Of the six novels published by the legendary Jane Austen, conviction, released six months after her death, is perhaps the one with the most passionate fan base. Secure, pride and prejudice is more popular and more likely to be adapted, but the story of Anne Elliot and her second chance at love with Captain Wentworth still inspires enthusiastic devotion in readers over two centuries later. Austen still inspires a level of reverence in general that the vast majority of authors can only dream of. We flock to her witty, succinct, and always timely work because, regardless of our current times, there’s something infinitely modern about it. We’ve never stopped obsessing over notions of class, relationships, femininity, and what it means to live in a world where one is forever aware of one’s status in relation to others. That’s why we see so many adaptations all these centuries later. Well, that and the sweet freedom of the public domain. There will always be Austen adaptations, but after this one, take on convictionmaybe it’s time we hit the pause button for a few years.
I’m almost in awe of how poorly Netflix does it conviction is. Directed by Carrie Cracknell with a screenplay by Ron Bass and Alice Victoria Winslow, it feels like a spoof of an Austen film meant to appeal to the cool kidz you’d see The critic or 30 rocks. One wonders if the project got the green light because some dusty manager at the streaming service saw it fleasack and wondered how much of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s series could be directly copied without falling into plagiarism territory. It will infuriate Austen fans and amaze newcomers for their work. I have no idea who this movie is for, which is a big problem with Netflix these days.
Dakota Johnson, a thoroughly modern actress who tries hard with the material provided to her, plays Anne, who a few years earlier was persuaded by her family not to marry the then penniless Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis). Now fate has turned. The Elliots are broke and Wentworth is the most eligible bachelor in town. The aching melancholy of Austen’s work, as well as its spark of humor, is savored with tongue-in-cheek lines that would have been rejected from a season 17 script Riverdale. Austen’s language is not untouchable, and contemporary adaptations have brought modern phrases and idioms to her tales with a fresh perspective. consider cluelesswho embraced the cool valley girl of the 90s with no intention of sacrifice Emma. Here, unfortunately, it feels as if the writers and director thought they were above Austen or that audiences were too fat to understand all those old-fashioned words. So we get scenes where Johnson is forced to say phrases like “They often say if you’re a 5 in London, you’re a 10 in Bath” and “Now we’re strangers”. No, worse than strangers. We’re exes.” The latter is a particularly clumsy paraphrase of the original quote from the novel in which Austen describes Anne and Wentworth’s predicament: “Now they were like strangers; no, worse than strangers, because they could never know each other. It was an eternal alienation.’
Moments meant to feel modern slow down the film and make it grumpier than it already is. This is an oddly quiet affair, superficially staged with some good looks from its attractive leads and not much else. A talented comedic actress with a well-documented history of collecting trash material, Johnson can only do so much here, especially since Anne, as presented, is completely uninteresting. Would this be a fleasack remake, then Johnson would at least feel at home, her sly timing appropriate for the post-feminist panic and self-loathing of this series. But she can’t turn this heavily watered-down view of one of Austen’s most complex women into anything more than a bad archetype. The same goes for Cosmo Jarvis and Henry Golding, two charismatic and handsome actors who can do such things in their sleep but seem like they’re only being told to “do.” Bridgeton but bad.’
I’ve seen many people take issue with the generally negative reviews of conviction by claiming that critics are too snobbish about ideas of historical accuracy. I don’t appreciate Austen’s work as much as I enjoy it, and I’ll go with a film that creates its own visual and thematic flair rather than sticking to “history” every day of the week. conviction isn’t bad just for its cavalier attitude toward its source material; It’s a poorly made film that robs one of the most popular novels of the 19th century of everything that made it so popular. It strips conviction of its longing, its intricate social dissections, and complex characters, leaving behind a derivative mess that infantilizes both its ensemble and its audience.
Really, this is a problem Netflix has had for a while. The biggest name in streaming has grappled with falling subscription numbers, appalling treatment of staff and a bloodbath of clout in recent months. Her identity crisis has prompted a content shift and a growing realization that the days of prestige on the platform are coming to an end. I get it. If your most watched originals are crappy reality TV, cheaply made Hallmark ripoffs, and nostalgia bait, why not double down on what works? Much like the Ryan Reynolds identityless action films they have been producing for years and years to come The gray man, conviction feels like it was made to be consumed by viewers who are only paying attention half the time. They do stuff to fold laundry, background noise while you f*cking on your phone, stuff like that. Once it’s over, you declare “that was fine” and then line up another movie or series. Entertainment like this certainly has an audience and serves a purpose, but shouldn’t you be trying to achieve higher goals when you’ve got so much money? Especially if you can get your hands on Jane Austen. This is a story and an actress worthy of more than nonsense easily recalled by a #relatable corporate Twitter account.
conviction is a film caught in limbo, much like Netflix. They can see faint glimmers of what could have been, but are choked by chilling dialogue and a fatal misunderstanding of something that should have been easily translatable to a wide audience. It’s not like we’ve stopped reading Austen novels in recent years. This feels like a movie made by people striving to appeal to an audience that just doesn’t exist. I can’t blame them. After all, they inherited this riddle from their bosses.
conviction is now available to watch on Netflix.
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