Adapting Austen

Almost as delightful as pouring over one of Austen’s books is watching it come to life in a television or film adaptation. Finally, the characters exist somewhere other than your head/dreams/imagination! (Hopefully that’s not that just me…)

But, in my opinion, not all adaptations of Austen’s work were created equally. So, I’m going to quickly go over my favorites here and how they had a part in influencing my upcoming novel, Aerendgast: The Lost History of Jane Austen (soon to be published by Meryton Press).

Pride and Prejudice

This is a tough one. And no doubt some of you will disagree with me. I know how you feel, I was once you. I swore up and down that the Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle P&P was THE ONLY version worth seeing. It’s so incredibly true to the book, and the genius addition of the lake scene is now so infamous that a town in the UK erected this to celebrate the book’s 200th birthday:

However, I have to say that the Michael Macfadyen and Keira Knightley version from a few years ago is my absolutely favorite hands down. I know lots was was cut out for time. I know it’s not 100% true to the book. I know that Keria isn’t everyone’s ideal Lizze and Matthew isn’t everyone’s ideal Darcy. But what the film does incredibly well, better than most, is perfectly capture the tone of the book through cinematography and score. The result is that the feeling I get watching the movie is the same feeling I get reading the book. For example, the first time Darcy proposes to Lizzie, in the film, it’s raining. As the scene escalates the rain pours down harder and harder, evoking the feelings of Darcy and Lizzie in that moment without the aid of a narrator.

Sense & Sensibility

Another controversial choice, I know. Believe me, I love Alan Rickman. I love Emma Thompson. But, my favorite S&S is the BBC’s recent version with Charity Wakefield, Hattie Morahan, and Dan Stephens (pre-Downton Abbey!). First of all, I love this cast. David Morrisey, Janet McTeer, Dominic Cooper; everyone is perfection. But again, this adaptation captures, in a way previous versions have not, the isolation of the Dashwood’s, the limited choices the girls have once their father dies and their step brother refuses to help them, and the way that love evolves as we grow up. These themes are reflected in the beautifully desolate locations and the time and care given to the pace of the story.


Two words: Jeremy Northam. There is no other Mr. Knightley. He is so swoon-worthy in this role that I will still watch literally anything he is in, because he was once Mr. Knightley. There was one summer in high school that I must’ve watched this version of Emma (starring Gwyneth Paltrow) once a day. It’s not perfect, Emma is a much nicer person that she is in the book, large pieces of the plot are missing, but it manages to capture the seriousness and silliness of the book while adding a bit of whimsy that’s completely new.

Northanger Abbey

One of my favorite novels by Austen (I find Henry Tilney just delightful), Northanger hasn’t been adapted often. Felicity Jones and JJ Field do an absolutely wonderful job in Masterpiece’s recent adaption of Austen’s first novel. The Gothic satire shines through and there’s another top-notch rain scene that is 100% dreamy. Trust me.

As this post is becoming a novel itself I’ll save Mansfield Park and Persuasion for another day.

Being able to watch Austen adaptions helps me visualize the time, place, and circumstances of Austen’s life in a way that books can’t always provide. Seeing her characters come to life helps me pick and choose how to incorporate them into my book. In Aerendgast, Jane Austen’s life becomes much more tragic than any of her characters’, but it’s through a combination of reading her words and watching them on the screen that I was able to rewrite her story. Aerendgast: The Lost History of Jane Austen, will be published by Meryton Press in April.

Disagree with my list? Let’s talk about in the comments!