Archive for the ‘Jane Austen Films’ Category

In this series, we’re exploring Jane Austen’s novels and identifying the romantic themes used in each one – with the goal of proving that Jane Austen not only used romantic themes ingeniously but also played an important role in developing several key plot devices that are still used in modern filmmaking today.

Last month, I wrote about the “Enemies-to-Lovers” theme in Pride and Prejudice. This month, I’m delving into Emma and looking at the romantic themes it continues to inspire in modern romantic movies and shows.

Emma 1996

Enemies to Lovers in Emma

In “The Rom Com Explained” on TheTake.com, we read this humorous definition of the popular enemies-to-lovers trope that I discussed last month in regard to Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy:

“The two love interests probably start out at odds. They may come from different worlds, have competing goals, or simply get off on the wrong foot. But as the rom-com wisdom goes, there’s a very thin line between love and hate, and the story frames all this friction as kindling for sparks to fly.”

What about Emma and Mr. Knightley? In Emma, some have said that Mr. Knightley and Emma fit the rivals description as well because of their witty banter and playful digs, but their delayed love interest seems to be much more about their age gap, their family history, and their comfort level with one another that comes from being brother- and sister-in-law.

Emma 2009

Defining the Relationship

But if they aren’t rivals-to-lovers, what makes the romance between Emma and Mr. Knightley so irresistible? What techniques does Austen use to cleverly draw us into their world? What causes the slow burn that builds between them?

Are they boy/girl next door lovers? Possibly.

Friends-turned-lovers? Probably.

While Emma falls into both of these categories, if we want to narrow it down even further, the romance between Emma and Mr. Knightley best fits the “It Was Right In Front Of You All Along” theme.

In Emma, the relationship between Emma and Mr. Knightley sizzles because it’s so unexpected—at least for the two main characters. We, the readers, watch it slowly build (and hope that it will happen), but the characters themselves don’t recognize their own feelings for quite some time. It takes Emma the longest to realize, which adds to the charm of the story.

Emma 2020

The Red Herring

In a red herring love story, there is usually at least one misleading love interest or storyline to keep readers off the trail. Jane Austen obviously sets the bar high for the red herring theme in Emma, but here’s a definition from “The Rom Com Explained” article:

“Rom-com leads often start out with a red herring love interest who seems very appealing but turns out to be all wrong. Meanwhile, as the protagonist spends time with someone they aren’t actively trying to impress, they can be their unfiltered self and get to know the other person in a real way.”

Emma, Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility all have at least one red herring love interest. In each, there’s a man who seems charming and agreeable at first but turns out to be quite the opposite. In PP and SS, the red herrings turn out to be villains (yes, I’m looking at you Mr. Wickham and Mr. Willoughby), but in Emma, Frank Churchill, an immature and obnoxious man who think it’s funny to play with other people’s emotions, acts as the red herring. These red herring lovers keep audiences busy trying to figure them out so that they don’t notice the real love story brewing beneath the surface.

Emma 2020
Emma 2009

Reading Emma like a Detective

Unlike most modern romantic comedies, Jane Austen’s plot in Emma is anything but obvious. She outdoes herself with several misleading storylines. She keeps us so busy figuring out what’s happening between Emma and Frank Churchill, Emma or Harriet and Mr. Elton, Harriet and Frank Churchill, and even Harriet and Mr. Knightley that the majority of first-time readers never even notice the Frank and Jane Fairfax storyline until later in the novel.

In fact, Emma is so cleverly written that many scholars believe it reads more like a detective story than a romance. If you’d like to delve into this fascinating topic, click to read David H. Bell’s brilliant article, “Fun with Frank and Jane: Austen on Detective Fiction” in JASNA’s Persuasions.

Emma 1997 (Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill)

Hidden in Plain Sight

The other side of the coin with a red herring love story is that the false-love interest helps hide the true love interest—the one the heroine’s known for a long time and has never thought about “in that way.”

In the red herring plot line, this “real” love interest hides in plain sight. Sometimes, like in the situation with Mr. Darcy, he’s cloaked in some kind of mystery, misunderstanding, or perceived arrogance. Other times, as with Mr. Knightley, the hidden male lead is considered “off limits” because he’s a cousin, a step brother, a friend, or a co-worker. Most of the time, we (the audience) know he’s the real love interest rather quickly, but it takes most of the movie for the heroine to figure it out.

This is where Mr. Knightley really shines. He’s “the one,” hiding in plain sight. From the start, Austen casts him as the “big brother-type.” As a neighbor and friend, and the brother of Emma’s sister’s husband, Mr. Knightley is the perfect “off limits” hidden love interest. Emma has never looked at him in “that way.” It has never crossed her mind that he could see her as anything other than an annoying little sister.

