History and cinema: Jane Austen for a new generation

WRITTEN BY ELIZABETH CORBETT

When the Carrie Cracknell movie Persuasion premiered on July 15, 2022, many Jane Austen fans were in an uproar. Among his complaints: It was nothing like the original novel, also called Persuasion, which was published months after Austen’s death. American actress Dakota Johnson plays Anne Elliot, and her character is virtually unrecognizable from the novel’s protagonist. In this version, we are treated to a sassy young woman who says its side of the story to the screen, effectively breaking the fourth wall. She has a penchant for drinking wine, clowning around and doing absurd things worthy of Bridget Jones. People lamented that this Anne was not entirely true to Austen’s creation. The novel’s Anne is a quiet, good-natured young woman who rarely speaks out of character. She sits in stark contrast to her obnoxious family members, who seem to think very little of her. These include her father, the vain Sir Walter Elliot of Kellynch; her conceited older sister, Elizabeth; and her cantankerous younger sister, Mary.

This situation is reminiscent of the reaction to Patricia Rozema’s 1999 film, mansfield park. Viewers accustomed to period dramas, with her beautiful costumes, were met by an unrecognizable Fanny Price, played by Frances O’Connor. This Fanny was a confident young woman who seemed much more confident than the shy, timid creature in Austen’s 1814 play. mansfield park it is generally considered the least popular novel among Austenites (fans of Jane Austen). After all, it features a Fanny who takes orders from everyone around her and never speaks for herself. She doesn’t have the sparkling wit to pride and prejudiceof Elizabeth Bennet or the trust of Emma Woodhouse of Emma.

Rozema breathed new life into the film, envisioning a strong young woman who felt very modern. As Alison Shea writes: “[I]In the film, Fanny’s empowerment stems not from trust gained through keen observation and good judgment, but from Austen’s virtues, acquired and nurtured through calm reflection. Rozema’s heroine is very confident. Her source of empowerment, rather, seems to be a newfound sense of sexual energy and awareness that emerges during the dance, after which her bodices become lower and her flirting powers are greater.”1 Many austenites denounced that the film was nothing like the original novel. However, if you ask me, it introduced a Fanny Price for a new generation. I was young when this movie came out, and I definitely loved it. I had a main character that I could relate to.

If we see the work of Carrie Cracknell Persuasion Under the same light, we can see similarities. As a child I lived on the revival of Jane Austen movies and series in the 1990s, like 1995. pride and prejudice Y Sense and Sensibility. Recently there has also been a resurgence of Jane Austen remakes.

Consider also Shonda Rhimes’ popular boundary breaking series, Bridgerton. Based on the novels by Julia Quinn, the show is set at the height of the colorful Regency era, a time with which she often associates Austen. Bridgerton features a diverse cast, dazzling costumes, and compelling storytelling. This show is certainly modern in that the costumes aren’t exactly historically accurate, and many of the pieces the characters dance to are instrumental versions of popular music.

What the 2022 version of Persuasion Apart from its predecessors from 1971, 1995 and 2007, there is the fact that it is a modern version. It’s not set in the current era, but there are so many nods to the present that you don’t quite settle into Regency England. While we have the historical background of the imposing Kellynch Hall and the beautiful Great House of Uppercross, this movie doesn’t exactly have the feel of a Jane Austen play. We visit the Lyme coast, where we are introduced to the Harvilles and the charming Captain Benwick. We behold the magnificent architectural wonder of Bath that Austen wrote so often about. Still, though, something feels pretty off.

What about the characters? Very similar Bridgerton, Persuasion it has a wonderfully diverse cast. In an interview with IndieWireCarrie Cracknell explained why color-conscious casting is important: “A conversation I’ve had with many of the actors I’ve worked with over the years is how powerful it can be for a diverse audience to see themselves portrayed in historical figures.” . cultural texts and stories, because in some way it broadens the scope of the audience that can feel part of this story or feel ownership of this story”.two

We have the talented Nikki Amuka-Bird as Lady Russell, a woman of distinction and a good friend of the Elliot family. Richard E. Grant is the groomed peacock Sir Walter Elliot, and Yolanda Kettle is the vain Elizabeth Elliot. Ben Bailey is Charles Musgrove’s common sense and Mia McKenna-Bruce is the cantankerous Mary Musgrove. Nia Towle and Izuka Hoyle play Louisa and Henrietta Musgrove, Mary’s jovial and fun-loving sisters-in-law. Captain Frederick Wentworth is played by Cosmo Jarvis and his arch-rival, Mr. William Elliot, is played by the handsome Henry Golding. Finally, the scandalous Penelope Clay is played by Lydia Rose Bewley.

