Happy love day readers! My apologies for not being on the ball in giving you some Valentine-themed posts, but if you so desire, I can make up for it in the time between now and the Academy Awards. You see, I have a series of posts in my brain just itching to come out all about AUSTEN. Jane Austen that is. What better way to celebrate Valentines than by celebrating the woman who has set an impossible standard for modern romance to live up to. With seeing Love & Friendship at Sundance and the subsequent release of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, my passion for these stories and their adaptations has come alive again. So for all you Austen lovers out there, this COULD be the beginning of a series of posts (akin to my Cinderella Awards from last year...) where I rank all the portrayals of Austen's greatest characters, but for now let me just share my favorite adaptations/inspirations of Austen's works. If you have no way of celebrating the holiday, putting on any one of these is a good way to start. Caution for Jane-ites: I like all the movies you hate. Sorry bout that.
10. TIE: LOST IN AUSTEN
Lost in Austen is a fangirl's dream come true. The story centers around a modern Brit named Amanda Price who finds a door in her house that leads to the fictional world Jane Austen created in Pride & Prejudice. She and Elizabeth switch places, and with an Elizabeth-less Pride & Prejudice, it's up to Amanda to make sure the story doesn't get completely screwed up. I have some issues with the ending of this series which elevates the whole thing to glorified fan fiction, but the beginning is really funny to see how different the story could be if certain events didn't transpire the way they're supposed to. Amanda is funny, but frustrates many Austen fans for how bad she is at trying to blend in with her surroundings. Just take this movie as a silly escape and it will be a lot more enjoyable. For years there was talk about an American remake, and I really hope one day it happens. This series isn't perfect, but the idea of it is a lot of fun. Lost in Austen can be found in its entirety on Hulu.
10. TIE: PRIDE & PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES
The only way to improve upon Jane Austen's classic novel? Add in zombies of course. Just kidding, it doesn't really improve things... but this version of the tale is really ridiculously entertaining and fun. If anything, it could have had more zombies as far as I'm concerned. But besides the zombie mayhem, it also benefits from a great Elizabeth in Lily James. She's incredibly beautiful and has the perfect amount of spunk and spirit for an Elizabeth to possess. It would rank higher on the list if they had been as lucky in their casting of Darcy and...if ya know, it had more zombies. Pride & Prejudice & Zombies is in theaters now.
Persuasion is actually my favorite Jane Austen novel, but unfortunately (as far as I'm concerned,) it hasn't quite been given the justice it deserves in film form. The 2007 version came incredibly close with its fantastic cast...but falls short at the most important moment in the story (Wentworth's letter.) Still, Sally Hawkins plays Anne Elliot exactly as I pictured her and Rupert Penry-Jones makes for a delicious Captain Wentworth indeed. Austen purists hate the last scene, but I'm okay with suspending disbelief in favor of swoons.
8. EMMA APPROVED
Pemberley Digital specializes in modern literary adaptations in vlog form. They bring Jane Austen's Emma into the twenty-first century with varying results. Not all the storylines are created equal (I'm looking at you Izzie Knightley's fiasco and Annie Taylor's wedding jitters,) but when they get it right, they get it right. Perhaps their greatest call is in casting. I don't love Frank or Jane, but Emma, Knightley and Harriet are all great. Sometimes Emma can be a frustrating heroine, but so was Austen's Emma. Emma Approved can be found in its entirety on Youtube HERE.
7. NORTHANGER ABBEY
Austen's gothic romance tribute gets a delightful adaptation with pre-fame Felicity Jones, Carey Mulligan and JJ Field. Felicity Jones makes a sweet young heroine, but JJ Field steals the show with his adorableness as he did in Austenland. Seeing Catherine's vivid fantasies come to life is so much fun, and sets it apart from the rest of the period dramas. Northanger Abbey can be found on Hulu.