The Aha Moment

“This long-developing chemistry leads to a moment of epiphany, where the character suddenly realizes the feelings that have been crystal-clear to the viewer all along” (“The Rom Com Explained”).

In this type of plot, usually one lead character realizes his/her feelings first, while the other takes longer to wake up to what’s going on between them. In Emma, Mr. Knightley sees Emma as much more than a neighbor and friend early on, but Emma is busy chasing other love stories and doesn’t see her own true love story blossoming right in front of her nose.

It’s only later in the film that Emma finally realizes that she loves Mr. Knightley. It’s always been him. This realization comes when she finds out that Harriet has feelings for Mr. Knightley (and that her feelings might possibly be returned). Startled by the powerful feelings of jealousy that come over her, she finally awakens to the deep love she’s felt for Mr. Knightley for quite some time.

Emma 1996

Modern rom-coms patterned after Emma:

Ever since Emma, there have been countless stories of friends-turned-lovers and lovers-hidden-in-plain-sight.

Modern films that fit this category are 13 Going on 30, Always Be My Maybe, Love and Basketball, Just Friends, Made of Honor, When Harry Met Sally, and Yesterday. In television, there are several couples in The Big Bang Theory, Monica and Chandler on Friends, and Jim and Pam from The Office. While these romances also fall into the friends-turned-lovers category, they fit the themes in Emma because most include a love interest that is hiding in plain sight but also “off limits” for one reason or another.

The most obvious modern film to follow in Emma’s footsteps is Clueless. It’s worth discussing because it is considered by many as one of the best modern remakes of a Jane Austen novel. Though some say it’s just a silly teen romance, it’s also incredibly clever in its own right. I truly believe it belongs in the “It was Right in Front of You All Along” category.

Clueless 1995
Clueless 1995

Finally, while Bridget Jones’s Diary is most often connected with Pride and Prejudice, there are also plenty of similarities between it and Emma. Mark Darcy has many attributes that closely align with Mr. Knightley. He’s an older, wiser family friend who seems (and probably is) far too good for Bridget but actually finds her quite adorable and captivating. It takes Bridget a long time to realize that Daniel Cleaver is a jerk and Mark is the better, more mature man.

If you love Emma and Mr. Knightley as much as I do, what do you think makes their romance so charming? At what point do you think Mr. Knightley realized his romantic feelings for Emma?

RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog. She is the bestselling author of The Little Women DevotionalThe Anne of Green Gables Devotional and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Now Available: The Secret Garden Devotional! You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

Read Full Post »

Inquiring Readers, 

Several news items about Jane Austen have piqued my interest! My friend Deborah Barnum, who oversees the excellent Jane Austen in Vermont blog, referred me to an article written in February by Catherine Bennet entitled Who’s going to be triggered by Northanger Abbey? It’s hardly Game of Thrones. 

Greenwich University’s Trigger Warnings Towards Northanger Abbey

Question: Does catering to students’ sensitive sensibilities and possible antipathy towards a gently humorous and ironic novel prepare them for a successful adulthood and working life? Northanger Abbey, originally titled Susan, was written by a 23-year-old author around 230 years ago. Inquiring minds want to know.

Catherine Bennet sums up the article in one sentence, “Greenwich University is warning students to prepare themselves for the ‘toxic friendships’ Jane Austen satirises in her novel.”

TOXIC?  I gasped as I read the reasoning this university gave for protecting students from gender stereotypes and toxic relationships so they won’t be upset. Do universities no longer teach classic literature in context of the historical times in which it was written? Do literature professors no longer supervise robust debates and healthy discussions? Or help their classes to understand how, over the course of her short life, Austen’s novels and her personal viewpoint changed and transformed her own understanding of the human condition?

Must our childrens’ tender sensibilities be given a safe space from a brilliant spinster writer who helped to revolutionize the novel? I’ll tell you what triggered me, Greenwich University, and forced my bosom to heave:  It was your pandering where none was needed.

To quiet my suffering nerves, I must now reach for my smelling salts, drink some elderberry wine, and rest. A handsome companion holding my hand would not be amiss. Hint: humor and irony here. (My friend and editor would have merely added a wink emoji, but yours truly desires to dramatize her feelings à la Marianne Dashwood!)

Steventon House for Sale

Screen Shot 2023-04-05 at 12.45.12 PMJust as this article surfaced, another one popped up! While Jane Austen is more popular than ever, which has me chuffed, this account does not quite describe the before and after differences of the Steventon House. Here’s the description of the sale of Steventon House today.

