I’m among those still upset about the new Persuasion adaptation on Netflix. You know the one. It stars Dakota Johnson as a wine-guzzling, pining, winking Anne Elliott and was much-derided on the internet from the moment the first trailer dropped. But Jane Austen adaptations take liberties all the time. Why was this one so uniquely enraging to so many? I’ll tell you why. It’s not the color-blind casting, abridged plot, or anachronisms that upset people. It’s that this film seemingly treats Austen fans with disdain while attempting to pander to them.
TikTok has its own thriving Jane Austen subculture—the precise audience the creators of this film were likely attempting to appeal to. It explains the too cute winks to the camera and lines of dialogue like, “If you’re a 5 in London, you’re a 10 in Bath.” Unfortunately for Netflix, #AustenTok has emphatically criticized the film for talking down to its audience and aping Fleabag’s signature fourth-wall breaks. Some creators took a serious critical tone when talking about the film while others mostly ranted. Both have led to Persuasion becoming so well known as a flop on TikTok that simply tagging the title over a meme audio is enough to convey your meaning.
Persuasion didn’t fare much better on other platforms. Twitter lit up for days after the film premiered on Netflix, and Austen fans were enflamed anew when the Los Angeles Times reported that one of the movie’s screenwriters, Ron Bass, is working on similar adaptations of Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility. “I promise you that everyone involved in this adores Jane Austen and adores her work,” Bass told the paper, speaking directly to critics (including myself) who voiced that Persuasion's creators must either be unfamiliar with Austen or just openly disregard her and her readers.