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.
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.
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!