The Austen family’s house was actually demolished in the early 19th century, soon after the George Austen family moved to Bath. All that remains to this day of the old Rectory is a pump surrounded by a tiny fence. The rest of the house is gone. The current sale article describes today’s site/situation as such:

“Steventon House was the birthplace of the iconic author Jane Austen,” said Ed Sugden, director of Savills, the estate’s listing agency, along with Knight Frank. “Although the original structure has since disappeared, the Georgian masterpiece that currently stands, envisioned by her older brother Edward, perfectly befits the milieu that Austen captured in her writing.”

Well, no. Take a look at the link to these images. Can you see anything that resembles late 18th C./early Regency furnishings? One must applaud the mystery that our spinster Jane still holds over her admirers today. The new owners would not be living in her family’s historic house, but they could still  imagine trodding the same lanes that she and her family walked towards  Steventon Church, to friends’ houses, and to purchase goods in nearby towns. They can still experience the landscape that nurtured her childhood and budding writing career. These imaginings alone should be worth the cost of their purchase.

Here’s a link to Remains of Jane Austen’s Steventon House Unearthed by the BBC

My previous thoughts are a perfect segue to:

Jane Austen’s Little Book of Wisdom: Words on Love, Life, Society, and Literature, Compiled by Andrea Kirk Assaf. (Click on link.)

Jane Austen's Little Book of WisdomThis book provides the reader with a quote a day or the opportunity to devour swaths of her genius at a time. Be that as it may, let’s gauge how many of Austen’s sayings are as inspiring and witty as ever:

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!” – Pride & Prejudice, back cover

“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our  lives” – Persuasion, p140

“I think it ought not to set down as certain that a man must be acceptable to every woman he may like himself” – Mansfield Park, p 49

For a lady who was never married, she sounds modern and reasonable. This lovely book will provide a daily diet of Austen sensibility every day of the year. My vote: 4 out of 4 teacups.

A friend Discovers Jane Austen

A fellow board member who serves with me on a local board asked me out of the blue about the two BBC Jane Austen films he had watched. They were Emma, 2009 (he stood up and applauded the film at the end) and Sense and Sensibility, 2007, which he also applauded. When I asked him why he began watching the films, he confessed to reading this blog and being intrigued by my devotion to Jane.

He then asked if Pride and Prejudice was worth watching. After a short conversation, I realized he had never read Jane’s novels. I told him that P&P was regarded as one of the top novels in literature, and asked him which version he had borrowed from the library. It was the splendid 1995 A&E/BBC Firth/Ehle mini series.

He viewed P&P and within two days told me that this tale/movie version was his favorite. He then asked for more suggestions. I gave him a few, but he made it clear that he wanted to see the movies based on her other novels. What say you, fair readers? Which Austen film adaptations should he watch next in your opinion? And why.

Read Full Post »

In the world of romantic comedies, there are certain tropes (common or overused themes) that come up again and again. In this series, starting with Pride and Prejudice, I’ll analyze Jane Austen’s novels and identify the best romantic tropes used in each one – with the goal of proving that Jane Austen not only used romantic themes ingeniously but also played an important role in developing several key plot devices that are regularly used in modern filmmaking today.

Defining the Relationship

When you look down the list of common themes used in modern romantic movies, there are many to choose from. There’s “Best Friends Turned Lovers,” “The Girl/Boy Next Door,” “Stuck on an Island/In a Car/On a Plane,” “The Makeover,” and of course the “Love Triangle.”

When it comes to Pride and Prejudice, we can all agree it definitely does not utilize a “Cute Meet-Cute” to kick off the romance between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. It does seem to fit the “Opposites Attract” theme rather well. However, the theme that Pride and Prejudice models most perfectly is the “Enemies-to-Lovers” trope.

The “Enemies-to-Lovers” plot is one of the most popular themes used in romantic books and movies today. Austen modeled it so well that many romantic movies have borrowed (whether knowingly or unknowingly) from Pride and Prejudice. Though Austen didn’t invent the idea of rivals falling in love, the chemistry she created between Elizabeth and Darcy is unmatched. Modern era movie-makers continue to utilize the heat-factor Austen tapped into with her “Fitz-Lizzy” combo.

Enemies at First Sight

We see this theme play out in many popular romantic comedy movies. A huge majority of Hallmark (and Hallmark-like) movies start with a misunderstanding, a bad first impression, or enemies / rivals who fall in love.

However, it’s not just the made-for-tv rom coms that utilize this popular theme. Some of the highest grossing “date movies” have used some variation or other of the enemies-to-lovers plot. One IMDB list, “Enemies-to-lovers Movies,” includes over 80 titles!

Here are a few popular movies that caught my eye from that list:

When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail, New in Town, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Runaway Bride, What Women Want, The Breakfast Club, The Cutting Edge, Sweet Home Alabama, A Walk to Remember, Someone Like You, Silver Linings Playbook, Leap Year, Life as We Know It, Letters to Juliet, 27 Dresses, As Good as It Gets, Picture Perfect, French Kiss, and Bridget Jones’s Diary.

