07 February 2018

The Best Adaptations of All of Jane Austen's Novels

Note: I originally published a version of this post on my literature website, Sparrow Tree Square, as a bonus for my English Regency-themed mini-anthology.

The Super Bowl and February sweeps may be the highlight of others' television viewing this month, but my February tradition is to watch adaptations of Jane Austen's novels. It gives me something to pleasant and cozy to look forward to on dreary winter evenings, and the weeks surrounding Valentine's Day are the perfect time to get swept up in the many romantic entanglements of Austen's heroines.

All of Jane Austen's novels have been adapted for film and television multiple times, and I've seen more than one interpretation of most. Over the years I've found my favorite versions of each one, and in this post I'm sharing what I think are the best Austen adaptations and why:

Sense and Sensibility (1995) 
adapted by Emma Thompson, starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet

Although Emma Thompson (who wrote the screenplay for this adaptation and starred in it) is technically too old for the part of Elinor, overall the casting choices in this theatrical film adaptation give it the edge over other versions. Kate Winslet as Marianne, Greg Wise as Willoughby, and Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon do particularly well in portraying a complicated (and in my opinion, ultimately unsatisfying) love triangle.

Pride and Prejudice (1995)
adapted by Andrew Davies, starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth

This six-hour miniseries adaptation is the adaptation of Pride and Prejudice for legions of fans. The 2005 theatrical movie starring Keira Knightley has its champions, but that version comes nowhere close to capturing the essence of the book or sticking faithfully to its plot. The miniseries does both beautifully, thanks to a thoughtful script and excellent acting.

Mansfield Park (2007) 
adapted by Maggie Wadey, starring Billie Piper and Blake Ritson

Mansfield Park is not one of Austen's best-known novels, but this television movie adaptation does a wonderful job bringing it to life. It sticks faithfully to the novel's story, unlike the 1999 theatrical film adaptation, and manages to streamline the many strands of the plot into a cohesive 90-minute film.

Emma (1996) 
adapted by Douglas McGrath, starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam 

I've seen three adaptations of Emma--the 1996 television film adapted by Andrew Davies and starring Kate Beckinsale, the 2009 miniseries adapted by Sandy Welch and starring Romola Garai, and this one. The 1996 movie is by far my favorite, as in my opinion it best captures the breezy elegance of the book's setting and style. I usually object to Americans playing British roles, but I thought that Gwyneth Paltrow did an excellent job with both her accent and her portrayal of Emma.

Northanger Abbey (2007) 
adapted by Andrew Davies, starring Felicity Jones and J. J. Feild

Northanger Abbey has been adapted only twice for film and television, but luckily the 2007 television film adapted by Andrew Davies is very well done. The story is quite different from Austen's other books, with the plot focusing on the runaway imagination of a heroine who loves Gothic novels, and the television adaptation does a good job showcasing the humor and satire of its source material.


Persuasion (1995)
adapted by Nick Dear, starring Amanda Root and Ciarin Hinds
Persuasion (2007)
adapted by Simon Burke, starring Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones

I admit that Persuasion is my least favorite of Austen's novels, and honestly I'm not a big fan of either of the two adaptations I've seen. The theatrical film has good critical reviews, but I find the storytelling confusing and the casting choices odd, while the television film received mixed reviews and was somewhat unmemorable in my opinion. So, I've given them a tied rating, and perhaps someone who actually enjoys the story of Persuasion would be better able to tell which is the superior version!

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