This post is brought to you by impatience. I have long said that Austen fans everywhere deserve a truly wonderful Persuasion adaptation. These past two years I’ve been delighted as promising adaptations were announced to be in the works.
But after the exciting announcements were made, we entered the no-fun waiting stage. I can’t imagine Austen would approve of me whining about the long wait until the (not-yet-announced) release dates, and so in the meantime, I’d like to point you toward my favorite versions.
Some Jane Austen adaptations are phenomenal; some are more likely to leave you feeling like you squandered two hours. Here’s my guide to the best versions.
At a Christmas party several years ago, I spent two hours trying to figure out which of my friends I should set up with 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 my favorite version of Emma; it’s not even close. Although I did enjoy the 2020 film starring Anya Taylor-Joy, especially since we watched it together in the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club.
Kate Beckinsale makes a fine Emma in this version. I liked Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma at the time, but tried a re-watch recently and couldn’t get through it. Romola’s version is perfect, and Jonny Lee Miller makes a great Knightley. (I was surprised by that, too!)
Sense & Sensibility
Andrew Davies—who brilliantly adapted the 1995 version of Pride & Prejudice for tv—took a similar (read: sexy) approach with his 2008 version of Sense & Sensibility. (See: Dan Stevens chopping wood in the rain.) Actress Hattie Morahan, who played Elinor, refused to watch Emma Thompson’s 1995 performance prior to filming for fear it would either influence her performance or 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. This is the one I find myself watching most often.
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, if I have any say in the matter, 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 Colin Firth is and will always be Mr. Darcy.
But the 2005 edition with Keira Knightley has its charms. It’s lush and rich with imagery. (Mr Collins proposing in front of a ham? Perfect.) This adaptation ushered a new generation into Jane Austen fandom, which is worth a lot.
Both modern adaptations are worth watching, but neither is amazing. 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 is a strong contender for the worst kiss in the history of movie kisses.
I’m eagerly awaiting the TWO upcoming Persuasion adaptations: one set for Netflix, starring Dakota Johnson
and the other featuring Sarah Snook. (Update: thanks to helpful readers, I’ve learned Sarah Snook’s adaptation is unfortunately not to be. We’re counting on you, Dakota.)
What’s your favorite Austen adaptation? What would you add to this list? Tell us all about it in comments!
P.S. Also worth viewing: 5 favorite Jane Austen-inspired romantic comedies and worth reading: 30 Jane Austen-inspired books for Janeites of all ages. And worthy listening: What Should I Read Next Episode 298: A reading life with no regrets features a relatable Austen scholar who sheds light on WHY we care so much about Austen adaptations—and which ones she and her undergrads love most.