I’m sure there are many other movies (and books) you might add to the list! BuzzFeed nailed it with this funny graphic about Parks and Recreation:

Recipe for Love

The enemies-to-lovers recipe is pretty potent stuff; in order to understand it better, we need to analyze the ingredients that make it possible to change a rivalry into a romance.

The following steps are used in many enemies-to-lovers plot lines. I’ve included modern movie examples for each, plus the clever building blocks Austen used in Pride and Prejudice to create the sizzling chemistry between Elizabeth and Darcy.

It’s the friction between the two characters that provides the spark for romance!

Step 1: A Bad First Impression

In the enemies-to-lovers trope, rather than a meet-cute, there’s a bad first impression (or a “Bad Meet-Cute”) that starts the action. This is where the soon-to-be-lovers first meet and get off on the wrong foot. The fall-out from this first meeting sets the stage for the rest of the story.

You can find the heroine’s “enemy” in a modern rom-com because he’s the one who makes the main character bristle at first sight. He’s the guy that made fun of her growing up, the one who took her spot on the debate team, the business man who stole her cab, or the flower shop owner across the street who’s putting her out of business. (Side note: The “enemy” is usually infuriatingly good looking.)

Bottom line: There is always an initial misunderstanding that causes the two leads to get off on the wrong foot.

Modern Example:
In Runaway Bride, Ike writes an erroneous newspaper article about Maggie, so Maggie gets him fired. From that moment forward, she sees him as the jerk journalist from the big city who made her a laughing stock. Meanwhile, he sees her as the “man eater” who cost him his job. As with most rom coms, their anger-to-attraction ratio sets off some serious fireworks.

P&P Example:
There’s a reason Jane Austen’s first draft was titled “First Impressions.” In Pride and Prejudice, the bad first impression occurs when Mr. Darcy snubs Elizabeth at the ball when they first meet. She overhears Darcy when Bingley says he should dance: “You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room.”

Worse yet, she hears his response when Mr. Bingley suggests he dance with her: “She is tolerable: but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.”

The end result: “Elizabeth remained with no very cordial feelings towards him.” She makes light of it it later, but it affects her more than she lets on. In the history of bad first impressions, Mr. Darcy’s is one of the worst!

Step 2: Confirmation

After the initial meeting or bad impression, there is a series of events in which the main character continues to see the other only through the lens of their first impression.

In this scenario, every next move the characters make only continues to confirm their bad first impressions. When one character tries to make amends or tries for a “do-over,” it usually doesn’t go well. As the characters continually bump into each other, they rub each other wrong. Often, there are further infractions and snubs that add to the initial impression.

Modern Example:
In When Harry Met Sally, Sally’s first impression of Harry, when they drive together on a long road trip, is that he’s arrogant and insensitive. Sally’s bad first impression of Harry is confirmed when they meet several years later. At first, he doesn’t recognize her. Later, he remembers who she is and offends Sally by asking if they slept together in college. Because of their initial interactions, Sally sees Harry as purely guy-friend material until much later in the movie.

P&P Example:

While Darcy finds himself more attracted to Elizabeth at each of their subsequent meetings, Elizabeth’s view of Darcy is unchanged: “to her he was only the man who made himself agreeable nowhere, and who had not thought her handsome enough to dance with.

Austen builds on this negative first impression by adding further complications. From that first meeting, everything Darcy says or does is interpreted by Elizabeth through the lens of his bad first impression: When Mr. Darcy interferes with Jane and Mr. Bingley, it can only be because he’s arrogant and looks down on the Bennet family. When Mr. Wickham tells his tale about Darcy, Elizabeth quickly believes Wickham must be telling the truth (because Wickham is handsome and charming and Darcy is proud and rude). It takes several meetings, a lot of lively banter, a (bad) first marriage proposal, a lengthy explanatory letter, a visit to Pemberley, and a grand gesture to change Elizabeth’s mind.

Step 3: Attraction

During this step in a rom com, at least one character begins to see something unexpected in the other that makes them reconsider their first opinion. Beneath the initial animosity, anger, or annoyance, attraction begins to build and the characters find themselves (inexplicably) drawn to one another.

Arguments heat up (in more than one way) and turn into exasperated banter that one or the other finds enjoyable instead of infuriating. The characters begin to soften toward one another. Either one or both find that they can’t stop thinking about the other person.

Modern Example: In How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Andie and Ben are in a fierce competition–but neither of them knows what the other is doing. While Andie does everything she can to prove she can lose Ben in 10 days, Ben tries to prove that he can make a girl fall in love with him in 10 days. As they face off, instead of pushing each other away, they both find the competition exhilarating.

