10. Sense & Sensibility (2008)
This BBC adaptation features a pre-Downton Abbey Dan Stevens! If that’s not enough to get you in the door… this adaptation combines a dreamy, romantic mood with a naturalism and realism that is often missing from Austen adaptations. A fitting combination for the Dashwood sisters.
9. Sense and Sensibility (1995)
I know that ranking Ang Lee’s adaptation at 9 will likely be considered sacrilege, but Sense and Sensibility has just never been my jam. Yes, it is spectacularly well done – the writing, directing, acting, costumes, etc etc. At the end of the day, I’d just rather watch a so-so adaptation of Emma or Pride and Prejudice. That said, Alan Rickman as Colonol Brandon is EVERYTHING and the reason this outranks the 2008 version.
8. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (2012)
A web series adaptation of Pride and Prejudice where Lizzy Bennet is a vlogger? This project had no right to be as good as it is. Modernizing Jane Austen can be tricky, particularly when it comes to translating class and gender issues. By swapping in professional concerns with for some of the more outdated romantic issues, they carry it off shockingly well. Be warned: this series is intensely addictive. An entire Sunday disappeared via “oh just one more episode won’t hurt.”
7. Emma (1996)
A frothy, somewhat silly Gwyneth Paltrow vehicle from the 90s. At the end of the day, it’s still Emma, which is fast becoming my favorite Jane Austen book. Also, bonus points for excellent deployment of Alan Cumming.
6. Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001)
Colin Firth as Mark Darcy. What? I need more justification for ranking this at number 6 even though, as an Austen adaptation, it’s certainly very flawed? Ok. Colin Firth as Mark Darcy wearing an ugly Christmas sweater. Done.
5. Clueless (1995)
The third and final Austen modernization on this list. A spectacularly fun, charming, and entertaining movie in it’s own right. As an adaptation of Emma? Excellent and surprisingly faithful. Alicia Silverstone’s Cher really captures Emma Woodhouse. She has Emma’s sweetness, loyalty, and charm, but she also has her arrogance, naïveté, and dangerously meddlesome. Plus, Paul Rudd when he was in his peak dreamboat phase.
4. Emma (2009)
It might not be for everyone, but I love Romola Garai’s performance as Emma. She’s funny, clever, and kind. She’s also conceited, entitled, and oblivious. She is a good friend and a great daughter. She’s also a snob and a bit of a bully. This adaptation also brings out an underlying sadness in the story that I haven’t seen in other versions.
3. Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Though Matthew Macfayden is no Colin Firth, this version of Pride and Prejudice is pretty swoon-worthy and really brings the lust: that scene in the rain at the folly! all the repressed lustful gazes! the thing he does with his hand in this scene!. Like many of the other Austen adaptations from the 2000s (see Sense & Sensibility above), this adaptation brings a welcome bit of vitality and naturalism to the story. Also like Sense & Sensibility, it introduces the ampersand to Jane Austen, which was apparently a thing in the 2000s?
2. Persuasion (1995)
I gather this one was a bit under-the-radar at the time, but for my money, this is the best of the mid-90s Austen big screen adaptations. Everything about it is just about perfect. Ciaran Hinds as Wentworth is brooding and buttoned up but still a little smoldering. Amanda Root’s transformation from sad-sack Anne Elliot to blooming, vivacious Anne Elliot is a marvel.
1. Pride and Prejudice (1995)
My Jane Austen entry point, watched when A&E was rebroadcasting it sometime in the late 90s. Before then, I’d always dismissed Jane Austen as too girly, too fluffy, too unserious. But then! I came home from work and caught the tail end of the first episode where Lizzy is visiting a sick Jane at Netherfield, and my wall of snobby, teenage cynicism crumbled to the ground. Oddly, Colin Firth’s Darcy didn’t do much for me on that first viewing. After extensive research involving multiple repeat viewings, I have significantly revised that particular opinion.