There’s something “distinctly millennial” about the new Netflix adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, says Helen Lewis in The Atlantic. Its heroine, Anne Elliot, is not the “quiet, melancholic presence” of the novel, but rather a “klutzy Fleabag clone”. She hurls herself onto a chaise longue, screaming into the eiderdown; asserts she’s “single and thriving” while swigging wine straight from the bottle; and breaks the fourth wall with bemused eyebrow wiggles. She’s a recognisable trope of modern culture: “the aspirational yet relatable ‘hot mess’”. Characters dish out anachronistic zingers – “if you’re a five in London, you’re a 10 in Bath” – surely crafted to deliberately bait literary purists.
A decade ago, this might have been a radical reimagining. But years of wacky historical hybrids – from Bridgerton to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – now mean it’s more unusual for a remake not to include ironic winks to viewers. And it’s hugely popular with audiences, who want the brand recognition of literary classics, but rewritten with characters who share all our modern sensibilities and views on diversity and inclusion. The result is an amalgam of Regency-era aesthetics with curiously 21st-century politics. Lines like “a woman without a husband is not a problem to be solved” are not just at odds with the premise of Austen’s original, but also subvert the entire “plot engine of the romance novel”. But somehow, it works. Perhaps the mark of a true classic is that “it can take being cut up and sewn back together”. Courtesy of Netflix, Austen has entered her “Girlboss era”.