P&P Example:

In Pride and Prejudice, while it takes longer for Elizabeth to realize her attraction to Mr. Darcy, this stage happens almost immediately for Darcy:

“…he began to find [her face] was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes . . . he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; he was caught by their easy playfulness.”

When Elizabeth refuses to dance with Darcy, he isn’t offended: “Her resistance had not injured her with the gentleman.” In fact, he stands in pleasant reverie, thinking about her: “I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow.”

While it takes longer for Elizabeth to realize her attraction to Darcy, there’s no arguing the fact that she dearly loves to tease him, verbally spar with him, and toy with him right from the start. She flirts and makes fun of him because she thinks he’s always brooding and judging and looking down on her; meanwhile, he finds her absolutely bewitching.

Step 4: Making Amends

In this step of the typical enemies-to-lovers romantic movie plot, one character tries to make amends, smooth over ruffled feelings, explain a misunderstanding, or admit fault.

In this phase, there may be more misunderstandings and more complications, but it’s an important step toward the two main characters seeing each other as they really are and not as they first appeared. Often, the characters *just happen* to bump into each other on many occasions by chance. In this phase, one character tries to win over the other. Both begin to try to put their best foot forward.

Modern Example:
In You’ve Got Mail, Joe tries to show Kathleen that he’s not a heartless business man but is actually the secret pen pal she’s fallen in love with. He meets up with her, takes an interest in her world, tries to give her business advice, and asks her to be his friend. When she’s sick, he brings her daisies—her favorite flower—and take cares of her. Kathleen finds herself wishing Joe was her secret pen pal.

P&P Example:

In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth’s demeaner toward Darcy begins to soften over time as she gets to know him. First, she’s surprised and touched by his fondness for his sister. Later, when she reads Darcy’s letter, the narrative she’s believed about him is shattered. Next, when she visits Pemberley and he’s kind to her and her aunt and uncle Gardiner, her heart melts even further. (And it doesn’t hurt that Pemberley is quite something to behold!)

In each instance, as Darcy tries to put his best foot forward, Elizabeth notices something further about him that she didn’t realize before. She finds out that he’s more reserved than arrogant, that he keeps a close circle of family and friends, and that he isn’t naturally at ease in social situations. She notices that he cares for his sister Georgiana, for her aunt and uncle, and finally for her entire family’s reputation. When she visits Pemberley and realizes that he wants to make a good impression on her and on her relatives – and that he wants her to meet and get along with his sister – she is thrown off balance in the most delightful way.

Step 5: The Grand Gesture

In these types of romantic storylines, there is usually a moment where the “enemy / rival” often does something to save or help the other character. There is a great sacrifice or grand gesture that seals the deal.

Often in this phase, one characters needs help (or convincing) and the other swoops in to save the day in order to prove their love for the other character. This phase may also include apologies, gifts, or messages.

Modern Example:
In New in Town, Lucy gives up her high-profile job in Miami and moves to Minnesota permanently. She negotiates a deal to save the local factory, makes it into an employee-owned company, and saves everyone’s jobs. She proves to Ted that she’s more than just a suit and that the people she loves are more important to her than any job.

P&P Example:

Austen sets the bar pretty high for grand gestures when Mr. Darcy personally hunts down Wickham and Lydia, forces Wickham to marry her, and pays off his enormous debts. He even tries to do it quietly, so that everyone will believe it was Mr. Gardiner who made all the arrangements. When Elizabeth later thanks him, he tells her that he did it for her:

“If you will thank me,” he replied, “let it be for yourself alone. That the wish of giving happiness to you might add force to the other inducements which led me on, I shall not attempt to deny. But your family owe me nothing. Much as I respect them, I believe I thought only of you.”

You Be the Judge

Do you think Pride and Prejudice has had a lasting affect on modern storytelling? Why are we drawn to the enemies-to-lovers theme? Are there other books or movies that fit this theme that I didn’t mention?

I’ll continue this series next month by looking at other common themes in modern romantic comedies that share similarities with Jane Austen’s great works. Next time you watch a favorite movie, start tracking how many plot devices hark back to our Jane!

RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog. She is the bestselling author of The Little Women DevotionalThe Anne of Green Gables Devotional and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Now Available: The Secret Garden Devotional! You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

Read Full Post »

Inquiring readers, Persuasion-lite is a cinematic reworking of Jane Austen’s final novel, finished before her death, but not published until afterward. Coming off the heels of Netflix’s highly successful Bridgerton (in this cast of Persuasion-lite you can surmise the former series’ influence) and the popularity of PBS’s Sanditon, the decision-makers behind Netflix productions gave the go ahead to a film that ‘modernized’ Austen’s book in order to introduce young audiences to Jane Austen. Or so the story goes. To do so, Chefs Moderne created a story-telling recipe to appeal to newcomers.

