My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations.

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations.

Reposting from this time last year, because this remains an excellent way to spend your Christmas vacation. 

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.


My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs Darcy

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

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs Darcy

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.

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs Darcy

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.

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs Darcy


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.

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs Darcy

Mansfield Park

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.)

Northanger Abbey

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs Darcy

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

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs Darcy

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.)

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs Darcy

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!)

P.S. 5 favorite Jane Austen-inspired romantic comedies

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  1. Nancy says:

    I have watched all of the adaptations that you have mentioned except The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and the 1980’s P & P. I can watch all of them over and over! My favorite is the !995 P& P and the J.J. Field Northanger Abbey. Persuasion is probably my favorite story, so I can forgive the kiss because I love the last scene- A little in love with the Captain Wentworth! Although, the best part is hearing the letter in the Ciarin Hinds version. I loved PBS Death at Pemberley mostly because I loved seeing my old friends again and I have always wondered about Georgiana! I also just watched Austenland-which is very silly but made me want to go there! Ha, we love our Jane!

  2. Sandi says:

    Just found this via Pinterest. I ADORE Romola Garai’s Emma. And I quite concur, Jonny Lee Miller as Knightley is perfection. His age, his bearing – all perfect. He does Awkward Romantic Hero in a wonderful way.

    Haven’t been able to stomach trying a Northanger Abbey rendition – I know it’s a lampoon of a book, but I never liked it.

    And your pick for S & S is my favorite, too.

    Thank you for a smile-prompting post. 🙂

  3. Rosie says:

    I had once made a list of my top five favorite Austen adaptations. In regard to “PERSUASION”, I listed all three versions – 1971, 1995 and 2007 – as a tie. I liked all three versions very much, due to the original story. But . . . all three had flaws that made it impossible for me to choose one above the others.

  4. Kirsten says:

    If I have a day to myself, which is rare, there’s nothing better than the Colin Firth viewing of P&P. I agree with the other poster about the scenery and music of the Keira Knightley version. Simply stunning. My only complaint with the Colin Firth version of P&P is that Jane is supposed to be the beautiful daughter and Elizabeth is supposed to be plain…but in that movie its the opposite. I didn’t find Jane all that attractive in that version. I love the Ehle and Firth were reunited in The Kings Speech.
    I’ll have to check out the newer version of Northanger Abbey. Its one of my favorite JA books to read, but the older movie didn’t do much for me.
    I LOVED Austenland. I think we can all relate a little bit to the main character. I carry my “I ‘heart’ Darcy” tote with pride.

    • Jess says:

      I feel the same way about Jane in that one too, but someone once mentioned to me that the Jane in the BBC version is the classical Greek/Roman kind of beauty and if viewed that way she would have been the prettier one. Interesting, but I still thought meh, about her!

  5. Elizabeth says:

    2009 Emma is also my favorite; Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller are just awesome! And I agree that both adaptations of S&S are great, but I have to favor the 2008 version. Kate Winslet is my absolute favorite part of the ’95 one, but I felt like the casting and overall feel of the new one does the book better justice. Cast ages are more on point, the coastal scenery is perfect, and… just being honest, Dan Stevens 😉 And I agree that the 2007 Persuasion is severely weakened by that atrocious kissing scene, but I do really love Rupert Penry-Jones as Wentworth. I’d be interested in another film take on that one though! And I know many people disown me as a true Austen fan for saying this, but I pick the 2005 Pride and Prejudice when asked. I think both adaptations are excellent and certainly both deserve much praise in different ways, but the 2005 one is just gorgeous and casted better to me (Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennet is one of my favorites!). The music, scenery, costumes… all of it is beautiful! I do wish it wasn’t as rushed, but I think it still captures the heart of the book in an endearing and gorgeous way.

    • Joy Branham says:

      The only part that bothered me about the 2005 version of P&P is that Lizzie never wore a bonnet while all the other women and girls did! Totally anachronistic.

  6. Lynn D says:

    Maybe this goes in the list inspired by Jane Austen, but I also adore Lost in Austen. Watched it on ovation and had to buy it. I always watch it after Keira Knightly’s P&P.

  7. I had NO idea there was a version of Emma with Romola Garai – how marvelous! She is a fantastic actress and I was fortunate enough to see her on the stage in New York. Thanks for the tip!

  8. Rochelle Hershberger says:

    I am so tickled that the 2008 Sense and Sensibility is your favorite! I have made it my mission to spread the brilliance of this version to anyone who will listen 🙂

  9. Laura says:

    You hit the best ones. I did generally like the 1999 Mansfield park but I think that’s because I like Johnny Lee Miller as Edmund. So glad PBS (BBC?) redid the Austen films in 2007. It made for a fun couple of months as they were released 🙂

  10. Becki says:

    Oh, this is great! I thought I knew all the film versions of Austen novels, and you’ve come up with new (to me) ones. Hooray!
    So, have you ever watched Bride and Prejudice? It’s a Bollywood-themed version of P&P. I love the singing and dance-production numbers. I just watched it again and love it just as much as ever.
    And have you watched Clueless as an Emma adaptation? Totally fun!

