My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations

Ranking the best Jane Austen movies (and mini-series) from Colin Firth's Darcy to the latest Persuasion with Dakota Johnson.

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.

Emma

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs Darcy

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

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 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.

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. This is the one I find myself watching most often.

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, if I have any say in the matter, 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 Colin Firth is and will always be Mr. Darcy.

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs 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.

Persuasion

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.

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    • Lee Ann says:

      While the 1995 version will always be my favorite, I also love the 2005 movie. I like the performances, and the cinematography and soundtrack are absolutely gorgeous.
      We planned our first trip to England to include filming sites for both versions, visiting Lacock, Chatsworth (where they had that Mr. Darcy bust in their sculpture hall!), and Stourhead Gardens. Driving up to the site with the soundtrack playing is a cherished memory, as is finding a glass of champagne someone left at the Temple of Apollo (the location of the first proposal scene). I hope whoever proposed there had better luck!

      • Adrien says:

        Also as a sidenote… at the beginning of the pandemic Jennifer Ehle went chapter by chapter through Pride and Prejudice and it was just the best. She just filmed it on her phone via Instagram wherever she was, often in her car with her dog. You can find it on Youtube if interested.

  1. Gail Wood says:

    There is a 1980 BBC/Masterpiece Theatre adaptation of Pride and Prejudice that is the best! The Colin Firth version is from Darcy’s point of view, though wonderful, is not true to the book. The 1980. Erosion is truer and very well done. And a trivia point that The actor playing Mary Bennet is now seen as Mrs C on Grantchester

    The 1980 version is currently streaming on Acorn.

    • Suzy says:

      ABSOLUTELY AGREE with you!!! In my eyes, specifically because of Elizabeth Garvie as Lizzy. She is beautiful, pert, just the right amount of sassy and humor, and has the most intelligent eyes. I’m sorry, Jennifer Ehle looks too old and her eyes are simpering.

    • Robynm says:

      I love the Mr. Darcy in that version as well. I had a mad crush on him at the time. Very proud indeed. The actor who portrayed him was on the Crown as well , David Rintoul played Michael Adeane private secretary to Queen Elizabeth in the 2019 season.

  2. Eileen says:

    Agree with all comments about 1995 version of P & P as my favorite. One reason that doesn’t get enough credit is the truly amazing MUSICAL SCORE! Who can listen to the rapid piano notes of the opening measures without getting heart flutters of anticipation? Plus, such great French horn parts throughout (I am biased, my daughter played French Horn for years). As an aside, the score is wonderful as background music to listen to while working from home.

  3. Pamela Bator says:

    I fell in love with the Mansfield Park adaptation when I watched with the director’s voice explaining decisions and scenes. Have you watched with this special dubbing? If not, I highly recommend doing so!

  4. Karen Q Jeske says:

    I agree. I would “elevate” the Amanda Root/Ciaran Hinds version of Persuasion to “Amazing” at least for me. It’s such a comforting, lovely film that I’ve watched many many times.

  5. Ashling says:

    The Richard Armitage version of North and South is one of my favorite period pieces of all time. I think it’s amazing. And Toby Stephens is a fantastic Rochester.

  6. Christie says:

    2005 P&P is the only version I will watch. Have I watched any others in order to compare? No.
    I am completely enamored with my version of P&P and will not be swayed. Declaration of love in the rain? Check. Perfect headstrong obstinate girl? Check.
    Also- hand flex. If you know you know.

  7. Ashling says:

    Totally agree about Mansfield Park. Still waiting on a good adaptation of that book. And I agree with all of the comments regarding the kiss at the end of the newest Persuasion adaptation. It’s terrible, but no movie kiss will ever be as awful as the kiss between Jane & Rochester in the 1997 version with Samantha Morton & Ciaran Hinds. I don’t know what Morton was trying to do in that scene, but it’s truly terrible and too awkward to even watch.

    But I love the 1995 version of Persuasion. I’m possibly biased due to my love of Ciaran Hinds as an actor, but I still think it’s one of my favorite Austen adaptations. I am not (really, really NOT) looking forward to the Dakota Johnson version. I just haven’t liked her acting. Maybe she will surprise me, but I won’t get my hopes up. The Sarah Snook version was cancelled, according to an interview she did with Vogue.

  8. Hilty St. Denis says:

    I truly LOVE the Persuasion from 1995! Besides Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility it’s my favorite adaptation. I used to love Kiera Knightly’s Pride and Prejudice but the older I get the more it lags.

  9. Cecilia M says:

    Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel and I agree that both modern adaptations are not great. The actors in the older version are too old for the roles! And yes, the running at the end of the newer one is complete madness!!! I can’t wait for these new adaptations to come out!
    I completely agree that the Kiera knightly version of P&P is trash. Long love the 1995 version!!!