Persuasion’s traditional recipe: 

This rich, full-bodied classic was created by a Chef in her prime. Her finished recipe transfigured deceptively simple components into rich flavors heretofore undiscovered by the ordinary palate. The original ingredients, while considered old-fashioned today, are still accessible to epicureans who wish to savor the recipe’s nuanced complexity and its historical references. 

Time to digest: hours, with repeated enjoyment over a lifetime. Three Michelin stars were awarded to this Chef, who served distinct dishes that were executed to perfection. (Some might say she would have been awarded four stars had this rating system included such a category.)

Netflix’s Persuasion-lite recipe:

This adaptation took a traditional recipe and simplified it to its basic components, using only those ingredients readily accessible in any grocery store today. While it echoes the original, it pales in comparison and fails to plumb the classic’s rich depths. To be fair, there were hints of originality in the spices. This recipe has been rewritten in modern terms that defy belief.

Time to digest: One hour and 47 minutes. One may partake of repeated helpings at the Netflix buffet. A number of diners might find this meal delicious and insist on more helpings; a number will push half eaten plates away or not order the meal again. Sadly the Chefs Moderne who adapted the recipe were not awarded a single Michelin star, since their efforts resulted in a dish that leaves the diner hungry.

Primary Ingredients:

Anne Elliot 

The original recipe described a complex woman of 27 who has lost the bloom of youth. She regrets her decision at nineteen to reject Frederick Wentworth’s proposal due to Lady Russell’s persuasive influence. He had not yet made his mark in life. Anne is a woman of character and conviction who must negotiate the difficulties of living with a shallow father and sisters. As the neglected middle child, she lives largely in their selfish shadows, submitting to her family’s and friends’ needs. When Wentworth reenters her life unexpectedly, she observes her long lost love from afar. From his indifference he seems all but lost to her. Under the Classic Chef’s direction, Anne’s journey back to her Captain via circuitous routes is touching, romantic, and memorable. 


Dakota Johnson sharing Anne Elliot’s thoughts. Netflix publicity photo.

The Netflix recipe describes Anne as an opinionated cheeky woman (Dakota Johnson) who gazes at and talks to the viewers (breaking the fourth wall) while stroking her pet rabbit (see image above from Netflix publicity), sharing her thoughts in contemporary language, and swilling red wine. She tells us what’s on her mind and in her mind throughout the production. Her observations, starting with her missing Captain Wentworth, the love of her life, are often amusing. In no way does this reworked Anne reflect Austen’s language or intent. In fact, her comical mannerisms and frequent faux pas wind up as a shallow, one-note substitution for the fully realized original. The makeup department also notably applied lipstick to her mouth, thereby diminishing Anne’s transformation from a wan and mousy woman into someone who blossoms with love when reunited with her captain. 

Captain Wentworth

The classic recipe describes Wentworth as a vigorous, successful male, whose pride prevents him from revealing the hurt and, yes, love he still feels for the woman who rejected him. In the classic recipe, one can find instances of his kindness towards Anne and his growing realization that this complex, level-headed, and kind woman is worthy of his regard now as much (even more) as then.

The modern Wentworth is certainly handsome (Cosmo Jarvis), but as written for this lite version, he remains on the sidelines. I wanted him sprinkled more vigorously into this plot, but had to make do with his weak, almost secondary role. Only when Anne reads his letter out loud (it is considered to be one of the best love letters ever written) does the real and complex Austen hero come to the fore.

Mary Musgrove

Her role (Mia McKenna-Bruce) adds much comic spice and her presence in the modern version seems major compared to her irritating presence in the classic. Certainly her ingredient is one-note and overly exagerrated, but her character remains true to Austen’s depiction of a selfish, prickly, and whining sister. One memorable addition not in the classic, but quite original, is of Anne answering her sister in Italian during Mary’s nonstop self-indulgent monologues – which she fails to notice.

William Elliot

His role is stronger in the lite recipe than in the classic. In fact, his (Henry Golding’s) presence overpowers Wentworth’s at times and Anne seems more susceptible to his dubious charms. Why is beyond me, for he shares with her his sleazy plan to prevent a possible marriage between Sir Walter and his daughter’s widowed companion in Bath, a Mrs Clay, who in the original recipe sported a snaggle tooth but who, in the lite version, has an ample bosom. William’s sole aim was to prevent Sir Walter from siring an heir that would knock him out of first place for inheriting what remains of the Elliot estate. His final scene in the film elicited a guffaw from me, but Austen’s classic wit did not look for laughter in the cheap seats and the ending in Persuasion-lite made no sense, for William would never have married a woman with no station in life or money.

Henrietta, Louisa, and Charles Musgrove (Respectively: Izuka Hoyle, Nia Towle, and  Ben Bailey-Smith). 

