Every Jane Austen Adaptation Ranked from Worst to Best

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Every Jane Austen Adaptation Ranked from Worst to Best

VOICE OVER: Emily Brayton WRITTEN BY: Catherine Neal
It's time to rank the Jane Austen adaptations from worst to best. For this list, we'll be looking at some of our favorite on-screen versions of Jane Austen's novels - and also the adaptations that made us cringe the hardest. Our countdown includes "Persuasion," "Emma," "Sense and Sensibility," and more!
Transcript

Jane Austen Adaptations Ranked from WORST to Best


Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Jane Austen Adaptations Ranked from WORST to Best.

For this list, we’ll be looking at some of our favorite on-screen versions of Jane Austen’s novels - and also the adaptations that made us cringe the hardest. There are some great genre retellings and modern updates out there, but we’ll only be including traditional adaptations here.

What’s your favorite Jane Austen adaptation? Let us know in the comments!

#15: “Persuasion” (2022)


It’s been a while since we’ve had a decent version of “Persuasion” and this one looked promising. The casting was great and the screenwriters were established and well-regarded. So, how did this movie get things so badly wrong? Jane Austen’s most sensible, mature, and capable heroine became a chaotic, wise-cracking mess. She puts away a lot of wine and doesn’t think before she speaks. The dynamics of Anne and Wentworth’s relationship were off and some of the dialogue was beyond a joke. The incessant breaking of the fourth wall attempted to spoon-feed to the audience what the actors were perfectly capable of conveying on their own. It might have all been very funny if it wasn’t so painful. Poorly done, indeed.

#14: “Mansfield Park” (2007)


“Mansfield Park” isn’t Jane Austen’s best-loved novel, but maybe it would gain a few more fans if someone made a half-decent adaptation already? Here, a radiant, tousle-haired Billie Piper is cast as wallflower Fanny Price. Piper does her best to convey the shy yet determined heroine, but the script does her no favors. For some inexplicable reason, some of the book’s most interesting episodes are left out. Instead of a ball, we get a half-hearted picnic. Instead of being sent home to her relatives at Portsmouth - a major turning point of the novel - Fanny is left alone at Mansfield Park. Throw in a lack-luster Henry Crawford and an especially dreary Edmund and this adaptation has very little to recommend it.

#13: “Persuasion” (2007)


Rupert Penry-Jones may make a very dashing Captain Wentworth, but there’s not much else to write home about in this 2007 TV adaptation. The normally brilliant Sally Hawkins is an awkward, overly intense Anne, who trips over her own feet and literally runs after Wentworth through the streets of Bath. Do we even need to mention that kiss? We don’t want a heavy-handed metaphor for delayed gratification. We want romance. “Persuasion” is arguably Jane Austen’s most romantic novel, but this gloomy adaptation failed to deliver on that front. Also, what’s up with this version of Mary?

#12: “Sanditon” (2019-)


Screenwriter Andrew Davies is a tried and tested adapter of Austen, but turning her unfinished novel into a TV series presented a challenge. There are only eleven chapters of “Sanditon.” We’re introduced to the eponymous seaside town and the main players. But that’s all swiftly dealt with in one episode of the adaptation. After that? Well, it’s not exactly Austen. There’s a bit of nudity, a sex scene in the middle of a marble floor, and seriously, where are all the chaperones? However, Rose Williams makes a lovely Austen heroine and Theo James is suitably smoldering as Sidney Parker. We’re also introduced to Jane Austen’s first Black character, the heiress, Miss Lambe.

#11: “Emma” (2020)


Has there ever been a bad adaptation of “Emma?” It seems to translate well to the screen, even in its modern incarnations. Amy Heckerling’s “Clueless” is beloved by Janeites and the web series, “Emma Approved,” also did a pretty decent job. Although kind of unnecessary at this point, 2020’s “Emma” was still fun. Anya Taylor-Joy and Johnny Flynn had good chemistry as the central couple, the music was quirky, and the candy-colored palette was a treat for the eyes. But the stylization occasionally felt like a gimmick. Or an attempt to try and do something different with a story that has already been told perfectly well plenty of times before. The nosebleed during the proposal was especially jarring, but admittedly funny.

#10: “Emma” (1996)


Another Emma adaptation, this one suffered by comparison, coming out in the same year as the Gwyneth Paltrow movie. Back in 1996, TV wasn’t in the same league as film when it came to budgets and production values. It’s a solid adaptation, though, and Andrew Davies’ script is nothing to complain about. However, Kate Beckinsale’s Emma lacked a bit of charm - which Emma needs to fully do the character justice. Then there’s Mark Strong, who makes a very imperious Mr. Knightley. But a character who scolds and lectures possibly needs a gentler touch, to make him a more appealing love interest.

#9: “Emma” (2009)


Jane Austen fans will all have their favorite version of “Emma” and this is bound to hold the top spot for many. Sandy Welch (who also gave us brilliant adaptations of “North and South” and “Jane Eyre”) is the screenwriter behind this four-part series. The longer run time allows this version to better explore Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill’s storyline. It even gives some attention to Isabella and John Knightley (who were done dirty in the 2020 version.) All in all, it’s a lovely warm hug of a series. Emma and Mr. Knightley may feel a bit more modern than in other versions, but they’re so sweet together. Michael Gambon shows off his star quality as Mr. Woodhouse, and the costumes are gorgeous.

