The other day, a friend asked me what I thought the best movie version of Jane Eyre was. It got me thinking: What is the best movie version of Jane Eyre? I've seen three adaptations myself, and that's not even all that have been made.
And for that matter, what are the best movie versions of Emma, Persuasion, Mansfield Park, Sense & Sensibility, and Pride & Prejudice, each of which has at least two out there?
I've decided that I really only have a favorite version of Jane Eyre and Mansfield Park. The rest are all good (and bad) for varying reasons. Let's take a look, Jane Eyre first.
Apparently, this one was released theatrically, though where I was when that happened, I have no idea.
Strengths: Charlotte Gainsbourg is awesome and her French lessons to Adelle are wonderfully authentic. And as Jane Eyre, she is actually, you know, plain. The scene after the fire in the bedroom (not a metaphor) is really, really good in this one.
Weaknesses: None that I can readily recall, which might be a weakness in itself. I don't know if this version can be my favorite if it's not memorable.
This one reminds me what literary adaptations were like before 2005ish, when they all of a sudden became rather big-budgety.
Strengths: I love Ciaran Hinds and Samantha Morton. Think about all the book-movies you've seen, and they probably star one or the other of these two in some role.
Weaknesses: This version is kind of low-budget, and it shows. I like this version more because I want to than because I actually do.
Ah, the coup de grâce, the decisive favorite: Masterpiece's 2006 miniseries version.
Strengths: For sheer length, this one gets major points. It is a miniseries, so it's longer than either of the other two versions. That means more attention to the smaller plots, like Jane's visit back home at the death of her aunt, or the whole preacher/cousin/lover thing. This version is beautiful, too, and has some great tension - and humor - between Jane and Mr. Rochester. It was the only one where I could really see why she would like him so much. In the other versions, it seems like we're just supposed to take the movie's word for it that Mr. Rochester is lovable underneath all that gruff.
Weaknesses: Sometimes I feel like the new Masterpiece movies just find an actress who is alarmingly, strangely beautiful, and build up the story around her. This Jane was a bit distracting (but not as bad as Cathy in the new Wuthering Heights. Egads!).
Sense & Sensibility. You know my feelings on this version. A recap:
Strengths: The scene where Colonel Brandon catches Marianne after she sees Willoughby. The setting, on a rugged beach landscape. Willoughby seems a little more evil and less benign than in the Hollywood version. It's a miniseries, so it's longer. The music is beautiful. Hugh Grant is nowhere in sight. And so on.
Weaknesses: I still didn't really go for Edward. Maybe my problem is more with the character than the actor. Alan Rickman fails to make an appearance in this movie, which I think we can agree is a fault no matter what.
The seminal 1995 version.
Strengths: Alan Rickman, a beautiful soundtrack, Kate Winslet in all her moody, melancholy, gorgeous glory, and that scene where she weeps over Willoughby on a hilltop in the rain.
Weaknesses: Length, for one, and the fact that there is no kissing in this movie, at all (unless you watch the special features, and there's just one weird kiss between Edward and Elinor that rivals the infamous Little Women kiss for awkwardness).
Pride & Prejudice, the 2005 Hollywood version. I confess I was skeptical of the new kid on the block when it had the audacity to...well, to be made, after the A&E version was so awesome. But you know what? After a few viewings, I decided I liked it. A lot.
Strengths: The director set the story a few decades earlier than has traditionally been done, in part so that he didn't have to use those unflattering empire dresses on all the actresses. Bravo! This movie's version of Elizabeth and Darcy definitely grows on you, and the scene in the gazebo in the rain (what's with the rain in all these movies?) is fantastic in all its subdued passion.
Weaknesses: Caroline Bingley was too much of a snot in this one. And Wickham bugged. Also, the kissing scene at the end is so stupid. I just don't ever need to see Darcy's calves, thanks.
The king of all Jane Austen adaptations. An American family we knew in Jordan hosted a yearly Pride & Prejudice party and invited all the ladies to attend. It was the most highly anticipated social event of the year. At least it was for me.
Strengths: Too many to list, really. This movie is so good, Jeremy and a group of his male friends actually got together and watched it at our apartment in Syria, even though there were no females present to impress.
Weaknesses: The empire-waist dresses.
I wrote about this one before: Persuasion.
Strengths: They really glammed up the story and made it faster-paced than it probably should be. Some might put this under the "weakness" category. I don't know; I think it really worked. Captain Wentworth certainly was more dashing, and I liked how they showed his side of the story a little more. Again, there is a neat scene in the rain. The music is good. It has one of the more...interesting kiss scenes I've ever noticed in an Austen adaptation:
Weaknesses: It doesn't have as much oomph as the other version. Everybody is a little bit too good-looking.
The original version. I guess it was a TV movie for the Brits and a Hollywood movie for us Americans.
Strengths: I think Ciaran Hinds is at his best in this version. Amanda Root is just pretty/ugly enough to do a great job playing Anne. Mrs. Clay has crooked teeth and freckles. The Crofts are just as lovely as they are in the book. In fact, this adaptation's greatest strength may be that it is astonishingly faithful to the book.
Weaknesses: This may seem trifling, but the dialogue is really hard to understand. I had to watch it with subtitles to be able to really comprehend what was going on in the movie. I heard it was filmed with no artificial lighting, too, which is great on principle but makes for kind of a murky picture at times. Also, what's with the circus on parade at the end?
Mansfield Park, the Austen novel with the most boring heroine. This version was included in the Jane Austen Season.
Strengths: Honestly, none that I can think of. Everything this movie does well, the 1999 version does better.
Weaknesses: Quite a few. A blonde Fanny Price, for starters.
The awesome version. When I was a sophomore in college, one of my roommates worked at Blockbuster Video. That came in really handy when our entire apartment wanted to rent Mansfield Park pretty much indefinitely. I love this movie.
Strengths: Hmm, where to start. All the acting is brilliant, Henry Crawford is actually a pretty viable option for Fanny at one point (and as a bonus, you can debate forever whether he ever actually reformed and had good intentions, or not. The other version, and the book, only show him as a rake). Basically, this movie is better than the book. It also features the best almost-kiss scene I've ever seen. If you've seen a better one, I don't believe you.
Weaknesses: My only real damage with this version is that the director tried to inject a lot of social consciousness into the story and so there's a couple of disturbing images near the end.
Until it was re-featured as part of Jane Austen Season a year or two ago, I think this version of Emma was pretty unknown.
Strengths: Mark Strong (no pun intended). He's the actor you've never heard of who you love in everything you see (think Septimus in Stardust). His Mr. Knightley is a little bit angrier than Jeremy Northam's, but that just makes it all the sweeter when he ***SPOILER ALERT*** marries Emma in the end.
Weaknesses: Kate Beckinsale bugs, even before she was famous.
The Hollywood Emma. One of my favorites, but not Jeremy's. He hates this movie beyond all reason.
Strengths: Beautiful costumes, hair, production design, etc. A lovely film. It's quite funny at times, too. Good music. Spirited pacing. Emma Thompson's sister as Miss Bates. Obi-Wan as Frank Churchill. This movie has a lot going for it.
Weaknesses: Jeremy doesn't like it. I really should ask him why.
Did I miss anything?