When it comes to Jane Austen, if you, like me, don’t read her novels, likely you’ve seen an adaptation (or two) of Austen’s literary romances. I know I certainly have a list of favorite Jane Austen adaptations and this is how I rank Jane Austen adaptations, some of which may be a bit controversial.
FILM REVIEW | ‘A Good Woman’ is an Interesting Period Drama Romance
Given the new release of Autumn Wilde’s Emma, I thought it could be fun to look at some of the past adaptations of Jane Austen, and in that, to discuss which of these are among my personal favorites (better known as “ranking” the Austen adaptations). From the era of 80s “stage” productions to mini-series and films, to the more recent versions, I’ve seen a host of Jane Austen films. With exception to maybe five, I feel as if the “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” adage applies to the relationship I have with Austen.
I’m sorting these only by those that are actually period dramas so I’ve omitted any contemporary interpretations of her works (though I’m always game to talk about them, too).
As of yet, I have not seen the 2020 Emma adaptation but it’s not for lack of curiosity. No, it’s because it’s only in a theater about an hour away, so for now I’m just hopeful the turnaround will be quick. In the meantime, there’s plenty of Austen to enjoy, some of which are among my most favorites. With that said, this is going to be a long list, so let’s get to it.
How I Rank A Few of the Jane Austen Romance Adaptations
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15: Northanger Abbey (1987)
To be fair I’ve blocked this one out… a lot. I just remember it being so bad because of painful storytelling and its stage-like presence. But then, again, like anything that’s subjective. Find on Amazon Video
14: Sense & Sensibility (1981)
Don’t really remember this one, but like anything from this era of BBC productions, it’s got a “stage” play production quality. This is, of course, the classic Austen story of two sisters and their quest to find love. Find on Amazon Video
13: Mansfield Park (1983)
In my opinion, this era of adaptations are the “worst of the bunch” but judging by the ratings on Amazon, I’d wonder if this feeling is more of a “it’s not you, it’s me” vibe. Find on Amazon Video
12: Pride & Prejudice (1980)
To be honest, these 80s versions are all pretty much on part with the same feelings I have of any Austen adaptation. These we bought years ago when Media Play was still in existence, and VHS tapes were still on store shelves. Find on Amazon Prime
11: Persuasion (1995)
My aunt liked this version, but I never warmed to the Amanda Root and Ciarian Hinds adaptation. Pretty sure I’ve also seen the 1971 adaptation of Persuasion. Find on Amazon Video
11: Pride & Prejudice (1940)
I’ve seen this one twice now, and while it doesn’t live up to some of my favorite adaptations, it IS a lovely little classic drama that puts the story in more of a “picture frame” concept with its ribboned, and dramatic costume design. Find on Amazon Video
10: Sense & Sensibility (1994)
With exception to a certain declaration and actor, this was a version I really liked as a teen. I used to borrow the VHS tape from my cousin and always loved getting lost in this world. But anymore it just doesn’t “stack up” for me nowadays – and again, it’s personal preference. Find on Amazon Video
9: Mansfield Park (2007)
Like some of the other films from this Masterpiece Theatre season of Austen, I don’t remember this one a great deal. But I do remember liking its “fresh” take on classic material, and feel like this was the first of the period dramas to really take a “new approach” to character styling; meaning the styling of the heroine doesn’t feel period “authentic.” Find on Amazon Video
8: Mansfield Park (1999)
I’ve seen this one countless times and while it 100% IS persuaded by modern ideals, I do like it. Of course, this could be because I have a soft spot for the relationship between Frances O’Connor’s Fanny Price and Jonny Lee Miller’s Edmund. Find on Amazon Video
For some reason, I also find Fanny and Henry’s relationship *interesting*; I don’t root for them, but it’s different in this version…
7: Persuasion (2007)
To be honest, I don’t think we have the “definitive” version of Persuasion just yet. While I adore all of the more recently Masterpiece and/or BBC adaptations that were made some ten+ years ago (including this), I don’t think we’ve seen the best for this story yet. But I had to include this one because I adore the story of love lost and found (again) that it was unthinkable not to include. Find on Amazon Video
