Why the creators of ‘Persuasion’ put a contemporary spin on Jane Austen’s classic
In “Persuasion,” a new adaptation of Jane Austen’s final novel made for Netflix, protagonist Anne Elliot speaks directly to the camera, addressing the audience like an old friend.
As she muses on her relationship with former flame Capt. Frederick Wentworth, Anne bemoans that they are now “worse than exes, we’re friends.” Austen, of course, didn’t write that in her 1817 novel, but the sentiment resonates with the sense of longing the English author evoked.
For screenwriters Ron Bass and Alice Winslow, who collaborated on the adaptation, the goal wasn’t to alter Austen’s intention or story. Instead, the writers wanted to bring a contemporary tone into a classic tale.
“I’ve loved Jane Austen my whole life, and ‘Persuasion’ has always been my favorite novel,” Winslow says. “I relate so strongly to the book and I relate so strongly to Anne that I’m constantly drawing connections between my life and Anne’s.
So it felt pretty natural to give voice to a modern sensibility through these characters.”
British theater director Carrie Cracknell retained the period setting of the story, as well as most of its historical accuracy.
The sets, costumes and background details will be familiar to fans of the novel and prior adaptations, but the way in which the story is told, as well as some of the language, has been modernized.
“The film is set pretty faithfully in the sumptuous Regency period, but the physical behaviors, attitudes and elements of the aesthetic also lean towards now,” Cracknell notes.
“We have simplified some of the lines, and taken away some of the fuss of period trimmings, to make the characters and the worlds feel more alive and accessible.”
The goal of these noticeable changes is to welcome a fresh batch of viewers into Austen’s world. The themes of regret and fear of your life running away from you resonate as much now as they did in the early 19th century.
“I hope we draw in new, younger audiences who perhaps know very little about Jane Austen,” the director explains, “and that a whole new generation will watch the adaptation, and then be drawn to read and fall in love with the book.”