Jane Austen is HOT! I am sure this isn’t news to anyone. Whether an Austen fan or not, unless living on a deserted island for the past 20 years, everyone is aware of the pop culture explosion relating to the English author of six novels who has been dead for two-hundred years. Literary fiction novels, such as my Darcy Saga eight-volume sequel to Pride and Prejudice – see The Novels page for more info – barely scratch the surface of all that is available for the lover of Jane Austen. A rapid Google or Etsy search will prove the point!
Today I thought it would be fun to look at the various cinematic adaptations (movie and TV) of Jane Austen’s novels. I am going to limit myself to straight interpretations rather than the wealth of modern, loosely-based movies, such as Clueless or Lost in Austen (see list at end of post), and I’m not going to belabor MY thoughts. I want to hear what YOU think!
Northanger Abbey has been placed onto the screen only two times, the least of all Austen’s novels. Personally I think this is a shame, since her tongue-in-cheek story of Gothic intrigue and innocent love is a favorite. In 1986 Katharine Schelesinger played Catherine Morland and Peter Firth played Henry Tilney in an 88 minute TV movie on the BBC. A long gap followed until 2007 when Andrew Davies presented his version with Felicity Jones as Catherine and JJ Feild as Mr. Tilney in a 93 minute TV movie on the UK’s ITV channel.
Next in the number of cinema versions is Mansfield Park with three. The BBC in 1983 gave us a 6-episode miniseries starred Sylvestra Le Touzel as Fanny Price and Nicholas Farrell as Edmund Bertram. The 1999 film came next, this one produced by the BBC and Miramax starred Frances O’Connor as Fanny and Jonny Lee Miller as Edmund. Lastly, and most recent, was the 2007 2-hour TV film on ITV with Billie Piper as Fanny and Blake Ritson as Edmund.
Persuasion, Austen’s last published novel, posthumously along with Northanger Abbey in 1817, got it’s first cinematic taste in 1960. A version in 1971 was the next. Neither of these two are as memorable as the more recent offerings. In 1995 the BBC aired a TV movie starring Amanda Root as Anne Elliot and Ciarán Hinds as Captain Frederick Wentworth that was later that same year released theatrically in the US by Sony. In 2007 ITV presented a new version starring Sally Hawkins as Anne and the incredibly sexy Rupert Penry-Jones as Frederick. Okay, I did give a hint as to my preference there!
Sense and Sensibility
Sense and Sensibility ties with Persuasion at four adaptations. 1971 (4 episodes) and 1981 (7 episodes) were TV mini-series on BBC. In 1995 Ang Lee cast Emma Thompson as Elinor Dashwood and Kate Winslet as Marianne Dashwood alongside Hugh Grant as Edward Ferrars and Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon in a feature film by Columbia Pictures that is, to some, the best of the best. Then came the 2008 BBC TV series starring Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield as Elinor and Marianne respectively, with Dan Stevens as Edward, David Morrissey as Brandon, and Dominic Cooper as Willoughby, and suddenly the consensus was not as unanimous!
Six times the story of spoiled, match-making Emma Woodhouse has seen an adaptation made: 1948, 1960, 1972, 1996, and 2009. The most notable, and popular, are the recent versions. Miramax films cast Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma and Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley in the highly acclaimed and award winning 1996 theatrical release. A 4-hour treatment on the BBC in 2009 starred Romola Garai as Emma, Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley, and the brilliant Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse.
Pride and Prejudice
Austen’s most popular novel wins the prize with no less than eight film versions made. First in 1938, then 1940 with the Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier feature film, and again in 1952, 1958, and 1967 on TV. The 1980 BBC 5-episode series starring Elizabeth Garvie as Lizzy Bennet and David Rintoul as Mr. Darcy is to this day a favorite of many. Yes, even more so than the 1995 6-episode BBC mini-series showcasing Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, although few argue that Andrew Davies captured something special with his version. Or maybe it was Firth in a wet shirt. Going for a more romantic, realism emphasis, director Joe Wright’s 2005 feature film by Working Title starred Keira Knightley as Lizzy and Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy, and earned critical acclaim and numerous awards, both in the UK and the US.
How many of these have you seen? Just about all of them can be purchased or rented on DVD or via services like Netflix. Get them all and you could have a Jane Austen movie fest all weekend! Then, when done with that, start on the plethora of movies that have taken the world and characters on Austen, or in some cases Austen herself, into weird and wild places.
The Austen-fun is never ending!
Modern, loosely-based Austen adaptations and inspirations
From Prada to Nada
Scents and Sensibility
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries
Lost in Austen
Bride and Prejudice
Miss Austen Regrets
The Jane Austen Book Club
Bridget Jones’ Diary
Jane Austen in Manhattan