Well, my friends, the Austen obsession continues, and this week we move on from the tolerable to the amiable. This adaptations are good, but they just missed being included among the best of the best. Here’s why.
Directed by Jim O'Hanlan
I found this adaptation enjoyable, but forgettable. Bonus points for Johnny Lee Miller playing his second Austen hero and bonus, extra, super points for casting Ramola Garai, who is a gift to us from the period drama gods.
11) BRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Directed by Gurinder Chadha
I think the bland male leads and a slightly disjointed storyline are what hold me back from loving BRIDE AND PREJUDICE completely, but the film is still a whole lot of fun. The best known cross-cultural Austen adaptation, it’s frothy and colorful and a little bit whacky, and it’s hard not to enjoy it. And it’s a MUSICAL, which few other Austen film adaptations can claim. Plus, Aishwarya Rai is a delight.
Directed by Roger Michell
We're finally getting to the point where I feel guilty ranking the adaptations, because from here on out, I love them all deeply.
This is a quiet adaptation that doesn’t get as much fanfare as many of the others, but it’s lovely nonetheless. Amanda Root is absolutely perfect as Anne – her subtle performance manages to capture Anne’s pain, her exasperation with her relatives, and her quiet determination as well as her shyness.
I do have to confess something, though. As a teenager watching this movie for the first time, I found myself wondering where all the pretty people were. The cast of this film is surprisingly normal looking, which is a refreshing change from typical Hollywood casting and seems particularly appropriate for the time period.
9) MANSFIELD PARK
Directed by Patricia Rozema
A lot of people hate this adaptation (my mother among them), but I’m a fan. Fans of other Austen adaptations are sometimes thrown by just how dark and gritty this version is, and by, well, the brief nakedness (there’s understandably not much nudity in most Austen adaptations). In addition to showing that Fanny was pulled out of serious poverty by her not-always-kind cousins, this version also addresses MANSFIELD PARK’s elephant in the room: the Bertrams earned their money in the West Indies, which means that slaves earned it for them. It’s not always a pretty adaptation as a result, but that honesty adds a depth and context to the adaptation that I really appreciate.
I’ll add that Fanny Price is the only Austen heroine I don’t like very much, so I don’t really mind that the film turned her into a completely different character.
Directed by Douglas McGrath
This adaptation of Emma and the adaptation of Mansfield Park I just wrote about are a study in contrasts, and I love them for completely opposite reasons. Emma holds a special place in my heart for simply being so PRETTY. The costumes, the sets, the hairstyles, the script - they're just so fluffy and beautiful and charming, much like Emma herself. Gwyneth Paltrow annoys me as a human being, which is probably why I adore her as Emma.
If you enjoy period dramas, it’s hard to hate this one. And the score by Rachel Portman is delightful. All the fluff, very little of the substance.
7) SENSE AND SENSIBILITY
Directed by John Alexander
This adaptation didn’t get as much attention as I think it deserved, and I hope you’ll watch it if you haven’t already, as it's certainly the best of the 2007 and 2008 ITV/BBC Austen reboots. The opening scenes are surprisingly scandalous for an Austen adaptation, but don’t let them scare you away from the miniseries.
It pains me not to include this as one of the best of the best, since it's a personal favorite. As great as Emma Thompson is, Hattie Morahan is exactly how I pictured Elinor, and Charity Wakefield is lovely as Marianne. It's a full-length miniseries, which allows it time to cover plot points that the 1995 adapation didn't have time for. And it does it so very well.
Note: For fans of the "Darcy emerges from the pond" scene in in the '96 Pride and Prejudice, this Sense and Sensibility gives you Downton Abbey's Matthew revived from the dead and angstily chopping wood in the rain. Enjoy.
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