Guilty Pleasure Movies for Jane Austen Fans

I wrote a similar post about Jane Austen movies a few years ago, but after watching the latest adaptation of Emma I've been craving more Austen than ever. Her books and the movie adaptations also serve as perfect escapism. I call these films "guilty pleasures" because if you are a Jane Austen purist and thought the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice wasn't a faithful rendition of the novel then it is likely you will not enjoy most of the movies on this list either! I personally loved the 2005 version for so many reasons--sweeping English countryside, soothing soundtrack, neutral-heavy wardrobe, hand flex...So if you're like me and enjoy various versions of the author's most popular works then some of these films will hopefully tickle your fancy.
emma Emma (2020): directed by Autumn de Wilde this is a frothy confection of a film. It's a visual delight (just look at the above costume and scene--that's a chestnut tree in blossom) but the visuals aren't just empty imagery; both the costumes and set design are used to further the story and illustrate the relationships between characters. Emma's outfits and home often border on ostentatious and doll-like, which is also a representation of her status in the community--compare her wardrobe to that of humble Harriet or modest Jane Fairfax. The film did a good job of playing justice to the complexity of Emma's character (even Jane Austen herself wrote that Emma would be a character unliked by many)--she is obsessed with perfection but is far from perfect. Most films focus on humbling Emma, which this one does as well, but it also I think fleshes out her character and relationships better as well, for one thing you can feel her loneliness as she bids goodbye to Mrs. Weston. The relationship between Emma and Mr. Knightley is also especially good in this adaptation (I might write a whole blog post about that one day). One critique I did have for the film was the sound was a bit flat to me; I found it less immersive than it could have been as there wasn't much ambient noise throughout--for example when they're picnicking where is the birdsong? But that's a fairly minor critique for a film I enjoyed so thoroughly on so many levels.
Austenland (2013): This film is truly one for the Austen fanatics, since it stars an Austen fanatic who would rather daydream about Mr. Darcy than date and books a vacation at a Jane Austen theme park hoping for storybook romance. What she doesn't realize is that she booked the poor, orphaned relation package and instead of getting to play Elizabeth Bennet for the holiday she's stuck being Charlotte Lucas. But she's determined to not to let her situation in life get her down and fights to be the heroine of her own story. It's hilarious and endearing and full of little moments of "oh my goodness that's me" many an Austen fan can relate to. (It's also the movie that inspired me to hunt down my "I Love Mr Darcy" tote!)
Love & Friendship (2016): This comedic period piece is based on one of Jane Austen's less known works, namely her novella "Lady Susan" which Austen never submitted for publication. Her title character is a unique figure in 19th century literature--she is unscrupulous, selfish, scheming and brilliantly brought to life by Kate Beckinsale in the film. Throughout the movie she flirts, insults, plots and acts like no Jane Austen lead you have ever seen before. The character Lady Susan might have been based off of Jane Austen's neighbor; a beautiful woman who treated her daughters rather heartlessly and on-screen Susan is very cold to her daughter Frederica. As an American it was quite funny to hear an Austen character throw some verbal shade at my homeland with lines such as "Americans really have shown themselves to be a nation of ingrates, only by having children can I begin to understand such a dynamic..."
Northanger Abbey (2007): Northanger Abbey was the first novel Jane Austen completed, but one of the last to be published. Reading the novel or film you can almost feel her youth in the writing through her protagonist--a young girl who spends too much time reading novels and daydreaming that she is a heroine in a Gothic novel. It's a light-hearted comedy that also seems to tackle what could be some of Austen's own early hopes and fears as a would-be novel writer given the social prejudices of the time; are novels just silly works of fiction suitable only for the entertainment of young girls without much sense? The film adaptation stars a young Felicity Jones who has never looked more wide-eyed and naive than as young Catherine setting off for her first season "out" in society. Fun fact: the Northanger Abbey in this film was actually Lismore Castle in Ireland.
Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (2016): This movie (and book) asks the eternal question, what if the Bennet sisters had to battle zombies and social pressures? The film didn't do well in theaters, but it's actually quite a hilarious blend of zombie lore and the Regency Period; a dinner party is ruined by a zombie attack and a walk to Netherfield is wrought with more dangers than muddy hems. Far, far from a classic interpretation, it's fun to see some of the most well-known lines thrown about through a knife fight and brings some of the liveliness of Austen's novels to the screen in a very fresh way. Elizabeth was always a feisty protagonist, now she has the added bonus of a sword in her hands. I'm not really sure why Jane Austen fans were reluctant to see this film as it's pure fun.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (2012-2014): This isn't actually a movie, but a series of vlogs from the perspective of a modern day Elizabeth Bennet (Lizzie), live-blogging from her bedroom. All of your Pride and Prejudice favorites get a modern update through the screen of Youtube and it's really a testament to the enduring nature of Austen's stories. The characters in her novels feel realistic and sometimes even familiar, in the Lizzie Bennet Diaries version they also look and sound like you and me, but with that unmistakable Austen elegance.


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