The best films for Jane Austen fans' enjoyment

The best versions of Austen classics, plus related, derivative and similar films
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1.
Pride and Prejudice (1995 Mini-Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.0/10 X  
Jane Austen's classic novel about the prejudice that occurred between the 19th century classes and the pride which would keep lovers apart. (327 mins.)
“ The original, uncut A&E version and the one in which we all fell in love with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. This is when millions of women became aware of a Mr. Darcy with a truly smoldering gaze, and Firth is the reason. This role really boosted his career. Ehle is the perfect Elizabeth Bennet, mischievously dry in her wit, both sensible and tenderhearted, indignant without overdoing it when appropriate, and not at all irritatingly sulky like Keira Knightly. Ehle plays off perfectly opposite Susannah Harker as the lovely Jane; you believe they're actually related and close chums as they have a familial chemistry that Knightly and Rosamond Pike clearly lacked. And the story isn't jammed into a mere two hours, which should please Austen fans enormously. An absolute winner. ” - mrtraska
 
2.
Screen Two (1985 TV Series)
Episode: Persuasion (1995)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
Eight years earlier, Anne Elliot, the daughter of a financially troubled aristocratic family, was persuaded...
“ A Sony film but another A&E presentation form the days when A&E really delivered high culture instead of low reality -- and the version that brought us Ciaran Hinds, the Capt. Wentworth with the most fire of all the versions before and since and Amanda Root as a believable, in time determined Anne Elliott and a much more satisfying, credible closing scene than more recent films presented us. Plus, the benefit of a stellar British cast. This one lives up to the book in a way other versions, including PBS's latest, don't. ” - mrtraska
 
3.
Sense and Sensibility (1995)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
Rich Mr. Dashwood dies, leaving his second wife and her three daughters poor by the rules of inheritance. The two eldest daughters are the titular opposites. (136 mins.)
Director: Ang Lee
“ The third Austen novel to be produced in 1995 and the definitive version of this story, directed by the counterintuitive but brilliant choice of Ang Lee. Who, before that, would've thought Lee to be the best choice to bring Austen's novel to life? The delightful Emma Thompson also gives us the most credible and endearing version of Elinor Dashwood, who makes us love her from the start, even before the heartbreak happens. Kate Winslet is absolutely persuasive as the melodramatic, hyperbolic, perennially overwrought Marianne, whereas Hugh Grant's normally self-effacing personality finds itself perfectly at home in the role of Edward Ferrars. Another stellar supporting cast that dispatches the other roles well. This is the version of Sense and Sensibility that might actually make you like it more than Pride and Prejudice. ” - mrtraska
 
4.
Emma (1996)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
In rural 1800s England things go bad for a young matchmaker after she finds a man for another woman. (120 mins.)
Director: Douglas McGrath
“ The critics have it: four stars and two thumbs up, it's another definitive version, the fourth in a wave of Austen films that surfaced during the mid-1990s, and one of the best Austen interpretations on film ever. This film brought Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam into the public eye in a way their previous work hadn't and made stars of them. Paltrow give Emma just the right amount of nerve, sauciness, flirtiness, too-much self-regard where her plans are concerned, and horrified embarrassment when they fail or turn cruel to make Austen's Emma real without making her too modern and too much of an anomaly for the period. Northam with his measured wit made us love Mr. Knightley so much we even bore his scolding of Emma when she earned it; we believe that she changed in order to regain his esteem -- and we believe it when he's finally infuriated, frustrated, bothered and enchanted enough to propose to her. And we believe her weepy acceptance. The friendship and the chemistry here between Emma and Knightly are credible and undeniable. Because of Northam, we almost love Mr. Knightly more than we ever did Mr. Darcy (Knightly is clearly the less stuffy, more approachable of the two). The role of Emma was also Paltrow's first successful foray into tackling British characters, making other such roles possible. Usually, Brit and Aussie stars do it the other way 'round and successfully play Americans; nobody gripes when they succeed. There was a LOT of Gwyneth-envy and snarking in the U.S. film industry when she pulled it off here -- but her success with Emma made other such roles (in Sliding Doors and Shakespeare In Love, for example) possible. Definitely a keeper. ” - mrtraska
 
