Our Favorite J.A. Films

The wonderfulness of Jane Austen movies doesn't stop at P&P95, even though that's probably the ultimate Jane Austen movie. Here is a list of what we think are the best adaptations of each Jane Austen novel, excluding Northanger Abbey because the humble authors of this blog cannot recommend either version (but this by no means reflects upon the novel itself, which is superb... read it!).

Emma (2009) 

BBC miniseries starring Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller
Our Rating: 10 stars
Arguably a tie with the greatness of P&P95.

Sense and Sensibility (1995) 

Columbia Pictures film starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet
Our rating: 9 stars
Not the adaptation that's the closest to the novel, but the overall J.A.-ness of it makes up for it.

Sense and Sensibility (2008) 

BBC mini-series starring Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield
Our Rating: 8 stars
As this is longer than the 1995 version, it has more details from the novel. Though we do recommend skipping the rather iffy first scene (which takes place before the opening credits). It's completely unnecessary to the story.

Persuasion (1995) 

Sony Pictures film starring Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds
Our Rating: 7 stars
This is Miss Dashwood's definite favorite adaptation of Persuasion.
Trailer | Persuasion Comparisons* | IMDb

*In June 2012, Miss Dashwood and Miss Marianne teamed up with Miss Laurie of Old-Fashioned Charm and Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Elegance of Fashion to write a four-part comparison of the two Persuasion films.  This link takes you to the first part of the series.

Emma (1996) 

A&E miniseries starring Kate Beckinsale and Mark Strong
Our Rating: 7 stars
This version doesn't hold a candle to the 2009 adaptation, but if you can ignore the leaving-much-to-be-desired portrayal of Mr. Knightley, this version is the best and most Jane Austen-ish of the two shorter versions.

Persuasion (2007)

 ITV film starring Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones
Our Rating: 6 stars

Mansfield Park (1983) 

BBC miniseries starring Sylvestra Le Touzel and Nicholas Farrell
Our Rating: 5 stars
This one is rather slow-moving and play-like, but the other two versions disgrace the name of Jane Austen (biased fans talking here, you know) and this is the only one we would recommend.


Crafts4others said...

Love the Emma 2009 version, and I have gotten a few people hooked on it as well.

Livia Rachelle said...

My little sisters adore the 2009 version of Emma; Mr. Knightly is hilarious, but Emma is embarrassingly bad-she is just a more intelligent Lydia Bennet. I prefer the Kate Beckinsale version; I just adore that Mr. Knightly even though it seems the world hates him. I also firmly believe that is overall the most accurate to the book. I keep meaning to do a massive comparison of all three newest versions and the book. I hate, HATE the Gweneth Paltrow version btw.

I am not sure I agree with your declaration that the newest S&S is the most accurate. A movie can have more details from the book and totally the wrong spirit, but I would have to carefully reread the book and rewatch the movies to come to a definite conclusion.

I prefer the newest Persuasion, but am under the vague impression that the older verion may be more accurate. I have not seen in it years though.

I adore discussing all these things, but I have sacrilegiously not watched the newest Northanger Abbey; I must amend this during my break!

Miss Dashwood said...

I think I can speak for both Miss Marianne and myself when I say that we heartily agree with you there! :D

Livia Rachelle,
I am afraid we must disagree with you in the matter of Romola Garai as Emma... though some of her mannerisms and ways of speaking are a bit too modern for the film (we never said she was perfect, you know :D) we do feel she comes closest to capturing Emma's spirit. Not everyone likes Emma right away, but I certainly cannot call her a more intelligent version of Lydia Bennet. Lydia has few morals and principles, no standard for good behavior and little regard for the feelings of others. As Elizabeth says to her father, Lydia will never be content until she has exposed herself in some public manner (or is it place? can't remember). Emma, on the other hand (as portrayed by RG, as I believe your dislike seems to be of RG's acting and not of the character herself) is a flamboyant person--perhaps a bit more so than she is in the book--but she never, ever steps outside the bounds of propriety. Yes, at the beginning of the story she is a snob, but Jane Austen wrote her that way. After all, she said herself that she had taken a heroine that no one but herself would much like. (We would beg to differ. :D)

