Austen Movie Adaptations

Jane Austen

As you all may know from my Introduction post, I am a huge Austen fan. I love her witty social commentary, how she was ahead of her time in advocating for feminist ideals of more equality between the sexes, and the importance of marrying for love, not money, wealth, or status.

But more than just the novels themselves, I adore film adaptations of Ms. Austen’s books. There is just something about seeing her version of Regency life come alive that is thrilling for me-I never tire of the witty banter, beautiful gowns (though it’s arguable how comfortable they actually were) and sumptuous ball scenes where delicious, shocking, and scandalous things happen. I should confess that the reason I’m so fond of her books being made into film is because for some reason, I tend to watch movies of her books before I actually read the books. Here are some of my favorite JA film adaptations:

The 1995 BBC mini-series version of Pride and Prejudice, starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. This was the movie that made me fall in love with Austen in the first place. A friend of my mother’s lent me her VHS copy of the mini-series my freshman year of high school. (Yes folks, back in the bad old days of VHS tapes and before the advent of DVDs. Gasp! 😉 )I devoured the whole mini-series over the course of a weekend and I was a diehard Jane Austen fan for life. To me, Colin Firth is the definitive Darcy and he and Jennifer were perfect as Darcy and Elizabeth. It was the first time I realized a gaze across the room, a cheeky smile, a dance where the hero and heroine do nothing more than briefly touch palms can be just as charged, exciting, and sexy than a full on kiss and/or love scene. Maybe even more so. You are forced to wait six long hours for them to kiss, but the wait was definitely worth it. This movie also marks the beginning of my obsession with Colin Firth! I know there are fans of the 2005 movie version with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen, but I much prefer the BBC adaptation, as I feel it is more faithful and accurate to the book.

Another one of my favorite Austen novels is Emma. The 1996 version with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam is lovely (with a special mention to Alan Cumming and Juliet Stevenson for their deliciously pompous and conceited turns as Mr. and Mrs. Elton). The more recent 2009 BBC miniseries adaptation with Jonny Lee Miller and Romola Garai is also delightful, and I personally thought Romola’s Emma had more of the youthful carefree energy depicted in the book version than Gwyneth. Both Jonny and Jeremy were sigh-worthy as Knightley, but I personally have to give Jeremy a slight edge.

Jeremy Northam Gwyneth Paltrow

Emma 2009

Sense and Sensibility

The 1995 Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Kate Winslet, and Alan Rickman is the first Austen movie adaptation I ever saw, and thus holds a special place in my heart. It was my first exposure to Austen, and what struck me the most while watching the movie was how subtle and layered the story was. I came away thinking “This movie is all about people who desperately want to speak and communicate, but are forbidden to for some reason or another.” Instead, they talk obliquely and in carefully crouched terms which leads to misunderstandings and the characters talking at cross-purposes without knowing it. The dramatic tension caused by the characters’ inability to speak openly and honestly, and all the bubbling sexual chemistry and tension under the surface was addictive. There was no high octane action, but I still found the movie engrossing and it had me on the edge of my seat.

Persuasion, the story of Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth, is a relatively new discovery for me. I found the 2007 version with Rupert Penry-Jones and Sally Hawkins very enjoyable, and the famous letter scene was brilliantly done. But for some reason, this particular adaptation felt rushed and incomplete to me, as though they left huge gaps in order to fit the whole story into the time frame they had.


There are also adaptations of Austen’s novels that take place during modern times too. One of my top favorites is Clueless, which is Emma at a modern day Beverly Hills high school. I particularly loved Paul Rudd, playing the Mr. Knightley character of Cher’s ex-stepbrother Josh.


Bride and Prejudice

I also like Bride and Prejudice, which is P&P with a frothy Bollywood flair taking place in India. I enjoyed all the music and dance numbers, and all I can say is “No life without wife!” What was must interesting to me about Bride and Prejudice is how it served to reinforce how universal storytelling is, and how the themes Jane Austen talked about back in the early 1800s still resonate with us today-family, gender, friendship, money, power, marriage, class, and love. These topics transcend time, place, and culture, whether it be Regency England, modern day India, or Beverly Hills California.