Sisters-in-law and husband of Mary Musgrove, they pop in and out of the lite narrative to showcase the sisters’ friendship with Anne and her former and current relationship to Charles. Louisa’s story arc especially moves the plot forward. Charles is Mary’s long suffering husband in the classic version, but the Chefs Moderne use him to demonstrate Anne’s awkward drunken confession during the Musgrove’s dinner party to inform the assembled company that Charles had proposed to her first. The Classic’s sensible, thoughtful Anne would rather have died than commit such crude impropriety.

Supporting Ingredients:

Sir Walter and Elizabeth Elliot

Both characters are sadly given short shrift. Their curt treatment was perhaps intentional, but during their short on screen time, the two actors made their mark. Richard Grant’s performance, while over the top funny, reminds me more of Billy Nighy’s comedic turn as Mr. Woodhouse in Emma. 2020 than the character described by Austen. In Grant’s case, his Sir Walter is certainly fixated on his self-important status, which in the lite version was funny. In the classic version, however, Austen made it clear that as a baronet he sat at the lowest end of the peerage scale, making his egotistical turn even more absurd. 

Elizabeth  (Yolanda Kettle) is not more beautiful than Anne, as described in the Classic. In fact, she looks anemically pale next to her sister’s vivid coloring. Except for Elizabeth’s sumptuous wardrobe and meticulous hairstyles, one would not have thought her to be the favored older sister. Her mean-spiritedness remains intact, however, and contrasts nicely with Anne’s, well, niceness.

Lady Russell (Nikki Amuka-Bird)

This lady’s well meaning advice separated Anne from her captain. She plays the loving mother substitute and appears just enough in Persuasion-lite to remind us that Anne has had someone in her corner since her mother’s death. As in the Classic, she shows more concern for her young friend than her actual family.

A variety of  ingredients (which, sadly, are mostly unrecognizable for uninformed palates in this lite version):

Admiral and Mrs Croft, Captain and Mrs Harville, Mr & Mrs Musgrove and their two young grandsons, Captain Benwick, Mrs Clay, and Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret. (Mrs Smith is undetectable.) 

Those unfamiliar with the classic recipe will miss their almost absent presence or wonder about their inclusion. Mrs Smith, who made an appearance in the Classic, is ignored, but she was an important witness to William Elliot’s character.

I defy those new to Austen to accurately suss out these characters’ relationship with Anne or the Elliot family. Sir Walter’s attraction to Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret is given more importance (we already know he’s a peerage snob) than the elder Musgroves and Mary’s two young boys, or Admiral and Mrs Croft, who play important roles in Anne’s journey back to Wentworth.



Some critics who reviewed Persuasion-lite found the clothes drab and lackluster. Their critiques should have been amended to Anne’s clothes only. Since the makeup department never removed the bloom off her rose, her wardrobe substituted for her appearance, which was ‘“so altered that [Wentworth] should not have known her again.” Her gray and brown spinsterish gowns brighten as she is exposed more to Wentworth’s company. The other actors and actresses are appropriately fashionable for their stations, which reflect clothing in 1816-17 England. I also thought that the homespun, handmade feel of Anne’s wardrobe made sense, in that she was the least favored daughter and probably had her clothes sewn by a local seamstress, whereas Elizabeth and Mary most likely demanded gowns made by modistes in London. 


Ah, lovely England with its historic villages and great mansions.These were wonderfully represented with beautiful exteriors, interiors and gardens. Two locations played prominent roles.

Lyme Regis: This seaside village plays a pivotal role in both the Classic and Lite versions. The basic storyline of Austen’s plot remains in the lite version, but details are missing. Still, Lyme Regis, the Cobb, the village, and it beautiful shoreline are a visual treat, and many of the scenes do echo the Classic version,  and even include bits and pieces of original dialogue.

Lyme-Regis-Persuasion-Netflix (1)

First glimpse of William Elliot’s carriage in Lyme Regis. At the window from left, Anne Elliot and to her right the Musgrove sisters. To the far right, Mary Musgrove nee Elliot.

Bath: Ah, the buildings, the streets, the views of the Royal Crescent, the walk down the stairs in the Upper Assembly Rooms. There was no promenade in the Pump rooms, where Anne’s famous line to William Elliot is widely quoted (but looked over in the Lite version;)

“My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.’

‘You are mistaken,’ said he gently, ‘that is not good company, that is the best.” – Jane Austen, Persuasion

Although this lovely quote was not included, some of Anne’s conversations were used in Bath, as well as Captain Wentworth’s love letter. Since these scenes lead to the denouement, they ended the film on a high note.


Here’s where the Chefs Moderne took the greatest license. Instead of using the beautiful language in the Classic, the Chefs Moderne chose modern phrases. I defy you to find them in a Regency era lexicon.

