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The 10 Best Jane Austen Adaptations Ever

Feb 22 2020 - 3:05pm

Jane Austen's beloved classics like Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion have been charming readers for centuries now. But, as delightful as the books are, there's something even more exhilarating about seeing Jane Austen's works being adapted for television and film [1]. Case in point: Sanditon [2], Andrew Davies's take on Ms. Austen's unfinished novel about a young woman's adventures in a seaside town brimming with drama. The PBS Masterpiece series is unrepentant in its sexiness (we're still not over the shock of seeing Mr. Sidney Parker's bare butt), and it's happy to subvert expectations by tackling subjects like racism head on. The series takes a nugget of Austen's work and turns it into something fresh, fun, and current — but is it really one of the best Austen adaptations ever [3]?

Read on to see how we think Sanditon stacks up [4] against the other entries in the Austen adaptation canon, including the much-loved 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice.

Northanger Abbey (2007)

Northanger Abbey is a tricky novel to adapt, because it's not quite as timeless as the others. After all, Austen was satirizing the Gothic novels that were so popular during her time. That sense of humor is integral to the story of Catherine Morland — a Gothic-novel-obsessed young woman who believes she has stumbled into a real-life Jane Eyre scenario. The 2007 TV movie is such a delight, because it doesn't simply laugh at Catherine's growing sense of foreboding, it also acknowledges that she's a young woman who has wandered into a strange world of money that's scary with or without dark family secrets attached.

Add in a charming, but never cloying, performance from a young Felicity Jones as Catherine, and it's easy to proclaim this film one of the most underrated Austen adaptations out there.

Watch Northanger Abbey on Amazon Video [5].

Persuasion (1995)

As you'll soon see, 1995 was an excellent year for Austen fans. Not only did '95 give the world Colin Firth [6] as Mr. Darcy, it also served up an understated film version of Persuasion. Starring Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds as Anne and Captain Wentworth respectively, the BBC movie is a cozy story of two people finding love again after meddling family members broke them apart. There's a natural sweetness to Persuasion, and it shines through thanks to the chemistry between Root and Hinds.

Watch Persuasion on Amazon Video [7].

Mansfield Park (1999)

We love Firth, but the real MVM (Most Valuable Man) of Austen adaptations is Jonny Lee Miller. The actor made his Austen debut in 1999's Mansfield Park where he plays the charming Edward — the only person in the wealthy Bertram household that truly understands Fanny. Miller is a big part of why the movie is endlessly rewatchable, but its the liberties that director Patricia Rozema takes with the story that makes this version a classic.

Rozema includes a subplot that tackles the Bertram family's involvement in slave trading, and includes elements from Austen's own life to create an adaptation of Mansfield Park that isn't afraid to incorporate the more difficult elements of the era into the story.

Watch Mansfield Park on Netflix [8].

Love and Friendship

Love and Friendship adapts Austen's epistolary novel Lady Susan into a romp about a widow who is hilariously ruthless about finding her daughter a match. Susan isn't your typical Austen protagonist: she loves a good scheme, and she throws everyone around her off balance in the process. Kate Beckinsale [9] seems to have a ball playing the mischievous role, which only adds to the movie's appeal.

Watch Love and Friendship on Amazon Video [10].

Sanditon

Sanditon may be the new kid on the block, but this bold adaptation has already earned a place on the all-time greats list as far as we're concerned. Charlotte's adventures in the seaside town of Sanditon enraged some Austen fans when the series aired in the UK due to the blatant sexiness and outwardly devious characters. To some, it simply wasn't Austen, but it's the show's fearlessness in using a partial text as a jumping off point to tell a story about a town full of fierce women who are determined to control their own destinies at any cost that makes it so addictive.

No, Sanditon isn't your typical Austen adaptation, but it maintains the author's rebellious spirit while also embracing a more inclusive and surprising brand of storytelling.

Watch Sanditon on PBS.org [11].

Emma (2009)

Sorry, Gwyneth Paltrow [12], but Romola Garai is our Emma Woodhouse. (And Austen MVP Miller is most certainly our Mr. Knightley.) Emma is such a tricky character to translate to the screen, because she's the ultimate busybody. However, Garai makes Emma's endless matchmaking seem well-intentioned rather than reckless. And when her schemes get too out of hand, Miller's Mr. Knightley is always ready to offer a counterargument as her long-suffering and eager verbal sparring partner.

The miniseries gets pretty much everything about Emma right, and that includes the sizzling-hot chemistry between Emma and Mr. Knightley.

Watch Emma on Hulu [13].

Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Joe Wright's Pride and Prejudice is cinematic eye candy. Put simply, this movie is beautiful. Every frame is full of golden light that only accentuates Darcy and Elizabeth's slow-burn romance. It may not have Colin Firth [14] in a wet shirt, but the 2005 film is a classic in its own right.

Watch Pride and Prejudice on Starz [15].

Clueless

OK, maybe Alicia Silverstone [16] is our Emma. Clueless is a prime example of the magic that can happen when Austen's works are used as inspiration rather than sacred texts. The movie transplants the story of Emma to '90s-era Beverly Hills, and the result is a classic that inspired an entire generation's slang and fashion choices. It also stars Paul Rudd [17] as the slacker-dude version of Mr. Knightley, which is a true gift from the movie gods.

Watch Clueless on Amazon Video [18].

Pride and Prejudice (1995)

Since it was released in 1995, the BBC's Pride and Prejudice miniseries has become one of the most well-known adaptations of Austen's works. And for good reason. Everything about the series is exquisitely crafted, from the script to the costumes to the casting. Much has been made of Firth bringing a whole new level of smoldering sexiness to Mr. Darcy, but Jennifer Ehle's Elizabeth is equally revolutionary. She imbues Elizabeth with all the confidence and stubbornness that makes her and Darcy a perfect match on screen and in the book.

Watch Pride and Prejudice on Hulu [19].

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

See, we told you that 1995 was the definitive year for Austen adaptations. In addition to Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice, '95 also served up the best film version of an Austen work yet: Sense and Sensibility. Directed by Ang Lee and written by Emma Thompson [20], the movie is a stunningly crafted tale of sisterhood and romance with a stacked cast of gifted actors.

From Thompson's quiet strength as elder sister Elinor to a bright-eyed Kate Winslet [21] as ultimate romantic Marianne, this is what an Austen adaptation looks like when every single element comes together to create cinematic perfection.

Watch Sense and Sensibility on Showtime [22].


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