Jane Austen’s The Fleabag Identification

Dear reader, they have turned “Persuasion” into a comedy comedy.

It’s one thing to reinterpret Austen for a modern audience – lord knows we’re not short on major revisionist Austen adaptations – but it’s another to completely miss the point of the source material. While Austen’s “Persuasion” was a bleak, melancholy tale less about the heartbreaking romance than about a woman’s reassertion of her self-esteem, Cracknell’s “Persuasion,” written by Ron Bass and Alice Victoria Winslow, is a quirky, chock-full rom-com. with scenes of Dakota Johnson drinking giant glasses of wine and characters spitting out lines like, “It’s often said that if you’re a 5 in London, you’re a 10 in Bath.”

This “Belief” confuses self-reflection with self-pity, casting off its heroine as a sadsack single who, in fourth wall-breaking monologues, claims she is “single and thriving” before the film bursts into tears as she cries in the bathtub. “Conviction” even turns into slapstick at one point, with Anne falling flat on her face after hearing a particularly scathing critique, or clumsily stumbling around a dining table to avoid sitting next to her former flame. This isn’t the Anne who has resigned herself to being knocked down by life, this is Anne in the form of Bridget Jones, with Johnson spending much of the film carrying around an alarming number of wine bottles while complaining that Wentworth isn’t still love her.

The “Fleabag” comparisons will inevitably be made, but it’s clear Bass and Winslow don’t have the same skills as Phoebe Waller-Bridge when it comes to balancing sharp social observations, intimate character writing, and hysterical comedy. The fourth-wall-breaking style feels like a good decision on paper for such an in-house character like Anne Elliot, but Johnson plays the sequences with such winking smug smugness that it feels like “Persuasion” is a farce rather than a romance. Which would be all well and good – if done right.