“Persuasion” Is An Inclusive Regency Drama; Did “Bridgerton” Start The Trend?

Since I was first introduced to Jane Austen as a college student, I never stopped admiring the woman. But naturally, when I saw Netflix’s announcement that they have adapted her novel Persuasion into a motion picture, I was ecstatic, to say the least.

The novel, which was published after Austen’s death, follows the story of Anne Elliot (played by Dakota Johnson in the film), an isolated 27-year-old struggling to move on after she calls off her engagement with Frederick Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis), after being persuaded by a family friend.

Seven years later, Anne and Fredrick’s paths cross again due to unavoidable circumstances which eventually lead to the development of a love triangle. Anne is caught between her ex-fiancé and her cousin, Walter Elliot (Henry Golding).

Society, though, pushes her toward her cousin, who will be inheriting her father’s estate, but that only pushes her further into a whirlwind as she tries to understand what she really wants.

From the trailer, it does seem like the film follows the plotline of the novel yet it is leaning towards quirky comedy, unlike Austen’s writing. Helmed by acclaimed theatre director Carrie Cracknell, I was disappointed with the trailer of Persuasion as the sharpness of Austen’s writing felt subdued.

The other thing that was very explicit from the trailer is that the adaptation is going to be branded under the new wave period dramas—Inclusive Regency Era.

Suggested Reading: Did Everyone In Bridgerton Have Syphilis? Just How Sexy Was The Regency Era?

What does the term imply? The term simply refers to the inclusive casting of minority groups in the regency dramas. Remember the lead of African heritage in Bridgerton? Yeah, that’s inclusive Regency-era drama which goes off on the tangent of being a fantasy show.

However, one does wonder whether it was Bridgerton that flagged this trend of colour-conscious casting for the Regency-era shows?

Long before Bridgerton was conceived as a fit for adaptation Regency-era drama, attempts were being made by filmmakers to tell inclusive stories on-screen. Be it Amma Asante’s drama Belle, shows like Sanditon, Mary Queen of Scots and Broadway musical Hamilton- many adaptations of Regency-era stories had a colour-conscious casting. However, they didn’t get the success or laurels that the Netflix show did.

Undoubtedly, all of this made the story from history accessible to a contemporary spin and Bridgerton definitely made way for films like Persuasion to be made.

Debate On Historical Accuracy, Subverting Nuances

While having an inclusive cast—the one including persons from minority communities, even queer community and is colour conscious—is pivotal, debates have been raised by critics regarding the historical accuracy.

The quest to reimagine the society as a racially equitable place is a pleasant thought, but then in doing so, aren’t creators not really blindsiding the atrocities that people of colour were subjected to because of colonialism.

Many people of colour contributed to major historical events and otherwise. Yet their voices are disregarded. Recognising the contributions of people of colour in history is crucial but should we do that at the cost of altering our perception of history?

Moreover, when a literary text does get adapted, it is understandable that the original text itself may have taken creative license and jumbled events. However, there are authors who through their writing made satirical observations of the hypocritical society they inhabited.

Austen is one of the regency authors who indulged in her smart sarcasm and wry humour while writing and made social commentary quite often. What remains of the sarcasm if makers decide to produce an adaptation which seemingly condenses it like Persuasion seemingly does?

Future Of Inclusive Regency Era Shows

Despite having its own set of drawbacks, the inclusive regency era shows have become a space for audiences, especially from the minority communities, to fulfil their fantasies.

The blowing up of more endeavours as such only indicates that this trend is here to stay and that many filmmakers, and creators are already taking notes from Bridgerton, Sanditon, a show based on Jane Austen’s half-written novel before she passed away, and pushing their limits to ensure they have the best talent on-board. They are committed to hiring an inclusive cast and the popularity of such shows only affirms that their choices are doing wonders.

Views expressed are the author’s own