'Dismal and infuriating' – Critics have savaged Netflix's lavish new drama

(Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix's lavish new take on Jane Austen's classic novel, Persuasion, has been giving a critical mauling. 

The movie stars Dakota Johnson, Snake Eyes' Henry Golding and Richard E. Grant, with British director Carrie Cracknell taking her first steps out of theatre and into movies behind the camera. 

The story follows Anne Elliot (played by Johnson), the overlooked middle daughter of Grant's vain and profligate Sir Walter Elliot. Having been persuaded by her family eight years earlier to break an engagement to Cosmo Jarvis' Captain Frederick Wentworth – a decision she has never recovered from – Anne is shocked when Wentworth re-enters her life. 

He does so when her father is forced to let the family estate to none other than Wentworth's brother-in-law to try and the family's debts down. Naturally, as the pair begin to see each other again, sparks fly.

The movie's first trailer, which was released last month, drew comparisons to Fleabag as Johnson's Elliot breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the camera throughout the movie. While Fleabag was adored by critics, though, Persuasion has been received less well, with the movie currently holding a rating of 32% on Rotten Tomatoes – not to mention some truly awful reviews – ahead of release on July 15. 

How bad are the reviews?

Really bad. The Observer's Wendy Ide called the movie's screenplay – which comes from Ron Bass and Alice Victoria Winslow – "a travesty", and was very unimpressed with the narrative choice of talking to camera. Ide called the Fleabag-esque device "...tone-deaf, demonstrating so little sensitivity to the delicate precision of Austen’s writing, that you wonder why she didn’t just go the whole hog and bung in some comedy trombone quacks and an audience laugh track." Ouch. 

Wealth of Geeks' Noah Berlatsky was also not impressed, saying that "Austen fans will find this a dismal and infuriating adaptation", while Mashable's Kristy Puchko wrote that Persuasion "...fumbles its heroine, humor, and romance", as well as that,  The Times' Kevin Maher called Johnson "...savagely miscast here as Anne" and described the movie as a "chaotic mess."


(Image credit: Netflix)

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw called the movie "...smug and misconceived". Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph's Tim Robey compared Persuasion unflatteringly to Bridgerton, describing the film's take on Austen's story as "...flaunting an antique copy of the novel in a full-cosplay selfie, but holding it upside down", which is not kind. Entertainment Weekly's Leah Greenblatt also went in hard, writing that the movie "...chooses to wear its source material like a thin disposable skin, discarding many of the vital organs (brain, heart) and most of the subtlety as it goes".

A handful of reviewers were more positive, however. Flickering Myth's Robert Kojder was onboard, giving the movie three stars and praising Johnson's turn. The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney wasn't full of praise, but didn't put the boot in either, calling Persuasion "...a free-standing rom-com only loosely tethered to its origins, the film is a sweet distraction". Needless to say these are not the write-ups Netflix would have been hoping for.

Analysis: Will Netflix care?

The movie isn't out until July 15, so who knows if the audience are going to take to it or not?.

Poor reviews didn't hold back action smash-em-up Interceptor from scoring big ratings on Netflix, but this is a different type of thing. In years gone by, Jane Austen's novels have delivered an awful lot of awards stardust. 1995's Sense and Sensibility won Emma Thompson an Oscar for her screenplay among seven other nominations, while 1996's new take on Emma won for Best Original Score in 1996. In 2005, Keira Knightley was also nominated for Best Actress for Pride and Prejudice. Netflix executives love winning awards, so this will be something of a blow. Having spent money on securing an expensive cast, with in-demand talent like Johnson and Golding, this movie was a priority for Netflix. 

Still, with The Sea Beast faring far better since its July 8 launch, and The Gray Man set to arrive on July 22, though, maybe the streaming giant shouldn't be overly concerned by Persuasion's less than stellar reception. We'll have to see how Persuasion lands with audiences and how many people stream it over the coming weekend. 

For more Netflix-based content, check out our selection of the best movies and TV shows on the world's most popular streamer.

Tom Goodwyn
Freelance Entertainment Writer

Tom Goodwyn was formerly TechRadar's Senior Entertainment Editor. He's now a freelancer writing about TV shows, documentaries and movies across streaming services, theaters and beyond. Based in East London, he loves nothing more than spending all day in a movie theater, well, he did before he had two small children…