Jane Austen's 10 BEST Movies (In Honor Of Her Birthday)

If dreams really came true and life worked exactly the way we wanted, Jane Austen would still be alive today, and celebrating her 238th birthday. Instead, our beloved novelist died much, much younger, at 41. And so, we were never given the opportunity to meet her, befriend her, and spend hours chatting about gender politics, next-wave feminism, free indirect discourse, the allure of pulp gothic novels, and the difficulties of modern dating (we are 100% positive she would have been on board with Spinster Chic).
Life is just so difficult sometimes.
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But, in honor of Austen's 238th, we're offering up a little present of sorts, anyway. Ahead, an entirely subjective hit list of her very best movies. We're including direct adaptations of her novels, looser interpretations, and some Austen-inspired works, for good measure. Even one biopic (albeit begrudgingly). So, click through, marvel at the perfection that is Mr. Darcy, and get thee to the nearest copy of her collected works, stat (don't worry, they're all out of copyright and free to download...pretty much everywhere).
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Photo: Courtesy of BBC.
Pride & Prejudice (BBC Miniseries)
This is the screen adaptation that will have our hearts forever. It's five-and-a-half hours of period-piece magic. Thanks to this miniseries, Jennifer Ehle is the Lizzie Bennet we see in our minds' eyes every time we re-read the novel. Also, Colin Firth (who we still refer to as Mr. Darcy, even when we're talking about say, Love Actually). But mostly, we love that the extra-long runtime allows pretty much every single scene in the novel to be adapted, practically verbatim.
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Photo: Courtesy of Focus Features.
Pride & Prejudice
We weren't totally on board with this movie when we first saw it in 2005. Our feeling on adaptations of beloved novels is that you need to either bring something new to the conversation or you need to paint a fuller, more vibrant picture of the story at hand. This version was fairly true to the novel, but being a feature-length film, it had to cut a lot of our favorite bits that the BBC version had the luxury of keeping. But, over time, we've grown fonder of Knightley as Lizzie and Matthew Macfadyen as Darcy. (Also, remember Carey Mulligan as the holier-than-thou Kitty? And Jena Malone as the entirely aggravating Lydia?)

Plus, the scene of Darcy's first proposal is beautiful. The rain! The picturesque setting! The emotions running high! ("In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you." Although, they get the dialogue just a little bit wrong there — but, we'll forgive it.)
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Photo: Courtesy of Miramax.
Bridget Jones' Diary
A very loose adaptation, but Mark Darcy is almost as compelling as Fitzwilliam Darcy (and it certainly doesn't hurt that he's played by our favorite Mr. Darcy of all time). Plus, Hugh Grant is the ideal choice for a rakish, charming Mr. Wickham stand-in.

Sure, Bridget bumbles a bit more than Lizzie ever did. And, pride isn't her tragic flaw. But, we have a very soft spot for this movie. Also, the "All By Myself" scene at the beginning is melodramatic (and yet, not entirely unrelatable) chick-flick perfection.
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Photo: Courtesy of Miramax.
Emma
Here at R29, we're very torn when it comes to Gwyneth. Some of us adore her, some of us enjoy her foibles, and some of us can't tolerate her. This writer falls into the first camp, and it's mainly because of this movie. She was sort of born to play the role of Emma. Privileged. Successful. Polarizing. Occasionally tone-deaf. See? It works. Also, she looks great in those dresses. And sometimes, we close our eyes when we're watching this movie, and pretend Jeremy Northam is actually Paul Rudd. Is that so wrong?
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Photo: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
Clueless
There are too many genius things about this Emma adaptation to continue the use of pesky things like paragraphs. So, a list:
1. An unmotivated stoner (on the grassy knoll over there) as the modern-day equivalent of farmer working hard to live off his land? Unfair, and yet, a fairly accurate representation of social prejudices.
2. Reading Frank Churchill as gay is pretty insightful. And totally works.
3. Paul Rudd.
4. Elton's "do you even know who my father is" moment of open snobbery.
5. "Oh my god, I love Josh."
6. Wealth, as the only thing that makes a single woman acceptable to society.
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Photo: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.
Sense & Sensibility
Like any respectable Austen reader, we have trouble tolerating Marianne Dashwood. And, despite the fact that Emma Thompson's screenplay (yep, she adapted it, and it took her five years) flips around our understanding of her character, we're still not entirely sold on her. However, this is one of the rare occasions where a screenwriter takes some artistic liberties with a plot and characters we adore, and we don't hate it. Colonel Brandon is improved by Thompson's changes, and makes for a better character on film as a result, and the scene at the end where everything comes together and we finally understand what's what...well, tears every time.

P.S. This movie got seven Oscar nods. And it has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 98%. Just watch it already, if you haven't. Or, watch it again, if it's been a while.
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Photo: Courtesy of Miramax.
Mansfield Park
Oh, Fanny Price. So overlooked. So pure of heart. So irksome. And yet, this movie pokes fun at her (and of course, all of the morally corrupt types at Mansfield Park) in the gentlest way. Much like Austen did. We weren't always huge fans of the book, but watching this 1999 interpretation has actually made us love the source material even more.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sony Pictures.
Jane Austen Book Club
Full disclosure: Some us are unspeakable smitten with Hugh Dancy. Sure, he's not the most name-brand of heartthrobs, but we can't get enough of his floppy hair and earnest smile. And, in this movie, he's so nerdy and awkward — but also, thoughtfully enthusiastic about Austen (all for the sake of wooing Mario Bello).

Plus, there's something really amazing about watching all of these characters come together around the books that we already love so much. It's nice to hear these works discussed in the way we wish our imaginary book club (you know, the one we never quite motived to pull together) would do. And, it's heartwarming to see these very human characters learn a few life lessons from the all-knowing Jane.
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Photo: Courtesy of Miramax.
Becoming Jane
We were very much torn about including this one. A biopic on Austen is a beautiful thing. And, we loved the idea that she walked around with her nose in a novel (in the same way that Lizzie Bennet does at the beginning of Pride and Prejudice — something Austen's narrator chastises her for). Plus, we loved the idea that she had this affair with a man who was truly worthy of her.

But, we hate the judgement that the end of the film imposes on her single-dom. We don't like to think of our dearest Jane as being sad and broken-hearted and lonely for the bulk of her life. We don't like to think that she was alone because life dealt her a cruel hand and she couldn't find lasting love — we like to think that she spent her time with her work and chose the life she did, and found joy in it. So, ultimately, we're not huge fans of this one, but Anne Hathaway wasn't a bad Jane.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sony Pictures.
Austenland
This movie was entirely ridiculous. We know. But, we prefer to think of it as camp, and we have a very real soft spot for Felicity Keri Russell. Also, Bret from Flight of the Concords! So, we give it a pass. Just don't look too closely.
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