  10. Jill says:

    Emma: Gwyneth Paltrow. Purely because she makes Emma likable, somewhat, when the book didn’t do that for me. I really love Mr. Knightley’s character and still cannot fathom how he and Emma ended up together. 🤷‍♀️
    Sense & Sensibility: 1995. Nostalgia and score and subtle humor wins here. 2008 Eleanor and Edward are marvelous too.
    Persuasion: Ciara Hinds and Amanda Root wins. Rupert Penry-Jones does an excellent job as Captain Wentworth, and those cast as his friends in the 2007 are also wonderful. The actress who plays sister Mary in both versions do their job so well that Mary is completely cringey in exactly the right overbearing ways. It is the jumpy closing running scenes and that awful kiss that kill the 2007 version. Can someone please fix that?
    Northanger Abbey: None. Not my favorite book and the movies were a bust for our family as well.
    Mansfield Park: Same as Northanger Abbey.
    Pride and Prejudice: I first watched and loved the black and white version with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier version. Regardless of story liberties and costumes from 1860 (beautiful as they were), he is my favorite Darcy and she is my favorite Elizabeth. Faithful to the book though? Then it’s BBC’s 1980 version. I adore how much more Charlotte speaks her insights and that we hear Elizabeth’s internal dialogue. It was hard to watch initially, but after a few viewings it is our family’s favorite because of the dialogue details.

    • Bookworm1858 says:

      I love Laurence Olivier’s Darcy he might be my favorite (though Matthew Macfadyen’s hand flex is rightfully iconic.)

  11. Helen says:

    Colin Firth version is terrific, Mrs Bennett capture perfectly and the long suffering Mr Bennett makes for a great version

  12. Anki says:

    Add me to the group of people extolling the virtues of the 1980 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice, starring Elizabeth Garvie as Elizabeth Bennet and David Rintoul as Darcy. I’m sad because it basically *never* gets mentioned in lists like these, and it’s a really good production!

    Maybe it’s because this was the first version I can remember watching, but David Rintoul will always be Mr. Darcy for me.

    • Robyn says:

      Absolutely. I commented above he was super dreamy in that production. I think that will always be my favorite production. Although the Colin Firth version will do in a pinch.

  13. Hannah says:

    Yes, so much yes on Emma with Romola Garai! Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse was perfection.
    I don’t know if Dakota Johnson has the emotional depth to play Anne Eliot. I hope she does because we are overdue for a good portrayal! I love Sally Hawkins, and I love this character, but I don’t think Sally Hawkins was right for this character. Rupert Penry-Jones did a decent job as Captain Wentworth, but I always felt that he was trying to play Mr. Darcy playing Captain Wentworth.

    • Jill says:

      I have never thought if Rupert Penry-Jones performance that way, but you’re right! He would make a fabulous Mr. Darcy.

  14. keren says:

    1995 Pride and prejudice is definitely my favourite, coincidentally I burrowed the book from the library right before it began and started both at about the same time.
    I also love Romola Garai’s Emma,I think she was perfect for that role.

    • Austin says:

      I think Mansfield Park is trickier to adapt, partly because Fanny is such a quiet character and partly because I think even Jane Austen was quietly rooting for Mary and Henry Crawford! I mean, not completely, but….

      At any rate, Fanny’s quiet steady character and her conviction to do what is right even when NO ONE around her is doing right is what makes her great. That’s hard to show on screen (this is a problem with adapting Persuasion as well).

      Book Fanny goes outside in the heat and almost faints. Billie Piper is the picture of health and she’s bursting with energy.

  15. Christine Peterson says:

    BBC Audible Original of Emma (2018) is a great one! An audio book adaptation with Emma Thompson as narrator. A well done radio play – highly recommend!

  16. Bookworm1858 says:

    I guess it depends on your definition of adaptation but Clueless is my absolute favorite film based on a Jane Austen novel (I started watching when I was about 7 before I had read any Austen!) For more faithful adaptations, I have a soft spot for Gwyneth Paltrow’s Emma and while I thought Romola Garai was lovely, I never got over my bitterness that Jonny Lee Miller played TWO Austen heroes especially because I still think Richard Armitage would have been a fine Mr. Knightley and was at least briefly rumored to be in contention.

    I also prefer the 2005 P&P – Keira Knightley is my favorite contemporary actor, the score is lovely and one of my favorites, and of course the hand flex <3

    • Ashling says:

      I did not know that about Richard Armitage and Emma. I already love both versions of Emma, and while I think Jonny Lee Miller did a great job as Mr. Knightley, I think Richard Armitage would have done a fantastic job too.

