The Best Jane Austen Adaptations
From contemporary takes to faithful adaptations, these are the Austen-inspired movies and series we can't get enough of.
Even though she only wrote six novels, Jane Austen is one of the world's most-adopted writers. Her books continue to inspire relatively faithful renditions and total left turns alike. This year alone, we've gotten both. Netflix's twee new Persuasion, starring Dakota Johnson and Henry Golding, falls into the faithful category, while the Hulu rom-com Fire Island updates Pride and Prejudice within a contemporary queer haven. The ideas Austen put forward—the pressure placed on women to marry, the 18th-century class dynamics that still haven't disappeared—remain resonant, and her famous wit hasn't lost its bite with time. In honor of Austen's legacy, Thrillist rounded up our favorite movies and shows based on her work.
Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
Bridget Jones's Diary is not only one of the best rom-coms of all time. It also breathed contemporary, messy life into Austen-inspired characters and their romantic comedy of errors. Like Austen and Elizabeth Bennet before her, author Helen Fielding's beloved Bridget has become a British pop-culture icon herself (so much so that Renée Zellweger is basically an honorary Brit). A fun-loving, career-minded everywoman, she's less concerned with the monetary prospects of marriage and more so with how society views "singletons" and her impending days being seen as a "spinster." It remains bloody funny, delightfully casting famed Mr. Darcy actor Colin Firth as Mark Darcy. As any good Austen novel will compel you to open up your heart, Bridget Jones's Diary has the power to compel you to run into the snow after the one you love, with or without your pants on. —Sadie Bell
Has there ever been a better example of taking a classic story and translating it for a modern milieu than Clueless? Doubt it. Amy Heckerling took the bones of Austen's Emma—an overly confident young woman who prides herself on matchmaking and is unaware of her own blind spots—and turned it into something thoroughly singular in its own right. It's hard to even read Emma now without thinking of Cher Horowitz and her bon mots. —Esther Zuckerman
Although it's one of the most recent Austen adaptations, this version of Emma is incredibly faithful to its source material. But rather than being a BBC-core period piece, this film directorial debut from Autumn de Wilde (known for directing music videos for the likes of Florence and the Machine and Jenny Lewis) is impeccably stylish and creates a whimsical period-piece world of its own. Its decadent production design and costumes take on a soft hue that complements the spread at high tea, and nearly every bit of dialogue, look of longing, and act of courting is choreographed beat-by-beat to the score. There's a cheeky sense of humor to it, too, and Anya Taylor-Joy plays the iconic matchmaker as conniving as she ought to be. It may be a Regency-set adaptation, but it's one filled with 2020's style. —SB
Fire Island (2022)
Fire Island's leading man, Noah (Joel Kim Booster), calls Pride and Prejudice’s famous opening line "hetero nonsense." Not every single man wants a partner, he insists, contradicting Austen's pithy assertion about couplings. By the end of the movie, however, the joke's on him. While vacationing with friends at the titular gay New York mecca, Noah meets a standoffish lawyer (Conrad Ricamora) who slowly ignites his fancy—the Mr. Darcy to his Elizabeth Bennet. On the periphery, there's a Jane Bennet (played by Bowen Yang), a Charles Bingley (James Scully), a Lydia (Matt Rogers), even a Mrs. Bennet (Margaret Cho). As a whole, Fire Island—written by Booster and directed by Andrew Ahn (Driveways)—works better in some ways than others. But as an Austen adaptation, it's an unconventional, effective joy. —Matthew Jacobs
Love & Friendship (2016)
Based on Austen's sly epistolary novel Lady Susan (with a title taken from a story she wrote as a child), Whit Stillman's uproariously funny Love & Friendship unravels the entire social structure of a clique of busybodies and effortlessly stitches it back up again. The widowed yet still youthful Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) is determined to marry off her eligible daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) and also find a husband for herself, but her daughter can't stand the doltish Sir James (Tom Bennett), who follows her around despite her best efforts. Lady Susan herself has a reputation for being an accomplished flirt, and no eligible bachelor trusts that she'll be faithful. When she and her daughter get romantically involved with multiple men, they launch a tornado of chaos within their friend group. High jinks ensue. —Emma Stefansky
Mansfield Park (1999)
Pretty much every Austen adaptation deviates from its source material in some way, even the period-faithful ones, but Patricia Rozema's Mansfield Park is notable for just how much it deviates—and for what it adds. A contemporary-minded reimagining that lays bare the oppressions and hypocrisies its characters are living under, the film stars Frances O'Connor as Fanny Price, sent to live with her wealthy extended family and immediately drawn into the complex intrigues of her cousins' lives, falling in and out of love with men who can't make up their minds. The film famously includes depictions of extramarital sex, obviously something that would not have appeared in the book, and openly critiques the main characters' involvement in the slave trade: Mansfield Park's wealth comes from a plantation in Antigua, a fact brushed aside in the book but not in the film. While it's not exactly faithful to the words themselves, it is perhaps a more faithful adaptation of Austen herself, who sprinkled atop her harmless romance novels many barely concealed criticisms of the social structures she and her contemporaries were living under. —ES
Sense and Sensibility (1995)
The combination of the irrepressible wit of Emma Thompson and the directorial genius of Ang Lee makes the 1995 film version of Sense and Sensibility one of the best literary adaptations ever made. Thompson, who also wrote the screenplay, stars as the sensible Elinor Dashwood alongside a fresh-faced, pre-Titanic Kate Winslet—playing her more naive sister, Marianne—as they search for matches that can provide love as well as stability. Plus, it gave us Thompson's incredible Golden Globe acceptance speech, done, in character, as Austen herself. —EZ
Pride and Prejudice (1995)
The BBC Pride & Prejudice is arguably the ur-Austen adaptation. The six-episode miniseries is incredibly faithful, so much that plenty of high school students have probably watched it instead of doing the assigned reading. It's still excellent, a perfectly cast rendition of one of the most beloved works of literature of all time. So much of that is thanks to the brilliant work of Colin Firth, inhabiting a role that all of his subsequent work would have to live up to, and Jennifer Ehle. Firth, with his uptight bristle, is the ideal Darcy, while Ehle's Lizzy Bennet brims with intelligence. —EZ
Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Audiences were initially worried that director Joe Wright's take on Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy wouldn't compare to the 1995 miniseries, and Austen obsessives were hesitant about changes made to the plot. But this Austen film has gone down as a favorite among certain millennials. Its long, expansive shots capturing the English countryside and luminous ballrooms are simply breathtaking, transporting you to Austen's romantic world unlike any other. While Matthew Macfadyen's Darcy isn't as beloved as Colin Firth's, Kiera Knightley gives one of her best performances as Elizabeth, and the rest of the ensemble's charms bring a particular youthfulness to this version. It's as every bit as visceral as Pride and Prejudice can be.