays Anne’s short but dominating younger sister, Mary. Who is terribly self-absorbed and spoiled rotten but has no trouble articulating her needs and making her husband carry her all the way home. She does not want to stay with the children because she proclaims to be an empath??!! The other is Henry Golding who is making a lot of waves since his debut in Crazy Rich Asians. He is impressive as the arrogant Mr. Elliot, Anne’s clever and smooth talking cousin. He is a charmer, and definitely well-versed in the art of persuasion.

The cinematography by Joe Anderson is stellar. The impressive footage of baronetage Kellynch Hall in Somersetshire.  The picturesque English countryside we have enjoyed recently in Bridgerton and Mr. Malcolm’s list. The surprising cliffs of Lyme served as an excellent backdrop to the women in billowing dresses. Although that serene moment was disrupted by the tomboyish Louisa (the pretty Nia Towle)jumping off her perch and missing the arms of Mr. Wentworth.  

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I would have loved to see more cranberry silk ballgowns and ostrich feathers in the elegant atmosphere of Bath but I was happy to gobble up the classy sets, incandescent light and sharp play on words. Very Austen. Very crisp. Very enchanting. The most riotous exchange was the breaking of ice between Anne and her distant cousin the Duchess about a vivid dream of “an octopus eating her face”! Johnson seemed to have a ball with it. To quote Austen: “I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature”.

I approve of the 2022 adaptation of “Persuasion” wholeheartedly.

With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. She has published hundreds of poems, movie reviews, book critiques, essays and contributed to combined literary works. Her two books are My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM and the Princess Theater.

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