Adapting a book into a performable format is complicated. It has to be true to the original novel and please the fans while appealing to the entire audience, not just the hard core fan base.
I am a Janeite. As one might be able to guess my personal library and DVD collection contains a fair amount of Jane Austen related materials.
I would to share my top three favorite Jane Austen adaptations and why these three films should be viewed as templates for any writer or filmmaker looking to adapt a book.
My criteria is the following:
1. The actors have to look the part. The chemistry has to be there. Otherwise it all falls apart. (Yes, I am looking at you, 1996 Jane Eyre. William Hurt was too old for the part of Edward Rochester and had zero chemistry with Charlotte Gainsbourg).
2. The set has to look right. Every reader has their own idea of what the setting looks like, but it has to like right.
3. It MUST follow the book as much as possible.
That being said, here my favorite Jane Austen Adaptations
Directed by Ang Lee and written by Emma Thompson (who also played the lead role of Elinor Dashwood), this adaptation is beautiful.
Joining Emma Thompson is Kate Winslet as Marianne Dashwood, Hugh Grant as Edward Ferrars and Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon.
Putting aside the fact that Emma Thompson was a generation older than her character and played Elinor as if she was in her late 20’s, I have no complaints about this adaptation. I’ve read that some people didn’t think that Hugh Grant was the right actor to play Edward, but Edward Ferrars is a bit of a controversial character within Jane Austen fiction. I personally think that Dan Stevens was a better Edward, but to each their own.
Persuasion is the last of Austen’s completed novels. It has an Autumnal feeling, sad and sweet. As if she knew deep down that this would be her last completed work.
Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds play the two leads, Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth. The chemistry between them is palpable. They are both age appropriate and look like they have experienced a bit of life.
It’s lush, it’s beautiful and as with the novel, when you think that second chances don’t happen, they do happen. So does the happiness that you thought was lost forever.
Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle have some of the best on screen chemistry that I have ever seen. While I am sure they both would like the audience to look at their entire body of work and not just this particular performance, there is no denying that whatever it is that make actors look good together on screen, they have it.
The supporting cast works. The filmmakers crossed their t’s and dotted their eyes with this production. I still get shivers when I hear the theme song.
I recommend any of these films for any viewer or Janeite, whether they be a newbie or old fan.