Jane Austen Lives

Big news.  Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, Sanditon will be adapted into an eight-episode TV miniseries, filming to start next spring.  That’s pretty ambitious.  The gold standard for such fare – Pride and Prejudice miniseries 1995 – clocked in at six episodes and that was for one of her six completed novels. But wait;  there’s more:  A new Pride and Prejudice adaptation has been announced.

 ITV and Mammoth Screen  …  are teaming up to breathe new life into Jane Austen’s timeless classic. While dates and cast are still a mystery, playwright Nina Raine has already signed on to write the script for the new adaptation, which will be her first written for television.

Heady stuff.  And an opportunity to comment on just how far we’ve come.  It’s best to just take all of these offerings on their own terms (mostly). You will not re-invent Jane Austen whether you put her on a Grecian urn, in a video game or a mini-series.  Hopefully – reasonably – a sympathetic and competent period piece is something you will be predisposed to enjoy .. if you like Jane Austen.

I think  PP 1995 is great.  Jennifer Ehle channels Elizabeth Bennet.  Colin Firth has dialed in Darcy’s brittle-but-vulnerable persona and innovations like the wet shirt emerging  from the lake are chuckle-worthy. I saw PP 2005 with Keira Knightly but I can’t remember it.


Sense and Sensibility, also of 1995, was good.  It felt like Sense and Sensibility.  They pulled out all the stops in casting; Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, not-quite-a-star-yet Hugh Laurie.  But my petty prejudices have been piqued; Hugh Grant was not well-served by his role because Edward Ferrars is a weeny.  Also, it wasn’t long enough.  Except for Persuasion 2007, if you have any pretentions of being faithful to Jane Austen, it has to be a mini-series.

OK, then, Persuasion 2007. Forget the inevitable comparison to the novel.  P 2007 is a good movie, good music, great cinematography, understated acting, silences you can read. If you like Jane Austen you’ll enjoy P 2007 and find it comfortably similar to Persuasion.

Mansfield Park on film is problematic for me because Mansfield Park is problematic for me.  I don’t like Fanny Price.  She’s timid.  She’s a prig.  She’s docile and easily taken advantage of .. except, of course, when she isn’t.  Jane Austen meant for her to be a sympathetic character so that is a mismatch for me. Otherwise, Mansfield Park (Jane’s) is a brooding masterpiece with a squadron of flawed characters, sailing away on a crowded ship of fools.  My favorite dose of Mansfield Park is actually an audiobook narrated by Flo Gibson.

I saw a 1983 miniseries version of Mansfield Park. It seemed dated and dusty somehow, perhaps appropriately.  Fanny Price in MP 1983 was pretty faithful to Jane Austen’s vision – so that was a problem for me.  Otherwise, it was a creditable rendition.  It seems to have disappeared from Netflix or Amazon.

Take a friend who doesn’t like Jane Austen to see Mansfield Park 1999 with Frances O’Connor.  I like Frances O’Connor.  She does a great job in this light, silly romantic comedy.  MP 1999 has very little to do with Mansfield Park.

As I said, you have to take most of these efforts on their own terms.  Mansfield Park 2007 is a very good movie and a satisfying period piece.  Fanny Price, played by Julia Joyce, is a warm, likable character – so, good for me but not-so-faithful to the book.

I love that janeaustenfilmclub.com lists Clueless 1995 with Alicia Silverstone as one of the four important movie versions of Emma. The other three are 1996 with Kate Beckinsale,  then 1996 (!) with Gwyneth Paltrow, and the mini-series, 2009, with Romola Garai.  Romola’s Emma was delightful, funny and authentic.  Gwyneth and Kate were forgettable – I give them each three Netflix stars and instead I recommend E 2009.  And, of course, Clueless.


I saw Northanger Abbey, 2007, with Felicity Jones.  Felicity hammed it up perfectly in this ridiculous romp.  Jane Austen would have cracked a smile. Looks like there are also 1986 and 1987 versions.  Haven’t seen them.

But I feel better now.  I’m glad I could get that off my chest.

2 thoughts on “Jane Austen Lives

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