7 of the Best Jane Austen Movie Adaptations, According to Rotten Tomatoes

7 of the Best Jane Austen Movie Adaptations, According to Rotten Tomatoes
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There’s a new Jane Austen movie in town, and fans of the author are giddy with excitement. Persuasion tells the story of Anne Elliot “a nonconforming woman with modern sensibilities” who lives within a snobby, wealthy family and finds herself in a complicated romantic conundrum (as these things tend to go).

The Netflix film adaptation of the Jane Austen book stars Dakota Johnson and is set to start streaming on July 15. And although Austen lovers may be looking forward to its arrival, the reviews of this film tell a far less romantic tale.

Persuasion currently sits at 34 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics slamming its attempt at modernising the story for today’s audience. The response brings the question: which Jane Austen movie adaptations have been smash-hits and which other failed miserably?

Let’s take a look at the best of the bunch.

The best Jane Austen movie adaptations, according to Rotten Tomatoes

All synopses are via movie distributors. 

1. Pride and Prejudice (1940)

Pride and Prejudice 1940
Best Jane Austen films. Pride and Prejudice, 1940.

Rating: 100 per cent

Cast and crew: Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier, Edna May Oliver, Mary Boland and directed by Robert Z. Leonard

Synopsis:

In the early 19th century in the English village of Meryton, the arrival of wealthy bachelors, most notably Mr. Darcy (Laurence Olivier), stirs up the families with single daughters. Among those is the Bennet family, with five eligible daughters, including the spirited Elizabeth (Greer Garson) and her pretty older sister, Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan). As Mrs. Bennet (Mary Boland) aggressively tries to pair off her girls, Elizabeth crosses swords with the imperious Darcy.

Watch it via digital rental.

2. Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Best Jane Austen movies
Best Jane Austen movies. Sense and Sensibility, 1995. Credit: Sony

Rating: 97 per cent

Cast and crew: Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant and directed by Ang Lee

Synopsis:

When Elinor Dashwood’s (Emma Thompson) father dies, her family’s finances are crippled. After the Dashwoods move to a cottage in Devonshire, Elinor’s sister Marianne (Kate Winslet) is torn between the handsome John Willoughby (Greg Wise) and the older Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman). Meanwhile, Elinor’s romantic hopes with Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant) are hindered due to his prior engagement. Both Elinor and Marianne strive for love while the circumstances in their lives constantly change.

Watch it via digital rental.

3. Love & Friendship (2016)

Best Jane Austen movies
Best Jane Austen movies. Love & Friendship, 2016. Credit: Amazon Studios

Rating: 96 per cent

Cast and crew: Kate Beckinsale, Xavier Samuel, Morfydd Clark, Emma Greenwell and directed by Whit Stillman

Synopsis:

In the 18th century, the seductive and manipulative Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) uses devious tactics to win the heart of the eligible Reginald De Courcy (Xavier Samuel).

Watch it on Stan.

4. Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Best Jane Austen movies
Best Jane Austen movies. Pride and Prejudice, 2005. Credit: Universal

Rating: 87 per cent

Cast and crew: Keira Knightley, Matthew MacFadyen, Judi Dench, Brenda Blethyn and directed by Joe Wright

Synopsis:

In this adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved novel, Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) lives with her mother, father and sisters in the English countryside. As the eldest, she faces mounting pressure from her parents to marry. When the outspoken Elizabeth is introduced to the handsome and upper-class Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen), sparks fly. Although there is obvious chemistry between the two, Darcy’s overly reserved nature threatens the fledgling relationship.

Watch it on Netflix.

5. Emma (1996)

Emma
Best Jane Austen movies. Emma, 1996. Miramax/Disney

Rating: 85 per cent

Cast and crew: Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam, Toni Collette, Greta Scacchi and directed by Douglas McGrath

Synopsis:

In this adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel, pretty socialite Emma Woodhouse (Gwyneth Paltrow) entertains herself by playing matchmaker for those around her. Her latest “project” is Harriet Smith, an unpretentious debutant, while Emma herself receives the attentions of the dashing Frank Churchill (Ewan McGregor). However, Emma’s attempts at matchmaking cause more problems than solutions and may ultimately jeopardise her own chance at love and happiness.

Watch it on Stan.

6. Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

Best Jane Austen movies
Best Jane Austen movies. Bridget Jones’ Diary. Credit: Universal

Rating: 80 per cent

Cast and crew: Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Gemma Jones and directed by Sharon Maguire

Synopsis:

At the start of the New Year, 32-year-old Bridget (Renée Zellweger) decides it’s time to take control of her life — and start keeping a diary. Now, the most provocative, erotic and hysterical book on her bedside table is the one she’s writing. With a taste for adventure, and an opinion on every subject – from exercise to men to food to sex and everything in between – she’s turning the page on a whole new life.

Watch this adaptation of Pride and Prejudice on Stan.

7. Clueless (1995)

Clueless
Best Jane Austen movies. Clueless, 1995. Credit: Paramount

Rating: 81 per cent

Cast and crew: Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy, Paul Rudd and directed by Amy Heckerling

Synopsis:

Shallow, rich and socially successful Cher (Alicia Silverstone) is at the top of her Beverly Hills high school’s pecking scale. Seeing herself as a matchmaker, Cher first coaxes two teachers into dating each other. Emboldened by her success, she decides to give hopelessly klutzy new student Tai (Brittany Murphy) a makeover. When Tai becomes more popular than she is, Cher realises that her disapproving ex-stepbrother (Paul Rudd) was right about how misguided she was — and falls for him.

Watch this adaptation of Emma on Paramount+.

How many movies are based on Jane Austen?

Now that you know which Jane Austen movies are considered the best, you may be wondering just how many times creators have sought to bring the author’s books to the screen.

Rotten Tomatoes counts a total of 16 films, so adding Persuasion to that list, we’re now sitting at 17. There are also a number of TV series that have been based on Jane Austen novels – we’re talking at least 15 English-language shows over the years. The BBC is the best place to start if you’re after a series – it has produced shows based on all of Jane Austen’s books.

What books are these based on, again?

Jane Austen penned six books in her life. These are Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion.

Her seventh novel Sanditon was unfinished at the time of her death – but that hasn’t stopped folks from turning it into a screen production.

Comments

  • You really should have included an honourable mention for the BBC TV mini-series of Pride and Prejudice (I say honourable as it’s not a movie!) – which at least to my mind is the best production of that book, and perhaps even of any Jane Austin novel, on screen (or at least fighting Sense & Sensibility for that top spot).

    If you’ve never seen that, you absolutely must watch it – it’s a far superior representation of the book to the (admittedly still not bad) Keira Knightley version.

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