Last month was the 20th anniversary of the movie, Clueless. I was not old enough to watch it in theaters when it came out and watched it in the early 2000s. While the clothes were no longer in style by then, the movie still felt fresh and modern. I watched it again a few months ago and was glad to find that it still held up (and is Paul Rudd immortal?). That is because it was an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma and Jane Austen is always in style. Adaptations and spinoffs of her novels are still going two centuries after her novels were published. The appearance of Bride and Prejudice, the Bollywood version of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, in my Netflix recommendations inspired me to hold you hostage to my some of my thoughts about lesser known Austen on-screen adaptations.
Aisha (2010). A Bollywood modern-day adaptation of Emma . It has a slick and upbeat sensibility and continues the tradition of making the character of Emma and her antics frustrating but winsome, which I find difficult to do for a modern remake.
Bride and Prejudice (2004). Some of the best scenes in Pride and Prejudice take place at dance parties, so a musical Bollywood film is a natural medium for the story. The misunderstanding between Lalita (Elizabeth) and Will (Darcy) has the added dimension of a culture clash between the Lalita, who is Indian, and Will, who is Caucasian American.
Clueless (1995). I just find some of Emma’s personality traits much more acceptable and realistic in a historical context rather than a modern one. That is probably why the screenwriter aged her down from 20 to 16 and placed the entire story in high school. When Emma (or Cher as she is known in the film) is a teenager, her single-mindedness, naivety, and unintended selfishness make more sense to me. The movie has an interesting atmosphere of both innocence and biting commentary, which is partly why it is being celebrated 20 years later.
From Prada to Nada (2011). A loose, modern-day adaptation of Sense of Sensibility. Nora and Mary are the counterparts to Elinor and Marianne. What’s interesting about the movie is that the two young women are Mexican-American and part of their growth in the film involves exploring their cultural identity.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (2012-2013). This is an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in the form of video blog –featuring a graduate student, named Lizzie. This works incredibly well since the novel is primarily told in Elizabeth’s point of the view. I like the twists and updates to the characters and their situations. Mr.Collins’s proposal wasn’t a proposal of marriage but a proposal for Lizzie to join him as a business partner. You can watch the series on youtube.
Mansfield Park (2007). Another Mansfield Park adaptation starring
Rose Tyler Billie Piper. As an adaptation, it was a failure. It was historically inaccurate and some of the characters portrayals were completely different from their novel counterparts. So why is this on this list? Because as a Mansfield Park alternate universe fake-history fanfiction, I found it a funny and entertaining watch. I don’t think there has been a Mansfield Park adaptation made yet that has done its source material justice.
Persuasion (1995): 1995 was a great year for Jane Austen adaptations! Persuasion is faithful to the novel and its characters. Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds were quite a bit older than the novel’s characters, but they portrayed Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot and their suppressed emotions beautifully.
Persuasion (2007): Another great adaptation of the novel, though I think it’s a touch more romanticized (especially the ending!) than the 1995 version and lacks some of the tension from the 1995.
You may notice that Northanger Abbey adaptations are not mentioned. That’s because I haven’t watched any of them yet! On-screen adaptations may be wonderful and very satisfying, but nothing beats the books. Amidst all the romance are the social commentaries, the satirical notes, and the comedic beats that don’t always shine through in the adaptations.