While many of Cracknell’s characters stay true to the novel, his Anne Elliot is perhaps the biggest novelty. Anne lays bare her soul to silent onlookers in a world where she is ignored. She confesses to us as she walks through her sister Mary’s house: “She’s so wrapped up in her own suffering that, until she clears her throat for me, she won’t even notice I’m here.” There’s even a funny joke about speaking Italian for 24 hours, which her sister doesn’t even notice. Of all the characters, I think Mary Musgrove’s portrayal is the most faithful: she’s just as insufferable as her literary counterpart!

This Anne is energetic, fun, and doesn’t take herself too seriously. In the background, as we see in the opening scenes, she pins for the lost love of Captain Wentworth, having been persuaded to break off her engagement years before. I mean, she’s nursing a bottle of wine. Do you think she has a lot of pain going on? While her close relatives ignore her, she tells them U.S what she really thinks. Director Carrie Cracknell describes her decision to break the fourth wall this way: “I think it allows this access to the complexity of her inner thoughts. It’s a way of understanding the inside of Anne. A lot of the book is about Anne looking at her family and their weird behaviors and her frustration with that, so to be able to just look at the audience and connect with that frustration felt really compelling. as a device.” As Patricia Rozema did with Fanny Price, we begin to see Cracknell’s Anne Elliot as a strong young woman who refuses to be silenced. After all, those of us who live in the modern age love the strong and bold female leads.

Cracknell admits, “I’ve always found the combination of this proto-feminism, of these women trying to make sense of the world they’re trapped in, but also the romanticism and the kind of sheer joy and warmth of her storytelling, to be a combination. really convincing.” If we look at the new Persuasion in this light, we see what she was looking for.

For the wardrobe, we have a mix of Regency-era clothing and numerous modern creations. The background characters’ attire seems more historically accurate. Anne Elliot’s clothing is perhaps the most modern. She also wears her long hair down in certain scenes, instead of sporting the usual Regency style with a high bun and corkscrew curls. While some of her dresses seem to fit the era, others stand out. A dress that she wears while in Bath is dark gray with a white camisole under it, and she also wears a black beret. She looks like she should be in the Edwardian era, a time when women’s suffrage was a major bone of contention. Women were beginning to move into the workplace and forge their own paths independently of their male relatives. I don’t think this was just Cracknell’s way of modernizing the character, but also a way of giving Anne the appearance of more agency.

Let’s also take a moment to talk about the language! Persuasion it’s riddled with all sorts of modern slang you wouldn’t expect to find in a Jane Austen adaptation. In one scene, Anne and her pompous relatives are sitting around the table with Mr. Shepherd and his daughter, Mrs. Clay. She announces to Sir Walter: “Well, just think, you and Elizabeth. You will be thirteen years old there [Bath].” Elizabeth, the conceited witch that she is, tells her sister, “You’ll be at least six years old, Anne.” Later in the film, Anne refers to Wentworth as her “ex-hers”. Then there’s the case where Mary calls herself an “empath.” (Oh the irony!) These words take me out of the moment I hear them. However, that may be deliberate!

When all is said and done, Carrie Cracknell’s adaptation of Persuasion makes quite a statement. Yes, this movie has its critics, but I think a lot of people miss the point. Not all adaptations of Jane Austen have to be 100% faithful to the literature. There is beauty in doing things differently. While Patricia Rosema mansfield park It was a point of great conflict, it functioned as social commentary on women’s empowerment and a British family benefiting from the evils of slavery. East Persuasion has its own message to share about strong female leads, color-conscious casting, and modernizing Austen’s writing. Most importantly, Cracknell’s Persuasion introduces Austen to a new generation. More people are learning about Austen and her wonderful works. If these movies manage to do that, I tell them to bring the new adaptations!

About the contributor: Elizabeth K. Corbett is an author, book reviewer, and historian who recently published a short story, “Marie-Thérèse Remembers.” She is currently working on her first gothic romance novel set in Jacksonian America.

References:
1. Alison Shea, “‘I Am a Wild Beast’: Patricia Rozema’s Forward Fanny.” Persuasions: Jane Austen’s diaryhe, vol. 28, 2006, p52.

2. Kate Erbland, ‘Persuasion’ director Carrie Cracknell on trailer response: Fans have ‘deep feeling’ for Austen.” June 28, 2022. IndieWire, https://www.indiewire.com/2022/06/persuasion-carrie-cracknell-responds-jane-austen-fans-1234736852/ Accessed October 14, 2022.

Published in historical novel reviews | Number 102 (November 2022)

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