Though I haven't seen the Kate Beckinsale version in its entirety yet (and shouldn't pass judgment before I do-- Miss Marianne can offer a more informed opinion) I do think she did an admirable job of portraying Emma-- however, she does strike me as being just too stiff and cool at times. Emma is a sparkling sort of person, and I think Romola Garai captures that sparkle beautifully.

As for Mr. Knightley (it's Knightley with an E, like Anne with an E, you know), Jonny Lee Miller's portrayal is indeed hilarious but there is so much more to it than that. From what I've seen of Mark Strong's version, it does not seem true to the book at all. I don't like such a stern and forbidding hero. He's not Heathcliff, after all. ;)

I agree that a movie can have all the details from a book and the wrong spirit-- Mansfield Park 1983 is rather like that. It contains everything that the book does but manages to be a bit lackluster-- it just doesn't convey the wit and vivacity of Jane Austen's original novel. However, I do think that the 2008 version of S&S does an awfully good job of sticking to the novel and staying true to the spirit of the book, simultaneously (though it's not a perfect adaptation).

Miss Marianne and I differ in our opinions of Persuasion-- she prefers the newer, I the older, but they both have their good points.

I cannot wholeheartedly condone the newer version of Northanger Abbey-- some portions of it are rather inappropriate. With caution, these can be skipped/fast-forwarded, but Miss Marianne and I don't feel comfortable recommending it on this page.

Miss Marianne said...

Well said, my Elinor. Livia Rachelle, I must suggest that you give the 2009 version another try. Even more than another try. As well as re-reading the book. One of the things I love about that adaptation that it IS so much like the book in that it becomes more endearing as you get to know it better. Likewise does Emma. As Miss Dashwood said, RG was not the perfect portrayal in some ways, but I do think she understood Emma, and captured her spirit. Furthermore, she improved as the movie went on. You see a change in her at the end. With the Kate Beckinsale version... she acts exactly the same, it's just that she's finally figured out how things are. I used to hold that one (which I call "the brown-haired Emma" as my favorite; it even stayed my favorite after I had seen the 2009 version for the first time. (I must confess, though, that I never did care for Mark Strong's Mr. Knightley. He is so yellish, and not at all like the book.) Then I got to know the 2009 version more and loved it more each time I saw it, and both Emma and Mr. Knightley went way, way up on my favorites list.

RG's Emma may seem a little silly sometimes, but Lydia Bennet is... well, brainless. Emma most certainly is not. Also, Lydia cares only for herself--she doesn't even think about other people enough to think about meddling. She is selfish, whereas Emma is only self-centered (in the beginning), and I think I can speak for the book's Emma and Romola Garia's when I say those things.

As for accuracy, though the A&E version has quotes that match the book almost exactly, it does not have half the story, since it is not a mini-series. I think that having more of the story is more important when it is also true to the book, and the 2009 version is. It does capture the spirit quite nicely.

Now, Elinor dear, I must say that it was actually Mr. Bennet who said the thing about Lydia not being easy until she has exposed herself in some public place--when they were discussing her going to Brighton. ;)
Furthermore, I never did say, you must remember, that I liked the newer Persuasion better. I cannot decide. There are pros and cons to each. I might have said, during those comparisons probably, that I tend to derive more enjoyment from watching the newer one. ;)

As to S&S, the 2008 version is decidedly closer to the book when it comes to details, and one can have a more thorough knowledge of the book from watching that adaptation, but I do think that the general feeling of the 1995 version is a little more... Jane Austen. Saying it is accurate to the book should not necessarily imply that it is also the best representation of all aspects of the story. ;)

Dear me! Discussing Jane Austen! How I do get lengthy and carried away!