One of the most important things to happen conviction, Carrie Cracknell’s new Netflix adaptation of Jane Austen’s last novel, is already defunct by the time the film opens. Anne Elliot (Dakota Johnson) had been in love once — and in the enviable position of doing something about it. She decided against it. Rather, she was persuaded. The man who had her heart, a sailor named Frederick Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis), was of a lower class. Their union would have been unwise by 19th-century English standards. So she dropped him.

conviction is the story of what happens eight years later, when Wentworth has risen to the rank of captain and Anne’s family has gone bankrupt thanks to her degenerate father’s financial indiscretions. Of course, this would be when the two former lovers meet again. The drama of this upcoming humiliation is irresistible, and conviction is hardly the kind of film to fight back. “There’s nothing worse than thinking your life is ruined and then realizing you have much, much more to fall,” says Anne. Then she stumbles. It’s that kind of movie.

Definitely the Anne Elliot of this new guy conviction is not the contemporary heroine of the film’s BBC ancestors. The currency of this Anne is an anachronism. She is proud, intelligent and generous, contradictory and allergic to male dominance, as Austen befits. She also breaks the fourth wall and sips wine like an older millennial in a Nancy Meyers dramedy. An unmarried woman is a problem in an Austen text. At least everyone seems to make their fate their problem. Anne Elliot, one of Austen’s most mature heroines, is all too aware of this. In this modern take, she navigates her life with charmingly dry resignation, even comfortable ennui, guiding us through the machinery of her days in a tongue-in-cheek style recognizable from tweets and Instagram captions. “I almost got married once,” she says at the beginning of the film, recounting a moment from her past when she was lucky in love and spent her afternoons eating face with a dark-skinned sailor. “Now I am single and thrive.”

It’s not her. That’s the joke. From the beginning, conviction lays bare his belief that this particular Austen heroine, with our hyper-ironic personalities and needless bouts of self-consciousness, makes almost too much sense for our own moment. Austen’s heroines were already ahead of their time. Your modernization can feel like putting a hat on a hat. But we keep going because the situations in these novels feel timeless – not least because we keep drawing from them. Its blueprints have already been remade thousands of times, much like Shakespeare’s work. The dramas, tensions, joys are all familiar. We might as well leave Jane Austen out.

In the case of this film, that might have been wise. calling this project convictionTo offer total customization is at best risking falling far short of the author’s intelligence, and at worst incurring the wrath of overprotective, whining Austen-heads. The worst thing this movie could have been is probably boring. and it is pretty boring. What drew me to my seat was the must-see genius of the story telling Austen’s plot, the original desire to see a heroine “wrestle with her beliefs,” by which I mean choosing between a handsome, lumbering, chalk-dusted couple Men. (Wentworth is one; Henry Golding’s William Elliot, who is similarly bemoaned, is the other.) It’s not as if Johnson’s Anne is allowed to have the spark of true wit, although the film is just interesting enough to see why Johnson’s sympathetic allusions have earned her the role. There’s not much to say about the film’s clogged drips of romantic chemistry, either.

What the film does have in its favor are its small interventions: the diversity of its cast, as only the world deserves Bridgeton era, and slivers of lively performances from Johnson and some of her co-stars, like Mia McKenna-Bruce as Anne’s narcissistic grouchy sister, Mary, or Richard E. Grant as Anne’s peacock-like simpleton father. The cast strives for a slightly less overwhelming film, one that is slightly more willing to engage with this gallery of personalities which, if based on the novel’s characters, are just engaging enough to watch once and never over to think about again. Austen works hard. But mediocrity, as this film reminds us, works harder.

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