Allison Calloway’s Persuasion Makes the Case for Bold Cinematic Experiments 

Pre-review Rant: I hate Jane Austen novels. I have tried to like Jane Austen, truly, but to no avail. In the 1990s and aughts society very much tried to sell me on this author whose revival was celebrated in celluloid, video, and handsome boxed set editions and ironic merch at Barnes and Noble. I have tried reading Pride and Prejudice exactly thrice, and every time I could not read beyond Elizabeth’s muddy, rain-soaked tromp to Netherfield. I simply find Austen too rational, too tidy. Give me the gothic messiness of the Bronte sisters and the fatalist hap of Thomas Hardy any day of the week, but Austen? No. Not my cup of tea. 

Given my prejudices, and perhaps a smidge of my pride, I am not overly enthused whenever I see that one of her books has been adapted for film …sigh, not again. Don’t get me wrong, there are film versions of her work I have enjoyed greatly, but I have reached my threshold, for surely there is no need for any more Jane Austen films ever, ever again. Or is there? Sorry to bury the lead with such a self-indulgent intro, but now that you know where I’m coming from. Let’s get on with it… 

Dan Brown and Skylar Pierce in Persuasion.

Allison Calloway’s 2023 reimagining of Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion is the first time a movie adaptation of Austen’s work has genuinely intrigued and excited me. Calloway transplants the story to the modern-day United States, but the mid-nineteenth century language and mannerisms are kept largely intact, creating a dreamlike dissonance and forcing the viewer to compare/contrast past with present in unexpected ways.

Filmed with a no-to-low budget, Persuasion is also a testament to what an indie filmmaker can accomplish with a little creativity and a precise point of view. Believe me, Calloway has a point of view, a way of looking at the world and interpreting Austen’s source material, that makes me curious about what she could accomplish with a larger budget. Persuasion is an audacious experiment, and while it is somewhat hampered by the constraints of its low budget, it nevertheless presents a challenge to both aspiring and established filmmakers alike to take bigger, bolder, more eccentric and precise artistic risks. Calloway is not afraid to fully commit to dramatic conventions that might alienate some filmgoers and that is wonderfully refreshing.  

Like many indie efforts, Persuasion suffers somewhat from an unseasoned cast: the stylistic conventions of the piece demand of the performers a formal, slightly archaic mode of line delivery and some cast members manage to pull this off with ease while others are stilted and overly self-conscious. The lead Skylar Pierce wisely does not lean too heavily into affected formality in her portrayal of Anne Elliot, but rather takes on the part with sphynx-like watchfulness.

The major standout in the cast is Dan Brown as the romantic male lead Freddie Wentworth. More than anyone in Persuasion, Brown excels at fusing the formality and artifice of the film’s conceit with the emotional candor of modern cinematic film acting. His expressive eyes and ability to energetically connect with his fellow actors are critical to the success of the main love story. Dan Brown imbues Freddie with a rich interior world, which is no small feat considering the spare nature of the script. Much like the director Allison Calloway, Dan Brown could be a star in the making, and I look forward to seeing more of his work in the future. 

Dan Brown in Persuasion excels at fusing the formality and artifice of the film’s conceit with the emotional candor of modern cinematic film acting.

What is it however that makes this adaptation of Persuasion so intriguing? Perhaps it is how Calloway flouts contemporary conventions of how filmmakers should adapt period source material: rather than dress up Austen’s era with our modern sensibilities and sexual tensions, she brings Austen’s quieter, more reserved world into ours. This is no doubt a case of creativity born from necessity as Calloway shrewdly calculated that she did not have the resources to mount an historically accurate period dramedy, but the result is that we are shown our present world with strange new eyes.

Skylar Pierce’s Anne Elliot copes with the absurdities of our modern world.

The main way the dialogue wavers from that of Austen’s day is through reference to modern technology and social media, resulting in an overlay of past with present that effectively reveals the absurd comedy of manners in our online-preoccupied lives. This choice also grounds Persuasion as a piece committed to commenting on our contemporary society and it makes Persuasion a wonderful example of period source material as metaphor. In conclusion, Persuasion is a film that gets one thinking provided the viewer is ready for the challenge and I for one am hoping Persuasion is just the start of Calloway’s long, storied career. 

Allison Calloway’s Persuasion (2023) is available for rent and purchase at Prime Video.