TIE! 6: Emma (1996) and Emma (1997)
I mean, both of these are lovely. I like Northam’s “Badly done, Emma!” speech in the Miramax adaptation, but appreciate how authentic to the period the A&E (1997) version is. Find the 1996 version on Amazon Video | Find the 1997 version on Amazon Video
5: Pride and Prejudice (1996)
I grew up watching this A&E mini-series, and by this, I mean, I watched it ALL THE TIME, and still do have a special place for it. It’s a lovely adaptation as well, and I’d guess nothing comes close to the book (my mother has read the novel and was very impressed by this adaptation) in terms of adaptation as this Andrew Davies script does. Find on Amazon Video
4: Northanger Abbey (2007)
There’s no question this is the best version of Austen’s Gothic little mystery. At least too date. It’s been eons (it feels like it anyway) since last I watched this one, so hopefully I remedy this soon. It may be an unusual choice to put in this spot, but it’s so darn sweet. It’s delightful and the cast of JJ Field and Felicity Jones makes it all the more charming. Find on Amazon Video
3: Emma (2009)
The struggle is real with this particular Austen tome, I’m not going to lie. Picking a favorite version of this is tough because I feel as though there are three “definitive” versions. I like all three of them, but usually for different reasons. But I think, overall, I like the 2009 best. However if you ask me tomorrow, I may say something else. Find on Amazon Video
2: Sense and Sensibility (2008)
This version…! It’s beautiful, thought-provoking and the cast? They’re brilliant. The story of the bond of sisterhood is one that’s lovely to experience, too. Find on Amazon Video
1: Pride and Prejudice (2005)
Yes, this is a controversial choice. But I adore this version. My love for it has grown and grown over the years since I first saw it in theaters, and I walked out really liking it too. It’s stunning, and feels authentic in terms of where the characters come from. Find on Amazon VideoHow I Rank A Few of the Jane Austen Romance Adaptations. How would YOU rank them? #JaneAusten #EmmaMovie #List #PrideandPrejudice #Romance Click To Tweet
FUN QUESTION TO END: Who would be on your dream cast list for any Austen adaptation if more (like 2020’s Emma) would be made? Captain Wentworth? Fanny Price? Tell me which actor you want to see play an iconic Austen hero or heroine (or you know, any of the supporting characters we so adore).
What about you? Tell me all about your favorite Austen adaptations and why they are on your favorites list. Comment all of your thoughts – in agreement or disagree – down below. I’d love to chat with you.
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I’m nearly completely with you. I, however, to most other people’s disagreement, really did not like Ramola Garoli or whatever her name is in Emma. I think she acts too much like a flighty, emotionally controlled child. I like Gwen Paltrow’s stuck up portrayal, I think she fits far better.
And I agree, we’ve not had a definitive Persuasion yet. Root and Hinds lacked chemistry (I mean, how disappointing is the end where they stand APART from each other as if that convinces me they’re happy) and the other one’s fishy mouth, gaping breathing kiss at the end, running around like a chicken with her head cut off. IF THEY HAD NOT DONE THAT, it could have been worthy of the best so far, but they ruined it.
I prefer P&P 2005 over 1996. (Ducks to avoid all the tomatoes being thrown at me when Google’s crawlers pick that up and call the legions of haters for anything other than the 1997 version here) Though Colin Firth watching her at the piano scene is SO GOOD. They both have their good points, but if I get itchy to watch one, it’s the ’05 and the soundtrack is to die for.
Melissa, HI!! So glad to have you stop by – and my apologies for the reply delay.
I go back and forth about this BBC adaptation of Emma. On one hand I see this interpretation as more of a childish naïvety (which I think Emma WOULD have?) rather than flighty. Kate Beckinsale’s A&E version is 100% the “mean” girl of the group whereas, Miramax’s (Paltrow) is definitely the more “snooty” portrayal. Pretty sure the latter was the first version I ever saw, so it’s kind of a nostalgic favorite for that reason alone. Don’t remember the kiss in Persuasion but do recall not loving the scene where she runs through the streets (I think it’s more how its filmed than anything :D).
OHMYGOSH, YES! The whole piano scene is WONDERFUL. I DO like the A&E Pride and Prejudice, but EACH time I watch the 2005 adaptation, I grow to like it more and more. I’ll try and avoid the tomatoes with ya’. ;)
Wait, wait. How on earth have I missed that there is a Kate Beckinsale Emma? Going to go put that on my to watch list!
YAY! Hope if you see it that you enjoy! Let me know what you think. :)
I’ve only seen about half of these. I totally and completely share your love for #1, #2, and #4!
P&P 2005 is the first version I ever saw and without question my favorite, to me Matthew McFadyen IS Mr. Darcy!
I do love Emma Thompson’s adaptation of Sense & Sensibility, but I think the 2008 version is definitely my favorite. I admit, I’m a sucker for Dan Stevens in any role, but I really do personally feel that he is the perfect Edward, and that kiss, oh my heart! Side note: how interesting that he and Hattie Morahan also co-starred in Beauty and the Beast!
I’ve actually read all but three of Jane Austen’s novels (Emma, Persuasion, and Mansfield Park) and Northanger Abbey is without question my favorite, it’s also the only one I’ve read more than once! I absolutely adore the 2007 adaptation, it’s the only one I’ve seen and I don’t plan to watch any others because I know there is no way they could compare!
I know I’m in a very small minority, but I don’t like Pride & Prejudice (1996) probably a big part of that is because I’m not a fan of Colin Firth.
Awesome post, Rissi! ?
I adore the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice. As Melissa says in an earlier comment, each of these two have their finer points, but overall, I adore this newer one best. :)
RIGHT? I’m all about Dan Stevens in a good period drama leading man role. I don’t even think I realized he was the same actor (as Downton Abbey) in the beginning; and yes! It’s always fun to see co-stars reunite. Nothing wrong with not liking certain versions. I don’t like the 80s adaptation of Austen’s, but as I put these together I saw they had HIGH ratings on Amazon, so I feel like that’s an “it’s not you, it’s me” situation. ;)
So glad you shared your thoughts, Caitlyn; and THANK YOU for reading. Sorry it took me so long to reply!
What a fun post!! I completely concur with the 1987 Northanger Abbey belonging in last place, as well as everything you said regarding all of the Emma adaptations that have been made. I also agree with your preference for the Dan Stevens Sense & Sensibility over the Hugh Grant one (though it cannot be denied Emma Thompson’s script remains one of the most brilliant).
For my own list, it would have to be:
1. Northanger Abbey (2007): Sweet & delightful are the perfect descriptors, and the casting is absolutely one of the major reasons why it’s so fantastic
2. S&S (2008): I just love this version’s take on Edward & Elinor’s love story SO MUCH… the music is also gorgeous, and it has my favourite Colonel Brandon
3. P&P (1995): I can still quote whole scenes of this version’s dialogue from memory; the six hour runtime as well as first-rate casting also contribute to make it the no-brainer winner for me personally when it comes to P&P adaptations
4. Emma (2009)
5. Emma (1996)
6. Persuasion (2007)
7. Mansfield Park (2007)
8. Persuasion (1995)
9. P&P (2005)
10. Mansfield Park (1999): I just can’t get past how the Fanny in this film is not even close to the same character as the one Jane Austen wrote about
Hi, Kirsty!! As always, glad to have you stop by – and appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. :) Apologies for this reply delay.
I think Emma Thompson is quite talented in so many ways, but ever since I saw the BBC version, it’s be my “THE” version of all versions for Sense & Sensibility. Makes me curious to know if another new version would turn my head. ;)
I have ZERO doubt Fanny and really the whole 1999 film for Mansfield Park is greatly different than the novel, but overall, there’s something about this version that I like best of the adaptations of these I’ve seen. That said, I really do want to re-watch 2007’s and reassess. Who knows, maybe I’ll write a post about some of these one-on-one. Northanger Abbey is lovely! :)
Color me impressed on the 6-hour P&P quote skills. :D
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