Classic Remarks: Jane Austen Adaptations

Classic Remarks 1

Classic Remarks is meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating!  This week’s question is:

Which Austen adaptation is your favorite and why?

The BBC’s 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was long my favorite because of how perfectly it captures all the characters; Jennifer Ehle, Colin Firth, and all the rest are my versions of Austen’s creations.  I also appreciate that the mini series format allows the bulk of the book to appear on screen, and that the adaptation pretty much follows the novel word-for-word. However, once I saw the Romola Garai mini series of Emma, that became my favorite Austen adaptation.

Before I watched Emma, I had not much liked the titular character.  Her penchant for setting up couples made her seem meddlesome and manipulative, and far from charming.  Her devotion to her father is touching, but then you have to consider her outrageous flirting with Frank Churchill, her advice to Harriet that she should throw away the man she loves, and her habit of ignoring Mr. Knightley’s sound advice.  Badly done, Emma.

Garai, however, plays Emma as light-hearted and young, rather than as manipulative. When I considered Emma as a high spirited girl who wasn’t old enough to appreciate fully her own limitations, I suddenly began to appreciate her.  She means well, even if her advice is often bad.  And Mr. Knightley–quite, frankly, he’s my favorite Austen hero. I  love relationships that have a basis in friendship.

Garai’s Emma is a testament to the power of adaptation to reinterpret texts and enable audiences to view them in a new light.  The beauty of stories is that we can take them and make them our own.  The Emma mini series does just that.

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19 thoughts on “Classic Remarks: Jane Austen Adaptations

  1. Rachel says:

    I’ve also yet to see this version of Emma – I watched the first half of it when I was at a friend’s house quite a few years ago and didn’t really get into it, but that was before I got into Jane Austen in general, so I need to get around to watching it properly, because I’ve heard very good things about it. (Although I do like the Kate Beckinsale version of Emma a lot.)


  2. alilovesbooks says:

    It’s so difficult to pick an adaptation as I love almost all of them. I did love P&P series you mentioned but also enjoyed the Kiera Knightly film version. I’ve always had some issues with Emma due to the age gap between them.

    Other favourite adaptations include Mansfield Park with Johnny Lee Miller and Persuasion with Rupert Penry Jones…mmmmm!!


  3. majoringinliterature says:

    I love the 1995 P&P too. It’s just an absolute classic. 🙂

    I really liked Garai and Miller in the newer version of Emma, I think they both did a really good job, Garai especially. The only issue I had with it was the screenplay – at times I felt like the dialogue was a little clunky and awkward, like they were trying too hard to modernise the language and explain all the jokes and historical details that might pass modern viewers by. Apart from that, though, I really enjoyed the adaptation, it was beautifully filmed and well acted.

    I couldn’t decide on just one adaptation, so my post ended up being more of a round-up of all my favourites:


  4. luvtoread says:

    Great choices! I love both of these versions, although I do have a soft spot for the Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma. It’s been awhile since I’ve read Emma or watched any Emma adaptations, so I need to re-watch them! And there is always Clueless which is just about a perfect modernized version of Emma that you can get!
    I don’t know what my favorites are, each adaptation has something unique about it – for instance, I love Keira Knightley’s portrayal of Lizzie, but I’m not fond of other things within that adaptation (Darcy’s portrayal mainly), and of course, Colin Firth will forever be Mr Darcy to me, so I really love that adaptation, but I don’t care for how Jane & Bingley are portrayed there.
    If I had to choose an adaptation that made me cry and smile every time however, it would have to be the Emma Thompson & Kate Winslet version of Sense and Sensibility. There’s just something about Winslet’s portrayal of Marianne, and the scene where Brandon carries her through the rain gets me every time. But, the extra scenes with Willoughby are not there, and it doesn’t really show Marianne & Brandon falling in love, just oh he rescued her so she loves him. The more recent PBS miniseries has those extra scenes, so I really love that one too.
    What I find interesting is that after so many adaptations, there is still something unique in every one, and we all like different versions! It speaks to the timelessness of Austen’s plots and characters.


    • Krysta says:

      Yes, Clueless is pretty great, though I have to say that the step-brother thing seems weird. I know they’re not related by blood, but…. And the age difference is weird, too. I know there’s an age difference in the original, but as long as we’re modernizing it, can we not have a college guy in love with a fifteen-year-old? That’s just creepy.

      I agree. I like Knightley as Lizzie, but Colin Firth is the one and only Darcy!

      Marianne falling in love with Col. Brandon happens kind of suddenly in the book, but I think that’s a good place for a movie version to expand upon. Fans want all the romance!

      Liked by 1 person

      • luvtoread says:

        Yeah, the age difference in Clueless was odd.
        It didn’t bother me so much with the stepbrother thing, as Cher says that the parents were “hardly married”, so it isn’t like she grew up with Josh around for years and years. And I think the point with that is that it was a friend/brother-type relationship, which is the relationship Emma and Knightley had. And they were actually brother & sister in laws through marriage, so there is that connection too. But in Clueless they could’ve just been next door neighbors and that would’ve worked too.
        I think the Kate Winslet version just needed a couple extra scenes and I would’ve been satisfied even more with that adaptation!


        • Krysta says:

          Well, I always find it weird when in-laws marry, too, because it’s like they’re part of your family at that point. But I realize that that isn’t how everyone views it. But you do make a good point that it’s not like Cher and her stepbrother grew up together as siblings.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Kaja says:

    I haven’t watched this version of Emma, I only know the Gwyneth Paltrow version. Honestly, Emma isn’t my favourite Austen novel, but I haven’t read it in ages, so I might give it another go soon.

    My favourites are the Keira Knightley version of P&P and Persuasion with Sally Hawkins!


    • Krysta says:

      I like the Keira Knightley of P&P just because I think they did such a good job of condensing the story. It’s hard to follow up the BBC miniseries, but they did it!


  6. David says:

    Wait–I think I actually did see this version! Oops. I remember liking it, but sadly not much more than that. If it had left a stronger impression, I probably would have chosen it for my post. It’s the only serious feature-length Austen adaptation I’ve seen all the way through. But oh well.

    I also love relationships that have a basis in friendship.


    • Krysta says:

      What? You don’t love my favorite Austen adaptation? I didn’t think that was possible! 😉 But Mr. Knightley and Emma’s friendship is seriously the best. I love how Mr. Knightley encourages Emma to be her best self, even when he has to tell her things about herself she’d rather not hear.


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