5.
Mansfield Park (1999)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
At 10, Fanny Price, a poor relation, goes to live at Mansfield Park, the estate of her aunt's husband... (112 mins.)
Director: Patricia Rozema
“ Will we someday consider the mid-to-late 1990s the 'golden age' of Jane Austen films? Was it something in the water or contagious genius that finally made directors and screenwriters take Austen more seriously and insightfully than before? This BBC film is the fifth of that half-decade to be a winner, yet this film never got the audience that it should have (perhaps audiences -- or, more likely, Hollywood and British directors -- were in Austen fatigue by then). Aussie Frances O'Connor plays Fanny Price, another mirror-image of Austen herself, one in which this Jane-proxy is a more impoverished character than Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Elliott or Elinor Dashwood (and therefore possibly much closer to Austen herself, in some respects). This Jane-figures lives cheek-by-jowl with her much wealthier relations yet with her nose forever pressed up against the invisible glass of social station separating them, more like favorite servant than family. O'Connor fairly inhabits the role of Fanny/Jane, making her both confident of her talent and paradoxically come to terms with her station, always inferior to that of her rich relatives. She also makes us believe that the quietly confident, witty but strategically demure Fanny would truly balk at letting those rich relatives determine who she married, even if it meant seriously risking a life of drudgery like her mother's. Her uncle's regard for her is only recovered when she turns out to be right about the manipulative Crawford siblings and her uncle is forced to acknowledge that, whereas her ever-faithful friend and cousin Edmund is a blind doofus when it comes to the woman he *should* be attracted to, as viewers know. O'Connor is brilliant in the role. So is Lindsay Duncan (HBO's Rome, Traffik, An Ideal Husband) in the thankless double role of the bedraggled Mrs. Price and her dipsy sister, Lady Bertram, Fanny's aunt. This is also the first real look that any of us Americans got at Jonny Lee Miller after his role in the gritty, godawful film Trainspotting (VERY far removed from Austen) and before he became a household name on TV's Eli Stone. Still, the screenwriters did tamper with the storyline and made Edmund less pious and his brother Thomas much nastier and less reflective later on than he should be. Maybe that and the fact that this was a BBC TV film that got a limited showing in the U.S. are the reasons that many American Austen fans aren't as well acquainted with this film as with the four previous films. Then again, Mansfield Park is considered a lesser Austen novel, and fewer people have read it. Still, if you ask me, this is a pretty good iteration of the book, with an excellent cast. ” - mrtraska
 
6.
Northanger Abbey (2007 TV Movie)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
A young woman's penchant for sensational Gothic novels leads to misunderstandings in the matters of the heart. (84 mins.)
Director: Jon Jones
“ Northanger Abbey is more farce or satire than your typical Austenian rom-com and resembles Emma more than the other four aforementioned novels, in that we have a not entirely lovable heroine. Here is a female protagonist who is a bit more naive and credulous (and a bit less bright) than Austen's other heroines, which makes her difficult to like. Yet if we're looking for the best version of this story on film, this is probably it. It's another BBC-Masterpiece Theater production, which is how Americans got to see it at all. They did as well as they could with a story that even I, as an Austen fan, don't particularly like (it's kind of meh on its own). Still, Austen packs a lot of wit into her pages, even in this novel, and it was disappointing to see that wit condensed into 90 minutes when it could have easily borne two hours. Still, if it's your goal to see the top versions of all the Austen novels ever produced in film, this one's your best bet for this novel. ” - mrtraska
 
7.
The Real Jane Austen (2002 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
A dramatized documentary on the life of Jane Austen. (60 mins.)
Director: Nicky Pattison
“ Part documentary, part historical reenactment with period dress, this hour-long British film chronicles the brief yet productive life of author Jane Austen. It also makes a nice transition from film adaptations of her novels to films about her. British actress Anna Chancellor (The Hour, Four Weddings And A Funeral) is the narrator. ” - mrtraska
 
8.
Becoming Jane (2007)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
A biographical portrait of a pre-fame Jane Austen and her romance with a young Irishman. (120 mins.)
Director: Julian Jarrold
“ The story of Jane Austen's young adult years, when she supposedly very nearly ran off with one Tom Lefroy, is told in this BBC biopic. The far too pretty Anne Hathaway stars as Jane with a somewhat uneven accent that she slips out of now and then, and the impetuous Lefroy is played by current hottie James McAvoy. They have a very decent supporting cast that acquits itself well and includes Maggie Smith, Ian Richardson, Laurence Fox, and James Cromwell and Julie Walters as the Rev. and Mrs. Austen. This film was shown a few years ago on PBS's Masterpiece Classic as part of the series' Jane Austen festival. ” - mrtraska
 