Finally, I must give a shout-out to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which is the story of Pride and Prejudice told through video blog posts on Youtube. I am totally addicted and my weeks are now spent figuring out how many days are left until a new episode posts. (For the record, new episodes post every Monday and Thursday, with occasional Q&A episodes on Saturdays)

As with all adaptations, especially the modernized versions, changes and/or tweaks must be made to accommodate the needs of the new medium. Scenes may need to be cut or moved around, plot lines and characters may be merged/deleted/changed. It could be done for time purposes or because the producers and TPTB decide that the changes will make a better and more interesting film. If the deviation is especially glaring or egregious, it bothers me, but for the most part, I make allowances and accept that no adaptation will be 100% faithful.

So let’s talk Austen movie adaptations! Which ones are your favorite? Any ones I’m missing? Do the changes and deviations bother you? I’ve never seen or read Mansfield Park or Northanger Abbey. Anyone have recommendations?

Annnnd—you’re welcome ladies!

Wet Darcy-you're welcome ladies!


29 thoughts on “Austen Movie Adaptations

  1. Lisa,
    I watched the 2008 BBC Version of Sense and Sensibility last night and was wondering about Elenor’s pantalettes. I never get tired of watching all of them. Favorite P&P is the BBC version with Colin Firth. Mansfield Park with Johnny Lee Miller, and Persuasion with Rupert Penry-Jones. I love the costumes. If you watch the BBC ones carefully, you’ll see that they reuse the costumes between them.

    Who doesn’t love the Lizzie Bennett diaries?


    • Hi Amy!
      I didn’t know they recycled and reused costumes-how interesting. 🙂 Thanks for that fascinating tidbit of information. As I really enjoyed JLM in Emma nad his new show Elementary, will have to track down Mansfield Park. Thanks!

  2. Wonderful post! I think you’ve mentioned my faves already, from P&P to S&S, but I have to mention Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root’s 1995 version of Persuasion. Even better for me than RPJ’s. I still like watching the latest adaptation though, because it gives me a chance to see new fave heroes/heroines in different roles, like seeing a young Dan Stevens as Edward. ❤

    • Hi Diana! 🙂 Thanks for coming by and commenting! I know you’ve spoken very highly of the CH/AR version of Persuasion. Must watch very soon.

      A version of Sense and Sensibility with Dan Stevens in it???!!! How did I not know about this before?? Must add to my ever growing list, lol.

      • Ugh, that famous scene with Hugh/Emma … Dan kicked ass with his facial expressions too. Just. Howeven. Perfect. Also … have you seen Miss Austen Regrets?

  3. Fun post, Lisa, it’s always a delight to talk of Jane Austen, her novels and of course, the movie adaptations. I watch them all! I have my favorites (Emma Thompson’s S & S – one of my all-time faves). If you love twists on Austen such as CLUELESS, check out LOST IN AUSTEN, a BBC mini-series where a young Austen fan switches places with Elizabeth Bennet – a modern woman suddenly living in Austen’s Regency. It’s delightful.

    • Thanks for coming and commenting Amy! 🙂
      Lost in Austen sounds great-must check it out right away!! And yes, I loved Emma’s performance in S&S, especially that last scene when Edward comes to tell Elinor he broke off his engagement and confessed his love. That moment when she lifts up her head and you realize she’s laughing and crying with joy was beautiful!

      • I am in awe of Emma’s talents too. And yes, I do remember she wrote the screenplay for the movie. She won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. Though I have to confess I’ve watched S&S many times and it caused a bit of cognitive dissonance when I watched Love Actually and she and Hugh Grant play siblings, lol.

