It’s true: these Jane Austen movies have nothing to do with Christmas… except that Christmas vacation is a great time to watch one (or all) of them.
(Sarah’s reading a book right now in which one of the characters has a standing date with Mr. Darcy—er, Colin Firth—on New Year’s Eve, when she watches the 1995 BBC Pride & Prejudice from start to finish. I suspect she’s in good company with her holiday ritual.)
Some Jane Austen adaptations are terrific; some will make you feel like you squandered two hours. Here’s my guide to the best versions.
At a Christmas party two years ago, I spent two hours trying to figure out which of my friends I should set up the guests in attendance, and came home in the mood to watch this version of Emma with Romola Garai. It took me weeks to catch the irony.
This is the best version of Emma; it’s not even close.
Kate Beckinsale makes a fine Emma in this version. I liked Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma at the time, but find her much too irritating as Emma to re-watch now. Romola’s version is perfect, and Jonny Lee Miller makes a great Knightley. (I was surprised, too.)
Sense & Sensibility
Andrew Davies—who brilliantly adapted the 1995 version of Pride & Prejudice for tv—took a similar (read:sexy) approach with this 2008 version of Sense & Sensibility. (See: Dan Stevens chopping wood in the rain.) Acress Hattie Morahan, who played Elinor, refused to watch Emma Thompson’s 1995 performance prior to filming for fear it would influence her performance (and absolutely paralyze her).
This adaptation is fun to watch and quite true to Austen’s story, although it does have a few added scenes, like a duel between Brandon and Willoughby.
2008 is quite good, but Ang Lee’s 1995 version with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet is a classic, even if it’s not the most faithful to the book.
Both modern adaptations are worth watching, but neither is amazing. (Screenwriters, take note.)
Of the two, the subdued 1995 version with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds most resonates.
The 2007 version with Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones has more energy, but that’s not necessarily a good thing: it has a truly terrible ending, in which Anne Elliot’s marathon jog through the streets of Bath culminates in what might just be the worst kiss in the history of movie kisses.
The world is still waiting for a Mansfield Park adaptation that does justice to the book. Neither modern adaptation (1999 or 2007) is worth your time. Read the book while you’re waiting on Hollywood. (Or preferably, the BBC.)
Andrew Davies strikes again. This 2007 version starring Felicity Jones and JJ Feild (and a young Carey Mulligan—I didn’t realize it was her until I saw the credits!) bring’s Austen’s lampoon of Gothic novels to life in a perfect 86 minutes. Don’t worry about the terrible Amazon reviews—those people don’t know what they’re talking about.
Pride and Prejudice
The 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice is the best Austen adaptation, hands down. It’s a faithful adaptation, with gorgeous scenery and brilliant acting. Jennifer Ehle is a marvelous Lizzy and to legions of fans Firth is and always will be Mr. Darcy. (In a wet shirt. In the lake.)
But the 2005 edition with Keira Knightley also has its charms. It’s lush and rich with imagery. (Mr Collins proposing in front of a ham? Perfect.) And it ushered a new generation into Jane Austen fandom.
What’s missing here? What’s your favorite Austen adaptation? (And if you have any holiday viewing rituals, tell us about them in comments!)