#8: “Mansfield Park” (1999)


For fans of the book, it may be difficult to judge this award-winning movie fairly. Fanny Price is Jane Austen’s least popular heroine and nobody wants to give her the time of day. But we can’t all be Elizabeth Bennets, can we? However, aside from the fact that they completely changed the personality of the protagonist, basing her instead on Jane Austen herself, everything else is pretty good. Jonny Lee Miller makes Edmund a bit more interesting and the novel’s subtle critique of the slave trade is eked out into an affecting side plot. The family at Mansfield Park made their money in the West Indies and the movie powerfully demonstrates the horrors that the older son, Tom, would have witnessed while out there.

#7: “Northanger Abbey” (2007)


Written in Jane Austen’s early twenties, “Northanger Abbey” is a satirical coming-of-age novel, with a wide-eyed teenage heroine. Andrew Davies’ 2007 TV movie captures that youthfulness, creating a fast-paced adaptation that’s a lot of fun. Through the inclusion of dream sequences that juxtapose Catherine’s excitable imagination with the real world, the adaptation sexes things up while staying faithful to the novel. But it’s the cast that really brings the story to life. Oscar nominees Felicity Jones and Carey Mulligan are both at the beginning of their careers here. But the star quality is already evident. It’s always hard not to fall in love with Mr. Tilney, but JJ Fields makes it almost impossible.

#6: “Love & Friendship” (2016)


Kate Beckinsale didn’t entirely win us over in “Emma,” but she more than makes up for it in “Love & Friendship.” Based on “Lady Susan,” another early work, the movie follows Jane Austen’s charming but conniving antiheroine, who is determined to make a match for her timid teenage daughter. The author didn’t hold back when creating the titular character, who is completely heartless but also loads of fun. Beckinsale clearly relished the role and makes the most out of every funny line. Director Whit Stillman also gets kudos for creating a fast, funny comedy-drama out of this lesser-known epistolary novel. Plus, the costumes are to die for.

#5: “Emma” (1996)


This “Emma” may have its flaws, i.e. Ewan McGregor’s terrible wig. But as “Emma” adaptations go, it’s hard to beat it. The film looks gorgeous, it won an Oscar for the score, and was also praised for its screenplay. Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam were the first couple to really humanize Emma and Mr. Knightley on screen. Their final proposal scene, under the oak tree, is properly romantic. There’s a strong supporting cast, including Sophie Thompson as Miss Bates, and a good balance of comedy and romance. It’s not one of the most talked-about Austen adaptations, but we think it deserves more love.

#4: “Persuasion” (1995)


“Persuasion” is arguably the most romantic of Jane Austen’s stories and so far, the 1995 film probably comes closest to doing it justice. Originally shown on BBC Two, the TV movie is slower-paced than later adaptations, but captures the characters and the feel of the novel much better. Actress Amanda Root portrays a warm, intelligent version of Anne Elliot. Her performance is subtle. But the script and direction trust her to convey her emotions to the audience, without making her look like a desperate mad woman. Ciarán Hinds is allowed to play the angry, resentful side of Captain Wentworth, as well as the passionate romantic hero. There’s a lot of nuance here - but also loads of chemistry. The ending is lovely too.

#3: “Pride & Prejudice” (2005)


As with “Emma”, there’s bound to be a difference of opinion when it comes to “Pride and Prejudice” adaptations. There’s a lot of love for the 2005 version, but it also has its naysayers. While Joe Wright’s movie may not quite capture the novel’s liveliness and humor, it’s still a gorgeous piece of cinema. Keira Knightley is captivating as Elizabeth Bennet, while Matthew MacFadyen’s gentler take on Darcy sheds a new light on the character. The cast seem younger than in earlier versions and the world feels a little grittier and more immediate. It’s a far cry from the hoop skirts and drawing room banter in the 1940 Hollywood movie, but it’s also much closer to the book.

#2: “Sense and Sensibility” (1995)


Emma Thompson’s work on this adaptation earned her an Academy Award for writing and a nomination for her performance. And it was well deserved. Her “Sense and Sensibility” is basically a masterpiece. Unlike “Pride and Prejudice” where the dialogue is all already there on the page, “Sense and Sensibility” is a much trickier novel to adapt. In the book, Edward Ferrars has barely any lines. Margaret is only mentioned briefly. Thompson’s screenplay captures them faithfully and brings them to vibrant life on screen. The dynamic between Elinor and Marianne is perfect and the imperfect men are all shown to their best advantage. Andrew Davies’ 2008 mini-series is also pretty great, but the movie definitely has that extra something special.

#1: “Pride and Prejudice” (1995)


When counting down the best Jane Austen adaptations, there’s only really one contender for the top spot. Andrew Davies’ 1995 mini-series made period drama relevant again and created a whole new generation of Austen enthusiasts. In six perfectly crafted episodes, this version captures everything that makes the book so beloved. The characters, the wit, and the fun - and of course, that classic love-to-hate romance that became the blueprint for the modern romantic comedy. From the back and forth dialogue to the meaningful looks, there’s no denying the chemistry between Lizzie and Darcy. Davies became famous for ‘sexing up’ Jane Austen, thanks to Colin Firth in that wet shirt. But the series is still a very faithful interpretation, and remains our number one favorite.
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