6. THE LIZZIE BENNET DIARIES
Pemberley Digital does a perfect job of modernizing Pride & Prejudice via YouTube of all things. Telling the story via 3-5 minute video diaries where Lizzie complains about her life is incredibly clever. You have to wait until each character is close enough to Lizzie for them to start making appearances in her videos... so while you hear about a snobby guy name William Darcy early on, you have to wait quite a long time to see him, and honestly the suspense is the funnest part. Plus, with so many episodes, the filmmakers are able to flesh out pretty much everyone. Charlotte Lucas, Jane and Lydia in particular all are incredibly well rounded here, where in other versions they run the risk of being caricatures. The only con is that with so much of the plot being set around Lizzie complaining all the time, she's not always the most likable version of the character. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries can be found in its entirety on YouTube HERE.
Austenland is a silly movie that if you don't take too seriously, is tons of fun. It's got that silly Jared Hess humor to it (combined with Jennifer Coolidge one-liners that you've got to be in the mood for,) so it's certainly an acquired taste, but if you're willing to go along for the ride, it's charming and...has some nice romantic moments as well. I prefer this to Lost in Austen because the heroine does actually attempt to learn something here (and does), but still gets to have her cake and eat it too (whereas LiA just gets the cake.) Plus it has that JJ Field power.
Clueless isn't just a fun Austen movie, it's a fun movie period. In fact, most people don't really know it is an adaptation of Emma. It's a faithful enough adaptation, even if it doesn't get all the characters exactly like their novel counterparts. Honestly this movie would make my top five for its quotability and wardrobe picks alone. Clueless can be found on Netflix
Again, not the "Janeites" first choice of Emma adaptation, but definitely my favorite. I didn't much care for the Romala Garai adaptation, because its proposal scene couldn't hold a candle in the utterly romantic department. I get wanting to stay true to Austen, but in the film adapting department, I'm definitely okay with punching up the film's romantic climax while staying true to the spirit. In my opinion, the Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma does that perfectly. Mr. Knightley's speech might be the most romantic speech in film history. Seriously.
2. SENSE & SENSIBILITY
Unfortunately for the 2008 adaptation, this version of Sense & Sensibility was far too ingrained in my brain to let go of when considering opening my heart to more versions of the story. I know Emma Thompson isn't the right age to portray the character, but she absolutely nails Elinor Dashwood's feelings and demeanor. Kate Winslet is a wonderful Marianne and makes me feel every pain she feels. This film is probably the best Austen movie to date, but isn't always the easiest for me to watch since I relate so closely with its heroine and the pain she goes through.
Therefore... the #1 choice must go to:
1. PRIDE & PREJUDICE
It was a hard choice, believe me....and once again I know it's not the popular choice, let alone choosing it to top my list. So many people seem to hate this adaptation for one reason or another. Maybe they're too attached to the '95 version (which yes, I left off my list much to the chagrin of Austen lovers, because I never cared for it,) maybe they hate Keira Knightley's Elizabeth, maybe they feel like it took too many liberties with the story, but for me, it's exactly the Pride & Prejudice I wanted to see when I read the book. Firstly, this movie is absolutely BEAUTIFUL to watch. Both cinematography and score are absolutely perfect and beyond beautiful. Not every character is 100% how I picture them, but the most important ones are. Keira's Elizabeth is not smug, but rather playful and vibrant. She's well informed, but she's not...well you know the word that's not used in polite society outside of a kennel. She's exactly the Elizabeth I picture when I read the book, and as for Darcy...I almost had the exact reaction to Matthew MacFadyen's Darcy as I did to the novel version. In the beginning, I didn't see what the fuss was, but toward the end, he was just what he needed to be. And as we covered, I'm okay with sacrificing the novel for some swoon, so that's not an issue for me either. Isn't that what ADAPTING is all about? After all, if I want to read the book, I'll read the book. Movies serve a different purpose than literature...and I don't need a 6-hour version to experience the story in a different way. Pride & Prejudice can currently be found on Netflix.
So that's all friends, Happy Valentine's Day. I hope you enjoyed my Austen Top Ten, I know I left many off the list, so be sure to share your favorites below. And maybe, if you guys want them/I have the strength to write them, this will be just the beginning of my Austen recap posts...until the Oscars that is.