  17. Elisabeth says:

    Personally, I’m partial to Pride & Prejudice & Zombies – both the book and the movie. 😉 Then there’s Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters, which is also phenomenal, but it hasn’t been made into a movie. Alas.

    That said, there’s not an Austen adaptation I don’t enjoy. I definitely prefer certain versions over others, but I think it’s mostly due to which ones I saw first.

  18. Karin Miller says:

    Gotta say, I love the Keira version of P&P best. (I know, I know…) And I haven’t watched the Emma with Romola Garai. Will be watching soon! Besides that, I agree with every choice. In fact, last month I read Mansfield Park and was looking forward to watching a film adaptation. After reading the many poor reviews of the various films, I decided to not watch any. Your comment seconds my choice. Thank you!

  19. Mary Kay says:

    I’d definitely put “Clueless” on this list. While I know that it’s set in 1990’s LA instead of 1800’s England, and the heroine is named Cher instead of Emma, it’s a remarkably faithful adaptation that follows the book scene for scene.
    I really don’t care for the 2005 P&P. The mood is more Brontë than Austen and missed the lightness and humor of P&P, imho.

  20. Suzy says:

    I agree with you, Anne, on the Romola Garai version and absolutely all your comments on all the Emmas, for the same reasons. Emma has always been my favorite book.
    As I replied above, I think Elizabeth Garvie in 1980 is the best Elizabeth and she gets no credit! But I like other actors and reasons for the other P & P’s—the lush scenery in Keira Knightley’s version, but that one left out all the good Jane Austen lines! I listened in vain for them! And other versions have a good Mr. Collins, or Mrs. Bennet or Mr Bennett or Lady Catherine de Bourgh (sorry I’d have to watch them all again to remember which was which.). For Sense and Sensibility, Emma Thompson’s version has it hands down for me. I learned to LIKE S & S from that version, it was so very glorious at the end.
    The other Jane Austen novels have not been that great on the screen, which is a shame. They should keep trying!
    What does anybody think of the Sanditon series? I love the setting and the heroine, but I think this is going way beyond anything Jane herself would write…..it’s shocking!

  21. Jenn G says:

    Waving my fan flag for the 1995 Persuasion – I didn’t mind that the actors were older, and in fact actually thought their casting lent to the perception that time had passed and they had changed from their younger selves.
    I am not super excited about a Dakota Johnson Persuasion, but I guess I could be won over (Persuaded?). I’d love to see Richard Armitage as a Captain Wentworth.

    • Lauren says:

      I completely concur, Jenn! I don’t think I could even bring myself to watch the Dakota Johnson version, mostly because I just can’t stand her acting.

  22. Brenda says:

    I love both Persuasions, awkward kiss notwithstanding. And I love both the 1995 and 2005 traditional Pride & Prejudice adaptions. We’ve actually watching both in the last couple of days, as a marathon of sorts and they both have their strengths. I appreciate the thoroughness of the 6 hour version, and I enjoy the colors, beauty, music, and imagery of the 2005 version (that hand flex… swoon).

  23. Sharon says:

    I first watched the film version with Kierra Knightley with my daughter who was taking notes for a college fashion history class. I absolutely loved it, had never read the book. Then I watched the BBC series and loved that too. And I actually read the book and enjoyed the extra details involved there. Regarding the movie/series, I liked the female actors better in the movie version and the males in the series. But both versions were excellent.

  24. Susan Meadows says:

    I watched the BBC Pride & Predjudice this past weekend with Jennifer Ehl and Colin Firth. It is perfection!!!

  25. Audrey says:

    The BBC P&P is perfection. Always has been, always will be.

    The costumes and scenery in the 2020 Emma are beyond exquisite and like looking at fine confectionery. My mother is a historian and costume designer and she said they knocked it out of the park.

    And Clueless is one of the the best modern adaptations of, well, anything. I saw it for the first time well before I read any Jane Austen or understood half the references or innuendo, but it remains one of my favorite movies of all time.

    Also, just for fun, check out Stone Cold Jane Austen (aka Professor Devoney Looser) on Twitter. English professor with a badass roller derby alter ego!
    https://mobile.twitter.com/stonecoldjane

  26. Elizabeth Grant says:

    I actually really liked the 1987 version of Northanger Abbey with Peter Firth, Robert Hardy, and Katharine Schlesinger. I thought it really captured the humor of Jane Austen’s satire. Just thought I’d throw it out there since it hadn’t been mentioned…

  27. Candice says:

    I became an Austenite on the 1995 Pride and Prejudice mini-series, so it will always hold a special place in my heart. But allow me to make the case for the 2005 film version in bullet-point form.
    • the long single shot at the party (Imagine being the last person in that shot, knowing you have to reset everything if you mess up!)
    • Mr. Collins bragging about the “excellent boiled potatoes.”
    • the HAND FLEX for crying out loud
    • the way Donald Sutherland and Kiera Knightly are doing the same hand gestures in the scene where he gives her his blessing
    • the way Matthew Macfadyen says, “So this is your opinion of me.”
    • the believability of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet as a married couple
    • the musical score, my goodness
    • Darcy walking through the field in the mist as the sun is rising and his coat tails are blowing in the wind, I mean, COME ON

    • KCulp says:

      I showed the McFayden P&P to my students, and one of my boys said, “Darcy walks up like a superhero!” when that scene played.