  4. Great post, Lisa! I never get tired of Austen. 🙂 I love the movie adaptations, but if I had to pick one favorite of them all, I’d go with Emma (GP and JN). Jeremy Northam seals the deal for me. (Having said that, I need to check out the new version of Emma!) As for P&P, I adore both the Colin Firth version and the Keira Knightley version, but which one I watch depends on how much time I have. I also love the S&S version with Emma Thompson. Alan Rickman… 🙂

    I have not checked out the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, but am off to do that RIGHT NOW!

    • Hi Andrea! 🙂 I have to agree with you that as much as I love the 95 BBC version of P&P, the one big drawback is the length of the miniseries. Six hours is a big time commitment, lol. Though it’s hard to argue that it’s worth it. 😉 HEE.

      Hope you do watch the 2009 version of Emma at some point. Would love to discuss with you!

    • The Jeremy Northam/Gwenyth Paltrow Emma always feels like home to me. I have the Kate Beckinsale and the newer Romola one (haven’t watched yet) but there’s just something about the GP that is oddly comforting.

  5. My favorite Pride & Prejudice is the 1995 version with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. No comparison really. I wanted to like the 2005 film, and I though Kiera Knightley did okay, but I had major issues with the script and casting.

    I’ve enjoyed all four of the adaptations of Emma I have seen. While the most recent mini-series with Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller is my favorite, I also liked the 1996 film and tv movie, though neither is as well cast in the supporting roles as the 2009 mini-series. And there are parts of the 1972 mini-series that are enjoyable, particularly Debbie Bowen’s portrayal of Harriet. It’s also the only adaptation with the scene where Emma tries to call Knightley George, though they leave out the part from the book where she promises to do so at their wedding. On a side note, the 2009 mini-series is the only adaptation that didn’t make me feel sorry for Jane ending up with Frank in the end. The others make me think she had a miserable life.

    The 1995 film of Sense & Sensibility with Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, and Hugh Grant is another adaptation which is leaps and bounds ahead of the others I’ve seen. I usually enjoy Andrew Davies adaptations, but feel he really dropped the ball with the recent mini-series. The 1981 mini-series has numerous scenes from the book which are not in either of the more recent adaptations.

    Though the letter scene is totally wrong (in comparison to the book), I also enjoy the 2007 adaptation of Persuasion. It is very well cast. And Rupert Penry-Jones and Sally Hawkins have wonderful chemistry. The Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root tv movie version is one I want to like, but I prefer the 2007 version even with its many flaws. The 1971 mini-series is the only one which really gets into all of the subplots. If you don’t want to read the actual book, that’s the one I would recommend to get the whole story.

    If I need a quick Austen fix, my go to DVD is the 2007 adaptation of Northanger Abbey with Felicity Jones and JJ Feild. Though you need a region free DVD player and the proper British DVD as PBS cut a number of scenes from the region 1 release here in the US (boo!)

    Mansfield Park is the one book of Austen’s I don’t rewatch some adaptation of on an annual basis. The best one in my opinion is the 1983 mini-series with Sylvestra Le Touzel and Nicholas Farrell. It’s a bit plodding, but is the ONLY adaptation true to the character of Fanny. The 2007 tv movie with Billie Piper and Blake Ritson is one I liked as well, though I understand why people have issues with the script and casting. I’ll just say I really, really loathed the 1999 film with Frances O’Connor, despite Jonny Lee Miller’s presense as Edmund, and leave it at that.

    • Hi Kelly! Thanks so much for coming by! I know you’re a huge Austen fan, so I appreciate you sharing all your thoughts. 🙂 I agree with you that in the book, and other film versions, you feel bad for Jane and wonder what she ever saw in Frank. One thing I found very interesting in this adaptation is that they focused on the childhood and life paths of Emma, Frank, and Jane even though there was no such connection between the characters in the book.

      I agree with Erica-boo to PBS deleting scenes! I wonder why they did that?

      • PBS cuts scenes from most of the adaptations when they air on TV to fit the allotted time (not only Austen, they do so with many others as well). Usually, they “put them back” on the DVD release, but it must have slipped by them somehow. There were 9 scenes in all cut totally or partially in Northanger Abbey.