  11. Cassie says:

    I’ve always felt like a lone duck in that Sense and Sensibility is my favorite Austen book and movie (Emma Thompson version). For Pride and Prejudice, I like Keira Knightley as Jane but Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy.

    • Lizzy says:

      I agree. Not faithful to the book necessarily but clearly created by someone who loved Austen and knew how to incorporate parts of Austen herself into the story (the history of England scene is quoting work Austen herself wrote in her younger years). Also Jonny Lee Miller makes for a very dashing Austen hero – hence why he’s been cast as one twice.

  12. Jennifer says:

    I really love the 1999 Mansfield Park. It wasn’t intended to be a faithful adaptation, but rather, a different perspective, much in the way Jo Baker’s “Longbourn” takes Pride and Prejudice as a starting point to enter that world from a different perspective. Choosing to infuse Fanny Price’s personality with that of Austen herself is the most daring of the film’s departures, and I can understand those who reject that choice and hence the rest of the movie. But I am not a huge fan of Fanny as she is, so I enjoy this alternative version. In the meantime, we get to examine class differences, the brutality that underlay the so-called aristocracy as they propped up their estates with slavery, the hypocrisy of all manner of social niceties that are really about trophy-hunting (material and amorous). The director, Patricia Romeza, said at the time that we have a habit of wanting to encase people of earlier times in a simplistic piety and fustiness, whereas they would have seen themselves as modern, they would have been looking on the previous generation’s mores as old-fashioned. And that is not far from what Austen herself does in the novel. Furthermore, it is a gorgeously filmed work with a lovely soundtrack. Don’t watch it if you just want the novel stuck on the screen for you; do watch it if you want to see how Austen can inspire a great movie.

  13. Nancy says:

    I completely agree with this list! Thank you! Being new to these movies, I’ve been binge watching them and have made sure to watch all adaptations. The one that I thought was terrible was Emma Thompson’s version of Sense and Sensibility. In my opinion it doesn’t compare to the 2008 version. It felt very rushed. Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman were much too old to be playing their characters. Both Thompson and Grant were 35 at the time playing a 19 and 23 year old respectively. Alan Rickman was 50 playing a 35 year old and was 30 years older than Kate Winslet. I know many love this version and I don’t mean to to be disrespectful. Just wanted to add my two cents.

  14. Nancy says:

    Just a side note, I loved Austenland! JJ Feild was perfect as Mr. Henry Nobley. I’ve just started watching Northanger Abbey and I was so happy to see him playing the character Henry Tillney. Jennifer Coolidge was hilarious. If anyone is hesitating watching it because it looks too silly, give it a try. You might be pleasantly surprised.

  15. Connor says:

    Stumbled across this while looking for new Austen adaptations. Wonderful list, on the whole, but I could not agree with your estimation of Hawkins’ and Jones’ kiss at the end of Persuasion. The actors considered it the “naughtiest” kiss ever in Austen, but besides that bit of originality I thought the kiss was an accurate interpretation of Anne’s earnest feelings, long bubbling under the surface and finally freed to burst forth in uncontainable passion and eagerness. Anne must meet him in this one instance, to give the seal to her promise of being immune to persuasion of any kind except their love.

    I would be interested, however, to hear why you disapproved of it so completely!

    • Lee Ann says:

      I thought it was ridiculous seeing Anne running all over Bath, and then, once she finds him, drawing out the kissing scene like they did. The poor woman looks like a guppy out of water.

  16. MsAnneElliot says:

    Great list. I see I am the odd one out. I completely disagree about Mansfield Park. I absolutely love the Francis O’Connor and Johnny Lee Miller version.

    • Nynaewe says:

      I agree with you, I really liked that movie. However it’s not a faithful adaptation, as they completely change the main character, Fanny (but since I did’t really like her in the book, I didn’t mind).

  17. Nynaewe says:

    I’m so glad that I’m not the only one appalled by the running scene in Persuations. I really liked the movie until then. I also liked the 1995 adaptation, but it frustrates me that none of the movies really captures the book.

    Romola Garai’s Emma is my fav as well and as to Sense and Sensibility I enjoy both of them equally, as both has some minor flaws.

    I did enjoy the 1999 version of Mansfield Park (but I am aware that they change Fanny a lot) and I loved Northanger Abby.

    Regarding Pride and Prejudice I used to swear to the 1995 version, however there is something about 2005 version that resonates with me. It’s such a beautiful film with an amazing cast. And the music and imagery is close to perfection.

  18. Irish0120 says:

    I’ve only read one comment on the Lizzy Bennet diaries. While it’s not a movie I thought it was a great adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in today’s society and I think opened Jane Austen’s world to an entirely new fan base.

  19. Sandra w says:

    No-one has mentioned Lost in Austen which is a scream and a lovely tribute to Jane Austen at same time. I too love Persuasion and don’t think a film version has done it justice yet although love the melancholy feel of the Amanda Root version. Richard Curtis or Andrew Davies or Sue Birtwhistle take note -a BBC series would be the best thing ever.

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