9.
Miss Austen Regrets (2008 TV Movie)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
In the later years of her life, as she's approaching the age of forty, the novelist Jane Austen helps her niece find a husband. (90 mins.)
Director: Jeremy Lovering
“ Another BBC-Masterpiece Classic film, this one deals with Jane's later life, by which time she had accustomed herself to being a literary spinster and was living with her widowed mother and older sister, Cassandra. A fortyish but still diligent and witty Jane is portrayed by the excellent Olivia Williams (Anna Karenina, Polanski's The Ghost, An Education), who probably comes the closest to portraying the seemingly demure but clever author and whose performance is far more satisfying than Hathaway's. Williams is supported by a constellation of top British actors: the distinguished Phyllida Law as Mrs. Austen, the capable Greta Schacchi (Presumed Innocent, White Mischief, The Ebony Tower; she also played Mrs. Weston in Paltrow's Emma) as Cassandra, Hugh Bonneville (the Earl of Grantham in the smash hit Downton Abbey, he also played Fanny's cousin's foolish husband in Mansfield Park and Mr. Bennet in Lost In Austen) as the Rev. Brook Bridges, and Jack Huston (the disfigured and emotionally maimed Richard Harrow on HBO's series Boardwalk Empire) as Dr. Charles Haden. You get the feeling that you finally understand who Austen was by the time she had achieved some small degree of success (which would have been far greater had she not published anonymously while alive). This is probably as close to the real Jane Austen as we're likely to get. ” - mrtraska
 
10.
Lost in Austen (2008 Mini-Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
Amanda, an ardent Jane Austen fan, lives in present day London with her boyfriend Michael, until she finds she's swapped places with Austen's fictional creation Elizabeth Bennet. (180 mins.)
“ Here we have a fantasy mini-series about a young woman obsessed with Pride and Prejudice and the character of Mr. Darcy. When she's suddenly thrust by accident into the world of the novel, which seems to occupy another dimension of reality, nobody believes her in either world. She hardly believes it herself -- and yet, she manages to switch places with (the real?) Elizabeth Bennet, played by Jemima Rooper, who isn't at all eager to pay any heed to Darcy but is fascinated by the modern world. Rooper's Lizzie makes ends meet by becoming a nanny and learns to use a cell phone and modern appliances. Bond girl Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace), meanwhile, is sometimes whiny and annoying as Amanda Price, the Austen fan who finds her daydream coming true and is determined to make the plot come out as Austen had written it -- but she has to masquerade as Lizzie Bennet to do it, then gets caught in her own finagling. She has to make several efforts to unite Jane and Mr. Bingley, which seems to take forever despite the fact that they love each other and pair off with others first. While you may not care for the sternly meddling Amanda's character, the real reason to watch this is 1) to see what fresh hell is twisted from Austen's most popular book and 2) the wacky takes on some of the roles. Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville plays the long-suffering Mr. Bennet, while the unexpected Alex Kingston is a hoot as the hysterical, hammy Mrs. Bennet and practically steals the show. The requisitely handsome Elliot Cowan is winningly mind-boggled as a Darcy who encounters the late 20th century and finds it loud and terrifying. And seeing Lindsay Duncan make a meal of the over-the-top Lady Catherine de Bourgh is just delicious. All that almost makes up for Arterton's earnest whining. You begin to wonder just what both her modern boyfriend and Darcy see in her. Still, for Austen fanatics, it's a romp. ” - mrtraska
 
11.
I Have Found It (2000)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
An Indian adaptation of Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility" focusing on two sisters of opposing temperaments. (151 mins.)
Director: Rajiv Menon
“ This is Bollywood's first take on Austen -- in this case, it's an adaptation of Sense and Sensibility: a tale of two Indian sisters with strongly opposing personalities and their problematic love lives. The Elinor character is played by former architecture student and Miss India runner-up Aishwarya Rai (The Pink Panther 2, The Mistress of Spices). It's probably not what you expected, but it's a fun send-up. ” - mrtraska
 
