Emma and the 6 greatest Jane Austen movie adaptations

It’s a new year, and after the dust has settled from awards season and the big Christmas holiday releases, attention will soon turn to the fresh glut of new movies in the first couple of months of 2020.

Alongside more big blockbusters and Oscar hopefuls is a new adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel Emma, directed by Autumn de Wilde and starring Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch), Johnny Flynn (Beast), Bill Nighy (Their Finest) and Josh O’Connor (The Crown). 

So we thought we’d celebrate with some of the best of recent times.

1. Clueless (1995)

There are plenty of worthy and excellent adaptations of arguably Austen’s most famous novel, Emma, but none have had the cultural impact of Amy Heckerling’s cult classic Clueless, which is still regarded as one of the best comedies of the 1990s.

A loose adaptation of Emma, the film is set in modern-day (well, 1995) Beverly Hills and follows entitled, well-to-do high-school student Cher (Alicia Silverstone) as she befriends new student Tai (Brittany Murphy) and helps to make her popular.

Brilliantly merging the deeper meanings of the novel whilst poking fun at teen films and the excesses of Los Angeles, Heckerling’s film has endured even more than some of the more faithful adaptations, and some 25 years later it still rings true on so many levels.

2. Sense and Sensibility (1995)

One of the most famous Austen adaptations is 1995’s Sense and Sensibility. It was both a huge box office success and Oscar winner, including Best Adapted Screenplay for writer/actor Emma Thompson, who helped usher the film to the screen through its inception back in 1989.

Earning over $135 million worldwide (pretty stellar by 1990s box office standards), the film was directed by Ang Lee (later of Brokeback Mountain fame), who made his Hollywood debut with Thompson, Hugh Grant, Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman starring in the lead roles.

Praised for its faithfulness to the original text while also giving the characters some modern flashings, it is still regarded as one of Lee and Thompson’s finest works.

3. Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Look, we love Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice – and, of course, in Bridget Jones’s Diary, (more on that later). But this being a movie blog, we had to excise his dashing, handsomeness in favour of Joe Wright’s 2005 adaptation that brings the equally wonderful Matthew Macfadyen into the role.

The project had been in development for a few years with Working Title Films – the production company behind said Bridget Jones adaptations – and screenwriter Deborah Moggach was hired to work with Wright, himself making his feature directorial debut.

Eventually, they settled on a mix of faithful adaptation and some deviation so as to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, with Keira Knightley cast as Elizabeth Bennet. It worked: the film was a huge international success, grossing over $121 million and introducing a new generation to Austen's fascinating stories.

4. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004)

The world of hapless singleton Bridget Jones has many links to Jane Austen's narratives, including the role of Colin Firth as the handsome Mark Darcy. But not many people know that the 2004 Bridget Jones sequel is reminiscent of another Austen novel, Persuasion.

In that book, the lead character is persuaded to break off her relationship with her “dream man” by her friends, and has to deal with a love rival, amongst other things. And the film echoes many of the book’s themes, bringing it into a modern-day setting, like the aforementioned Clueless.

Bridget Jones author Helen Fielding and Four Weddings' Richard Curtis collaborated on the film, which saw Renee Zellweger return as Bridget alongside Firth and Hugh Grant to stellar box-office returns ($262 million worldwide).

5. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

Seth Grahame-Smith's Jane Austen parody novel was released to great acclaim in 2009, and it wasn’t long before Hollywood came calling. Initially, the film was to star Black Swan's Natalie Portman, with American Hustle's David O. Russell directing.

Lily James (Yesterday) and Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down) replaced them respectively, although Portman stayed on as producer. The film sadly wasn’t a box office success, grossing just $16 million worldwide, but despite that, it's still a lot of fun. If you want to see the prim and proper likes of Elizabeth Bennet gorily decapitating those pesky undead hordes, this is your chance.

6. Love & Friendship (2016)

We’ve put this one on the 'film you didn’t know about but need to see immediately' list because, for all its praise and awards, Love & Friendship fell under many people’s radars when it was released in 2016. But trust us when we say that it is a hoot.

Based on the short epistolary novel by Austen called Lady Susan, which she never submitted for publication, the film was brought to the screen by acclaimed filmmaker Whit Stillman. A terrific Kate Beckinsale (Underworld) stars in the lead role, a widow who sets about using her cunning and manipulation to secure a wealthy future for her and her daughter, no matter the odds or cost. Raucous, funny and smart, this is one of the most thoroughly entertaining films of the last decade and deserves a re-discovery.

Emma is released in Cineworld cinemas on the 14th of February, so tweet us your favourite Jane Austen adaptations @Cineworld.