Victoria Pedraza | 9/6/2023
Alright. I watched it for the second and last time. Never again.
Few authors have left as enduring a mark as Jane Austen. Her novels are timeless, filled with memorable characters and insightful commentary on society. One of her lesser-known works, "Persuasion," tells the story of Anne Eliot, a character whose depth and development are unmatched. It’s a slower sort of book than her more popular works, Anne is much quieter somehow than characters like Elizabeth Bennet or Emma. Similarly, Anne’s love interest, Captain Wentworth, is more of a background character than Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley, and there’s something about his behavior that’s almost vindictive, making him a less sympathetic character.
Maybe that’s why the 2022 adaptation doesn’t quite know what to do with it, staying true to the source material can be a challenging task. Still, I don’t know if they even bothered to read the book before writing the screenplay. In this blog post, we will delve into how the movie adaptation of "Persuasion" managed to alter and ultimately ruin the character of Anne Eliot. Just to clarify, this is purely a look at Anne’s character, I won’t be criticizing the movie itself (which is bad), complaining about the fourth wall breaks (it’s not Fleabag!), or talking about the many anachronisms (how is she listening to music in her room if gramophones haven’t been invented yet?).
Anne Eliot's Character in the Book
Anne Eliot, the protagonist of Jane Austen's "Persuasion," is a character of remarkable complexity. She stands as a stark contrast to the vibrant and often frivolous characters that populate Austen's world. Instead, she is reserved and self-sacrificing. Her strengths lie in her intelligence, sense of duty, and unwavering loyalty to her often undeserving family. However, Anne also possesses weaknesses, such as her tendency to let others influence her decisions and her reluctance to assert herself.
Honestly, she may be the Austen character I relate to most. Much as I may wish to be a Lizzy Bennet, I’m mostly an Anne Eliot. That’s maybe why it bothers me so much that they butchered the character until she was completely unrecognizable, as though a more sedate sort of heroine just wasn’t considered interesting enough.
Throughout the novel, readers witness Anne's growth as she gains confidence and ultimately decides to stand up for herself and build the life she wants to live. Her evolution is a testament to Austen's skill in character development, as Anne learns to trust her own judgment and pursue her own happiness.
"Persuasion" is a novel by Jane Austen, published posthumously in 1817. It tells the story of Anne Elliot, a sensible and intelligent woman. The novel is set in the early 19th-century England and revolves around themes of love, class, and social expectations.
The story begins with Anne living with her selfish and vain father, Sir Walter Elliot, and her elder sister Elizabeth in reduced circumstances. The Elliots are an aristocratic family that has fallen on hard times due to extravagant spending. Anne, unlike her family, is practical and responsible.
Eight years prior to the events of the novel, Anne was engaged to Frederick Wentworth, a naval officer with whom she was deeply in love. However, under pressure from her family and close family friend Lady Russell, Anne broke off the engagement, persuaded that it was her duty to marry someone with money.
The novel follows Anne's life as she encounters Captain Wentworth again when he returns to the neighborhood as a successful and wealthy captain. At this point, the tables have turned, Anne’s family has lost most of their money and Anne herself is now in her late twenties and still unmarried (the horror!), while Captain Wentworth has made a fortune at sea, is respected and handsome.
"Persuasion" is a story of second chances, regrets, and the enduring power of love. It explores the idea that true love can withstand the test of time and societal pressures. As Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth grapple with their feelings and the consequences of their past regrets, the novel offers a rich portrayal of character development and social commentary typical of Jane Austen's works.
The Movie Adaptation
This is easily Austen’s most serious book, it’s not supposed to be a romantic comedy, and yet, that’s exactly how it’s treated. When the book has a serious moment play out, the movie turns to comedy. Anne’s relationship with her family isn’t supposed to be funny, it’s supposed to be sad.
While movie adaptations can introduce Austen's works to new audiences, they often face the challenge of condensing complex narratives and multidimensional characters into a limited timeframe. In the case of "Persuasion," the movie adaptation struggled to capture Anne Eliot.
Comparing Anne's character in the book and the movie reveals significant differences. In the film, Anne is portrayed as a more assertive and confident character from the beginning, lacking the initial reserve and self-doubt that make her character arc so compelling in the novel. This is not only different from the movie, it affects the effectiveness of her character arc because her growth is much less pronounced, and her journey to self-discovery feels rushed.
Anne in the movie is sassy, confident, and a little too fond of wine, while in the book Anne is very much an introvert, unsure of herself, and very mature and sedate. It feels like an entirely different character.
These changes in Anne's character have a ripple effect on the story itself. The subtlety of Anne's transformation and the slow burn of her rekindled romance with Captain Wentworth, a key element of the novel, is lost in the movie adaptation. As a result, the emotional depth and impact of their reunion are diminished. If she’s “single and thriving”, why would we care when she stops being single? It undermines the emotional strength of the relationship. The book’s Anne is more resigned to her life than anybody else, not necessarily wanting to marry (she never even considers Mr. Eliot while movie Ann does) but rather still regretting her lost opportunity with Captain Wentworth. Most of her growth as a character comes from learning to stand up for herself, especially to her father and sister, while movie Ann couldn't care less what they think of her, and therefore has nothing to learn there.
The Consequences of the Changes
The alterations to Anne Eliot's character have significant consequences for the overall story. By presenting Anne as a more assertive character from the start, the movie misses an opportunity for profound character development. Anne's growth, which is central to the novel's themes, is downplayed, and her journey becomes less relatable and inspiring.
Additionally, the changes in Anne's character affect the themes of the novel. Austen's "Persuasion" explores themes of love, regret, and second chances. Anne's personal transformation and her rekindled romance with Captain Wentworth serve as powerful symbols of these themes. However, the movie adaptation fails to capture the depth and complexity of these themes due to its alterations to Anne's character.
The movie adaptation of "Persuasion" falls short of capturing the essence of Anne Eliot's character and the themes that make Jane Austen's novel a timeless classic. In my opinion, it’s not an adaptation at all, but a rewrite, and an unnecessary one at that. While adaptations can introduce new audiences to beloved stories, it is essential for filmmakers to stay true to the source material and respect the depth and complexity of the characters created by the original author.
To illustrate my point, take one of my favorite quotes from the book, entirely destroyed by the movie:
"There could have been no two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison, no countenances so beloved. Now they were as strangers; nay, worse than strangers, for they could never become acquainted. It was a perpetual estrangement."
And the movie version:
"Now we're strangers. Worse than strangers. We're exes."
Never mind the fact that regency England wouldn’t have even used the phrase “exes”, it takes the beautiful sentiment of how Anne feels Captain Wentworth is the love of her life, and she’s lost all chance to even know him again and turns it into a cringy Instagram caption a twelve-year-old might write and think it’s clever.
If you want to truly appreciate Anne Eliot's character and the beauty of "Persuasion," I encourage you to do what the makers of this movie didn’t do and read the book. Austen's words allow readers to immerse themselves in Anne's world and experience her growth and transformation firsthand. Ultimately, it's a reminder that sometimes, the written word is the best way to explore the depths of a character's soul.