“We are strangers. Worse than strangers. We’re exes.” (Anne Elliot)

“It is often said if you’re a five in London, you’re a ten in Bath!” (Anne Elliot breaking the 4th wall when she looks directly into the camera to converse with the viewer.)

“Marriage is transactional” (Lady Russell)


“I am an empath” (Mary Musgrove)

“Fart around”

“He’s a ten – I never trust a ten” (Anne about William Elliot) 

“Embodying gratitude” (Mary again)


Good grief. The Chefs Moderne must have burned their candles down to their wicks to come up with this drivel. After watching Persuasion-lite, those not initiated to Austen’s novels and who love this filmed version, might turn to the novel. Imagine their surprise when they discover that her 205 year old book,  filled with the language, customs, and manners of her day, varies significantly from this comic book version.

Personal request: Gentle readers, feel free to agree or disagree with my musings. Let’s keep our discourse genteel and agreeable for the sake of my sanity. I thank you in advance.

Other Critics Reviews:


 “At no point during Carrie Cracknell’s directorial debut do you ever get the sense that anyone’s actually read Persuasion.” – Dakota Johnson is woefully miscast in mortifying Jane Austen adaptation – Clarisse Loughrey, The Independent

“Our demure protagonist Anne Elliot is forever doing supercilious takes and wry monologues to camera, taking despairing swigs from a bottle of red wine in private, occasionally nursing a quirky pet rabbit, and at the end (unforgivably) gives us a wink to seal the deal of our adoringly complicit approval.” Persuasion review – Dakota Johnson looks the part as Jane Austen gets Fleabagged, Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian


“For anyone not too bothered by departures from the novel, the romantic denouement will be immensely pleasurable.: – Dakota Johnson in Netflix’s ‘Persuasion’: Film Review, David Rooney, Chief Film Critic, The Hollywood Reporter

More reviews: 

Netflix’s Persuasion the worst film of the year?, Olivia Pym, GQ Magazine

Persuasion review – a travesty of Jane Austen, Slash Film,

Trailer of the film:

Under this trailer, J.Dion wrote:

“Anne’s strength is her quiet, consistency. She is intelligent and thoughtful.  Altering her character for modern sensibilities is insulting not only to Austin’s character but to modern audiences.  There are many “Anne’s” in this world they and deserve  to be valued for who they are and the enrichment they bring to all. 

Persuasion is my favorite of Austen’s novel. Unfortunately this looks to be another instance  of the “title and names are unchanged but the characters are missing.” 

Read Full Post »

Hello, dear friends. Rachel Dodge here. I just moved to a new city (and state) and I’m feeling under the weather and can’t do too much at the moment. I won’t be able to post the article I’ve been working on for this month, so I thought I’d just hop on and say a quick hello to you all.

Watch Lists for the Ailing Austen Fan

While I’m recuperating, I’m in need of some good Jane Austen / Downtown Abbey type shows or movies to keep me going. I know this group will be a great place to ask for some watch lists!

Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet, 1995.

In the comments below, please tell me the shows or movies that get you through sick days. There’s nothing like a warm cup of tea and a lovely movie to help the hours pass.

Good Neighbors

After we moved in, a neighbor left flowers and a card on our front porch! I texted her to say thank you and to let her know I’d love to meet her in person once I felt better, and she immediately asked if she could get anything from the grocery store for me. I needed a certain brand of vitamins and she went right out and got them. What a good neighbor!!

My kids have been walking our dog which gives them outings to fight off the boredom. It also means they get to wave at people as they walk up and down the sidewalk. Here’s a picture of our dog if you want to see why he’s a great helper when it comes to making new friends.

Has anyone ever done something for you when you first moved into a new house? What do you like to do for new neighbors?

Caring Friends

Once my friends “back home” heard I was sick, I soon received a flurry of text messages, calls, and Door Dash gift cards.

One dear friend who lives about 30 minutes from our new home set up a meal train with her friends in the area, even though she just broke her ankle! I can’t begin to express my gratitude.

A few care packages have arrived as well. Perfect timing! If you’ve given or received a care package, what was in it? If you could choose the perfect care package, what would you like to find inside? I found a note, a candle, a packet of tea, and a beautiful book of poetry. Absolutely perfect!

Be Still

Like most people, I’d much rather be the one to serve others, rather than be the one who is served, but I’m learning to be thankful and be okay with letting people help. It’s okay (and even needful) to be still sometimes. I’ve been thinking about the verse, “It is better to give than receive.” It certainly brings a lot of joy to both people, don’t you think?

Signing off now. Here’s to a new article next month that’s much more on topic. Wishing you all the very best in the meantime!

RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog. She is the bestselling author of The Little Women DevotionalThe Anne of Green Gables Devotional and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: