To celebrate 200 years since Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice was first published, I have written a feature for the newspaper The National highlighting some of the best movies based on Austen’s work. While it does include some of the very loose adaptations such as Clueless and Bridget Jones’ Diary, it also features all the best true adaptations of her work, so are well worth watching if you’re an Austen fan, or perhaps studying the 19th century writer for GCSE or A Level!
You can see the feature at The National here or view my original version below:
This year it is the 200th anniversary of the first publication of Jane Austen’s classic novel, Pride And Prejudice. To celebrate that tale of romance, misunderstandings and manners, here are the some of the best screen adaptations of Ms Austen’s novels – and a few enjoyable movies loosely based on her books and her life…
There have been numerous adaptations of P&P, but the 1940 B&W movie is the only one to boast Aldous Huxley as a screenwriter. Maureen O’Sullivan is older sister Jane and Greer Garson is the stubborn Elizabeth Bennet, while Laurence Olivier is at his most deliciously arrogant as rich suitor Darcy. Set two decades later than the novel, it looks absolutely gorgeous (check out the gowns!) and is a treat to watch. (Fans of the novel should however note some of the events in the book have been altered for this Hollywood version).
Gwyneth Paltrow (complete with impressive English accent) stars as incurable romantic Emma Woodhouse, who fancies herself something of a matchmaker in her 19th century English village. With a faithful to the novel script, lovely Dorset locations and a cast that includes Greta Scacchi, Jeremy Northam, Alan Cumming, Toni Collette and Ewan McGregor (who revealed in an interview that he thought he looked awful and performed badly, too), it’s a delightful film and one that helped make Paltrow a movie star.
A modern twist on Austen’s Emma, this snappy comedy delivered a new teen star (Alicia Silverstone), launched a spin-off TV series, and even gave us a new slang as spoken by the rich kids of Beverly Hills (dating the film somewhat, a good-looking boy is described as a ‘Baldwin’, referring to film star Baldwin brothers Alec and Billy). Silverstone stars as Cher, of course, whose attempts at romance and matchmaking backfire hilariously with her new friend Tai (the late Brittany Murphy) and ex step-brother Josh (Paul Rudd).
Emma Thompson deservedly won an Academy Award for Sense And Sensibility – not for her acting (although she was nominated for Best Actress) but for her witty screenplay. She plays Elinor, the eldest of the three Dashwood daughters, who needs to find a suitable (wealthy) husband, along with sister Marianne (Kate Winslet) since their father left them a meagre inheritance. Suitors for the ladies come in the form of Hugh Grant, Greg Wise and Alan Rickman, while the impressive cast also includes Robert Hardy, Hugh Laurie, Imelda Staunton and Imogen Stubbs.
Helen Fielding’s comic novel, a reinterpretation of Pride And Prejudice set in 20th century London, became an almost controversial movie when (shock! Horror!) svelte American actress Renee Zellweger was cast in the role of slightly pudgy Brit Bridget. But Zellweger piled on the pounds, wore the big knickers and pulled it off as the girl continually battling with her weight and the two men in her life – stiff-upper-lipped lawyer Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) and cad Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant). Grant and Darcy’s very British ‘street fight’ is still the funniest bit. Avoid the disappointing sequel (a third film is rumoured for 2014).
A sweet period romance that is a semi-fictional biography of Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway), focusing on a possible relationship with Thomas Langlois Lefroy (James McAvoy), who some believe was her inspiration for Mr Darcy. Hathaway (whose English accent is a little uneven) and McAvoy have nice chemistry, but it is the supporting cast who steal the movie – James Cromwell and Julie Walters as Jane’s parents, and the always wonderful Maggie Smith as the wealthy Lady Gresham.
Loosely based on the novel, this tepid romantic comedy drama stars Frances O’Connor as Fanny Price, who grows up with her wealthy relatives the Bertrams at the stately Mansfield Park, and Jonny Lee Miller as the cousin she secretly yearns for. For fans, it’s an irritating adaptation due to the many differences – Fanny is extroverted and outspoken here, shy in the novel, for example – and it’s glaringly miscast, too, with Lee Miller miscast, O’Connor not quite right and Harold Pinter (as Sir Thomas) just plain awkward.
A Bollywood musical adaptation of P&P, this bright, fun romance directed by Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) stars the beautiful Aishwarya Rai (in her first English speaking role) as Lalita Bakshi (the Elizabeth Bennet role), Lost’s Naveen Andrews as Mr Balraj (Mr Bingley) and Martin Henderson as Will Darcy. Set in Amritsar, London and Los Angeles, the movie follows the basic Pride And Prejudice plot, with added wit and flamboyant song and dance numbers.
While the 2005 Keira Knightley/Matthew McFayden adaptation is the most recent P&P movie, most people will prefer the superb five hour BBC mini-series made a decade earlier that stars Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet, Alison Steadman as her domineering mother and, of course, Colin Firth as Mr Darcy. It’s best known for that scene of Firth emerging in a wet shirt from the lake (“Mr Darcy!”) but screenwriter Andrew Davis had originally intended Darcy to be nude, a suggestion Firth rejected (maybe the water was cold?)
And here’s the lake scene as an added treat!