  6. As a kid, I think I saw S&S with Kate Winslet a few summers before I ever read Emma and first fell in love with Jane Austen. But as an adult Jane Austen lover, I have to say that I much much much prefer the more BBC version of S&S. Winslet and Thompson, while wonderful actresses in their own rights, are far too old to be playing Elinor and Marianne. The two younger actresses cast by BBC to me felt perfect–exactly as I had pictured the sisters. I finished S&S in book form about two years ago, and shortly after is when I watched the BBC version.

    LOVE the comment from LibraryAddict1 about Jane leading a miserable life! I always have felt like Jane got the short end of the stick.

    • I will definitely have to see the BBC version of S&S now, Erica! And I understand what you mean. For me, Gwyneth Paltrow was a great Emma, but her Emma was very mature and poised. I much preferred Romola’s more vivacious, energetic, and exuberant Emma. She just had a more youthful vibe that I felt worked better for the character.

  7. Finally getting the chance to read and comment. Wonderful, beautiful post, Lisa! This brings back memories. P&P was also the first Austin story I’ve read (and watched). I think that is why it remains my favorite. I fell in love with the writing and beauty of it all. Like you, I adored the glances from across the room, the fleeting touches, the smiles! I recall blushing on my end. Hehe. There was just so much feeling wrapped in the words, told in a way that we could feel it too. (Also, experience a scene not of our time. Yayness!) Austen tells the story in a way that makes the characters come alive. There’s an extra something that made everything so heartfelt and genuine. Loved it!

    And I did not realize that Clueless was a modern day Emma! How did I not know this?! I like grew up on this show and I was completely clueless. Haha!

    • Hi Carrie! Thanks so much for coming by and commenting! 🙂 Well the first time I saw Clueless, I didn’t realize it was an Austen adaptation either. But once I saw/read Emma, it totally made sense.

      Aaww-how cute that you blushed! 🙂 I still remember the disasterous first proposal and my feelings mirrored Elizabeth’s exactly. “WHAT??!! Are you serious?? Did that just really happen? WHAT THE HECK??!!” lol

      And what I love about Austen, as I said, is how the issues, topics, and themes she talks about are universal and speaks to us even today. Which is totally amazing and speaks to the quality of her writing, in my opinion.

  8. Lisa, I love Jane Austen adaptations!!! And thank you very much for Mr. Darcy’s photo!!!

    I loved the BBC version of P&P and have it on DVD. I’ve got many of the other movies you mentioned too. I love the BBC versions especially for the attention to detail, mannerisms, costumes, etc… Cieran Hinds was fabulous in Persuasion!!! Jeremy Northam and Johnny Lee Miller and Rupert Penry Jones!!!! Oh yes! More please!!!

    My favorite would have to be the BBC version of P&P but Northanger Abbey comes in a close second!!!

    • You’re welcome Kathy. Figured it was the least I could do. 😉 Wet! Darcy is sure to brighten any girl’s day right? I agree that the BBC does a great job of accuracy and attention to detail. I also think it maybe has something to do with British actors and how they’re trained? They have the restraint and ability to pull off period roles. Lots of other actors can’t do it-something about their movements, body language, delivery and speech patterns has too much of a modern sensibility to pull it off completely even in costume.

  9. My friends and I even have a phrase for it: Penrying…as in….Are we Penrying tonight? I understand your feeling the version of Persuasion was rushed, but it’s also my favorite Austen movie choice for a quick snuggle on the couch (which I can’t quite pull off with Firth’s P&P, alas).

    • Hi Cecilia!
      “Penry-ing” That’s hilarious! Lol He and Sally Hawkins had great chemistry in the movie, and I agree it’s much easier to watch in one sitting that the 95 P&P. I’ve never been able to pull that off, though I know people who said they’ve done it. Thanks for coming by!

  10. I’m obsessed with The Lizzie Bennet Diaries! Love it! My fav P&P is the 1995 version, and I really liked the newer Emma. There’s no good MP version at all (but is that really such a loss?)

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