Lydia Rose Bewley as Penelope Clay, Richard E. Grant as Sir Walter Elliot, Dakota Johnson as Anne Elliot, and Yolanda Kettle as Elizabeth Elliot. Photo / Nick Wall, Netflix
Back when I was a teenager discovering everything in the universe and deciding what to fall madly in love with, I decided, in my very black and white way, that everyone could be divided into two teams.
You were either Team Brontë or Team Austen, depending on your author preference. Having determined that, if you were a Brontë, you automatically also belonged to Team Rolling Stones and Austens were also Team Beatles.
Brontë/Rolling Stones people were expansive and impassioned, revelled in broad open spaces, were up for anything and shared a certain sympathy for the devil. Austen/Beatles people twittered and wittered away in parlours with a glorified Oompah band as the soundtrack. Simple.
I’ve stuck with this theory all my life while still managing to have plenty of Austen friends. I held many of the opposition team in very high regard, even as I irrationally dismissed their author and band with a nonchalant shrug.
And then something curious happened. One of my Austen friends kept banging on about Peter Jackson’s Beatles documentary, adamant that I had to watch it, that I would love it. To shut him up, I pushed play and god damn it! I loved it!
The colour palette was absolutely beautiful, the fur coats were fucking cool, the Beatles were funny, endearing and brainy. Then I had to admit that Here Comes the Sun has always been one of my favourite songs and Come Together is fantastic.
There was a big, fat but – I still can’t stand what I think of as the Oompah songs, Ob-La-Di, When I’m 64, Yellow Submarine. I blame Paul McCartney. But I quietly acknowledged that maybe the Beatles were just a little bit cooler than I’d previously thought and maybe, sometimes, the Rolling Stones can be try hard, cliched old rockers.
So, when Zoe Walker Ahwa [Ensemble editor], one of those Team Austens I hold in very high regard who knows of my singular worldview, asked me to review the new Jane Austen movie, an adaptation of Persuasion, I thought, why not?! Maybe it might be another revelation. Maybe I’m finally broad minded and tolerant enough to embrace Austen.
It started well: some expansive and unruly long grass, then Lordy! Mr Wentworth appeared to be a hulking, monosyllabic Brontë hero in the wrong drawing room!
As with the Beatles doco, I was quickly won over by the art direction and colour palette.
Austen movies are usually too candy, too gaudy and way too trussed up, everyone in pinched shoes, bonnets and stays laced way too tight. I suspect Regency is my least liked fashion era culminating in those hysterical ringlets and bonnets. Needless to say, I loathed the recent Anya Taylor-Joy version of Emma.
But here we had understated, slightly tousled Austen. The cast could breathe in their costumes, hair and clothes were allowed to get wind blown and even wet. The palette went from soft ivory to dusty black sprinkled with jewel tones that glimmered rather than screamed. The interiors were pastels but kind of soft and dusty.
I was fleetingly optimistic but inevitably there came the wittering and twittering, the parade of ridiculous characters. And way too many macaroon towers. And a fluffy bunny.
I adore Richard E. Grant (withnail and I, definitely Team Brontë), he stole the show as always but basically he was the conductor of an Oompah band made up of predictably vain, avaricious twits. This weird, implausible gulf between the supporting buffoons and the always clever, selfless, self-effacing leads is one of the aspects of Jane Austen that really irritates me.
Dakota Johnson as clever, selfless, self-effacing Anne Elliot is very likeable and has some great direct to camera one-liners.
However, the plot evolved into the predictable. Lovers have misunderstandings, lovers are tempted by other suitors and manipulated by schemers, lovers miraculously unite just at the last minute, hooray!
As my mind wandered and Dakota continued to clutch the bunny and do that direct to camera thing, I kept thinking I was watching Fleabag (100% Team Brontë), expecting Olivia Colman to appear in all her glory. That got me wondering if she has already, or is yet to don the bonnet and take on one of the twittery roles? Thespians love hamming it up but at least, like Richard E. Grant, she’ll do it fabulously.
Anyway, anyway, distractions aside, I did watch it through; I did idly wonder what happened to the bunny. I can even go so far as to say it is probably the best Austen movie I’ve seen. I will even read the book, maybe that will be the revelation!
But in the meantime, sorry, I am still 100% Team Brontë. Give me acres of black taffeta, windswept moors and a mad woman in the attic any day.
And so to finish, I turn to my brooding hero and exclaim, “Heathcliff, where be tha gun? There be a rabbit on the loose!”