12.
Bride & Prejudice (2004)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.2/10 X  
Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice gets a Bollywood treatment. (122 mins.)
Director: Gurinder Chadha
“ Pride and Prejudice Indian style! The radiant Aishwarya Rai returns to reinvent Austen again, this time playing Lalita Bakshi -- the Bollywood incarnation of Elizabeth Bennet, whose older sister Jaya has fallen for the wealthy and accomplished Balraj, played by British actor Naveen Andrews (The English Patient, Lost, Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love). Indira Varma (Rome, Luther, Human Target) is unintentionally funny as his snooty, chic and thoroughly Anglicized sister Kiran. His chum William Darcy is played by Martin Henderson (Windtalkers, Battle In Seattle) as the heir to a Los Angeles-based global hotel empire run by his imperious mother, Catherine, coolly played by Marsha Mason as a slick corporate iteration of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, but without the hyperbolic rudeness. This being Bollywood, there are, of course, cute musical numbers with clever English lyrics and lots of dance numbers that actually further the plot and, on occasion, stand in for courtship. A hapless but upwardly mobile distant cousin from California, an accountant with an awful, braying laugh, stands in for Mr. Collins; the girls have a good time acidly mocking him in song ("No Life Without Wife"). Naturally, there is a smooth scoundrel in the form of Johnny Wickham, played by Canadian-born actor Daniel Gillies (The Vampire Diaries) as a traveling grad-student-type vagabond who sleeps on the beach with his backpack and knows all the lovely remote spots rich tourists ignore, which makes him almost irresistible. Alexis Bledel (Gilmore Girls) rounds out the major cast members as Darcy's sister Georgina. And there's an obligatory flower-petal-choked wedding scene toward the end, complete with elephants that make Naveen Andrews look like a noble maharajah. This is **so** much more fun than Keira Knightly's pouty version! Order in some vindaloo and curry and watch this with a pal who enjoys musicals. It's over the top, but in a good way. ” - mrtraska
 
13.
Clueless (1995)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
A rich high school student tries to boost a new pupil's popularity, but reckons without affairs of the heart getting in the way. (97 mins.)
Director: Amy Heckerling
“ The fourth Austen film of 1995, this is a different kind of over-the-top Austen adaptation: the Valley-Girl version of Emma. A young Alicia Silverstone plays the cutie Cher, who organizes everyone else's life but never quite manages to earn her grades at school. As charmingly played by Silverstone, the stylish but motherless Cher falls short of a bimbo, tho sometimes short of money (which she shamelessly cribs from her dad). She's the darling of her overworked Type-A corporate attorney father, energetically if restlessly played by Dan Hedaya. In this take, she's a relentless matchmaker -- she even matches up two of her teachers with a few exaggerations and little white lies. Cher also falls for a neat-dressing cool guy (Christian, played by Justin Walker) who likes classic films and turns out to be gay while taking her sweet time to warm up to her dad's stepson Josh (the Darcy figure, played by Paul Rudd with a winning smile). This, too, is a happy romp, but without the missteps of Lost In Austen. Enjoy it without regrets and with plenty of organic snack food (Cher would approve). ” - mrtraska
 
14.
The Jane Austen Book Club (2007)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
Six Californians start a club to discuss the works of Jane Austen, only to find their relationships -- both old and new -- begin to resemble 21st century versions of her novels. (106 mins.)
Director: Robin Swicord
“ How could we end this list without a slightly snarky rom-com about all the Austen book lovers themselves? Well, of course we can't, so here's your last entry. Maria Bello, Kathy Baker, Emily Blunt and Maggie Grace all acquit themselves well, although Amy Brennerman as the one for whom the book club is organized gets tiresome now and then. Bello is the prickly one you really like best; she's much more at home here than she was in the Americanized version of Prime Suspect, which had a mercifully short run. Hugh Dancy as Gregg, a younger man who is smitten with Bello's resistant Jocelyn, is a pleasure to watch, whereas Jimmy Smits plays an idiotically unfaithful husband you can't quite manage to hate completely, and Marc Blucas turns out to be an unexpected surprise (not unlike Bernadette's boyfriend at the ball, whose very appearance seems to mock a certain Dos Equis TV ad). It's a pizza-and-red-wine girls'-night-in movie, but male viewers who enjoy Austen's novels might like it, too. Well, they should give it a try, anyway ... ” - mrtraska