    • Brenda Gelhar says:

      Love this list! “the HAND FLEX for crying out loud”! Darcy walking through the field (swoon!). So many moments that make it great! And yes!! THE SCORE!
      For me the 1995 BBC version of P&P was well done, but had one miscast: Jane. Jane Bennett is supposed to be THE town beauty and in the 1995 version…was not. (not trying to be judgmental but compare side by side with Rosamunde Pike and you’ll see my point. Also any fans of Firefly will never unsee 1995 Jane’s resemblance to Alan Tudyk). Colin Firth and the lake scene will be iconic until the end of time, but I will stay on the bandwagon and take all the flack for liking the 2005 P&P film with Macfadyen, Knightley, Pike, Sutherland and all the rest.

  28. Marie says:

    I wanted to add the parody, “Lost In Austen” to the mix. By the BBC, the heroine is a modern girl who finds Lizzie Bennet in her house and changes places with her. Hilarity ensues, and with the plot of Pride and Prejudice going haywire with the “intruder.” It’s especially great because of the great British acting and costumes/sets – I think only the Beeb could have done this one

    • Candice says:

      Yes, “Lost in Austen” is so much fun! I watched it for the first time when I was sick with the flu on vacation (do not recommend), and now I want to watch it every time I’m sick. But it’s also good for when you’re feeling well. 🙂

  29. Heather Toft says:

    Although not an accurate telling of Pride & Prejudice, I do find joy in watching the 1940 version. If you haven’t seen it, it paints Lady Catherine in a different light and gives the sisters an ending too.
    My favourite is the BBC 1995 version.
    I must see the Romola Garai version of Emma – but I do love the 2020 version which adds in a little humour to make it a joy to watch.
    And I have been known to go hunting for adaptations of Jane’s lesser known works. Kate Beckinsale strikes again in Love & Friendship which is a version of Lady Susan and hilarious. And I did enjoy the tv series of Sanditon although the ending made me distraught.
    And to finish, I am looking forward to the new adaptation of Persuasion but it must be noted that the 1995 movie was my original introduction to Jane Austen, prior to reading any of the books, and so I do find pleasure in watching it still.

  30. Christina Griffin says:

    At the end of 2021 I reread “Mansfield Park” after a long hiatus; I was astounded by the depth and breadth of Jane’s psychological insight into her cast of characters, in particular the highly sophisticated Crawfords. I also revisited Patricia Rozema’s movie which, despite its omissions, is very thought-provoking and beautifully cast and acted.Lindsay Duncan plays both the pampered Lady Bertram and her slatternly sister, Fanny’s mother, and Hugh Bonneville (“Downton Abbey”) is hilarious as the dull-witted Mr. Rushworth. Costumes and location settings are first-rate.

  31. DeAnn says:

    I am 95% finished with ‘The Complete Austen Novels’ on Kindle, and now I see I shall have to move into ‘the complete Austen movies’.

    My husband and I watched all of the P & P movies last year I disliked the Laurence Olivier version because of the changes they made in the story. And the COSTUMES! How could they?

    The BBC Series will probably always be my favorite, but I was charmed by Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennett. His character actually loved his wife! Silly as she was.

    • Candice says:

      Yes, one of my favorite things about the 2005 P&P is that I can actually imagine why Mr. and Mrs. Bennett married each other.

  32. Barbara Feeney says:

    Not mentioned was the first BBC version of P&P from 1980. Elizabeth Garvie will always be Elizabeth Bennett to me, although in some ways the two subsequent versions were better overall.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the 1999 version of Mansfield Park. Embeth Davidtz was a charming Fanny Price – a rare case of enjoying the movie more than the book…

    • Suzy says:

      I agreed, twice, on the casting of Eliz Bennett in the 1980 version (above)—you said it right—“Elizabeth Garvie will always be Elizabeth Bennett to me”. She is the charming-est and prettiest! If people have not seen her, they are missing out. The rest of the production leaves something to be desired.

  33. Katie says:

    It’s really old, but I adore the 1983 BBC version of Mansfield Park. It captures the characters perfectly for me. So if you’re looking for an adaptation of that one and don’t mind if it’s a bit dated, I’d check that one out:).

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