Fans of Jane Austen are divided over Persuasion, Netflix’s book-to-film adaptation headlined by Dakota Johnson which released on July 15. While some are ripping it apart, a few others are showering much love.
Emma, the other Jane Austen adaptation currently streaming on Netflix, did not trigger a deluge of memes, as Johnson’s character Anne Elliot is currently doing, when it released back in 2020 riding on the Regency romance buzz sparked by the Bridgerton series.
Both Persuasion and Emma contain the classic aspects of a Jane Austen literary work— empowered female protagonists, supportive partners, quirky fathers, dead mothers, insufferable sisters and untrustworthy romantic prospects. These two book-to-film adaptations take different approaches, making the results starkly different from each other. If you are divided over which film to watch, here’s how the two compare.
In world building, Emma is more Jane Austen than Persuasion
The Regency-era world of Universal Pictures’ Emma feels straight out of the pages of Austen’s book. This world is very similar to the several film and television adaptations that Austen’s works such as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility have inspired over the years. The bright, colourful and fancy motifs remind us of the first Downton Abbey seasons. The film stays away from adding modern touches and recreates England of yore with great perfection.
Netflix’s Persuasion, on the other hand, doesn’t feel so distant though it unfolds in a period setting that follows the book. Just like in Bridgerton, there’s diversity in the cast of the film. Historically, there were people of colour mingling with the British high society in the Regency era and the film reflects that. Persuasion also adds minor elements that stray from the novel, like Anne Elliot’s rabbit companion.
Persuasion is more relatable and modern than Emma
We have seen that modern takes on Austen’s period dramas work very well, which is also a testament to the timeless quality of the late 18th century British novelist’s hugely popular works.
For instance, the 1995 film Clueless is loosely based on Austen’s Emma and takes place in a Beverly Hills high school in the 1990s. The Netflix show Emma tries no attempt at modernisation. It sticks to the novel’s portrayal of Emma Woodhouse and lets us see her through the same lens as the other characters.
Netflix’s Persuasion does not try to fit the novel’s story into a modern world but it does add modern elements, specially in the form of fourth-wall break. Dakota Johnson’s Anne Elliot goes the Deadpool way and looks straight into the camera, confiding to us her thoughts on her family, friends and life, creating a kind of trust and intimacy that keeps us hooked to the show’s lead character.
The dialogue in Persuasion also sounds a lot contemporary. There are lines like, “Because he is a Ten. I never trust a Ten” and “Now we’re strangers. Worse than strangers. We’re exes”.
Dakota Johnson’s Anne vs Anya Taylor-Joy’s Emma
The two films star two powerhouse actresses with some noteworthy films to their credit. Dakota Johnson, more famous as Anastasia Steele from the 50 Shades of Grey film series than her more recent outings like The Lost Daughter and The Peanut Butter Falcon, carries Persuasion on her spunky shoulders.
Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays Emma, had made Beth Harmon memorable in Netflix’s chart-topping miniseries The Queen’s Gambit.
Austen’s Anne in Persuasion is a wise spinster in her late 20s, a vibe that the 32-year-old Johnson plays to the hilt. Most of Austen’s female protagonists, including Emma, are much younger than Anne and Johnson brings a touch of maturity that the character calls for. She strikes a perfect balance of sultry and spunky that is expected of a woman past her frivolous days.
Taylor-Joy was 24 when she was shooting as the 21-year-old Emma. The age-appropriate casting along with Taylor-Joy’s uppity expressions created the ideal Emma of the novel.
Emma targets a younger audience, Persuasion is for all ages
The combination of Austen’s writing and how the novels are adapted makes the two suited for a certain set of audience.
Emma has the feel of a youthful romantic tryst which younger audiences can relate to. Emma thinks she is wiser than her age, falls in love easily, has bouts of jealousy when she’s not the centre of attention and gets a nosebleed under stress. She is more like a young adult stepping out of her teenage years, but in a period set-up.
Persuasion is one of Austen’s more mature creations and the way Netflix adapts it for the screen does not limit it to a younger audience. The quiet love between Anne and the man she admires, Captain Frederick Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis), is layered and Anne experiences a range of emotions as interacts more with the world.