Austen Power! 6 Jane Austen adaptations with a difference to stream today

The relationship lessons in Jane Austen’s novels are still relevant 200 years on. As Persuasion is released on Netflix, we look at six films and TV shows which have given Austen a modern twist.

By Rhys Lewis Published: 15 July 2022 - 9.49am
Netflix Persuasion

Persuasion, an adaptation of Jane Austen’s last completed novel starring Dakota Johnson and Cosmo Jarvis, arrives on Netflix on Friday 15 July.

Adapted by Oscar-winning screenwriter Ron Bass (Rain Man) and Alice Victoria Winslow and directed by Carrie Cracknell, the film has attracted criticism for its attempts to modernise the plot and text of the novel.

Although the set and costumes are recognisably early 19th century, the trailer for the film stoked controversy as Johnson’s heroine Anne Elliot regularly breaks the fourth wall, Fleabag-style, and uses distinctly 21st century turns of phrase.

Some Austen fans have accused the production of trying too hard to give the much-loved novel the ‘Bridgerton treatment’, a view which the director understands.

“I think people have a really deep feeling of ownership over Austen and, rightly, have a really sort of strong connection to the book,” Cracknell said in an interview with Indie Wire.

“It’s really important to me that the film holds the grown-up longing and heartache and complexity of Anne’s journey, and I’ve tried to calibrate that really carefully, as well as finding this slightly more anarchic, comic energy.”

While the frequent ‘straight’ adaptations of Austen’s novels are guaranteed crowd-pleasers, it’s not the first time that one of her books has been brought up to date or inspired other films and series.

Here are six films and TV shows, from teen comedy to horror via Bollywood, inspired by the works of the author. Plus, don't miss the Jane Austen link in Bridget Jones's Diary...

Clueless

Clueless Paramount Pictures

It’s Austen, but not as we know it. Alicia Silverstone stars in a Beverly Hills-set update of Emma as Cher Horowitz, whose attempts to play matchmaker to her teachers and raise the profile of socially awkward newcomer Tai backfire and force her to confront her own true feelings for harsh critic Josh.

The film was a sleeper hit of 1995 and inspired a spin-off TV series which ran for three years. A reboot of the series is current in development.

Stacey Dash, the late Brittany Murphy and Paul Rudd co-star in this classic teen comedy directed by Amy Heckerling.

Stream Clueless on Netflix and Sky Cinema with NOW.

Lost in Austen

Lost in Austen ITV

Unhappy with her unromantic boyfriend, Jane Austen fan Amanda Price discovers a portal to the world of Pride & Prejudice in her bathroom.

After switching places with Elizabeth Bennet, Amanda is keen to ensure the novel progresses as it should, but a series of misunderstandings and the introduction of 21st century conventions regularly throw the plot off track.

Critically praised comedy drama starring Jemima Rooper, Alex Kingston, Hugh Bonneville, Morven Christie, Gemma Arterton and Elliot Cowan as Darcy.

Stream Lost in Austen on BritBox.

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From original shows like The Dry and Hotel Portofino to the best of British comedy and drama, there's something for everyone at BritBox.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

This horror pastiche of Austen’s most-filmed novel presents the Bennet sisters with an extra challenge – not just finding a wealthy husband, but fighting off a 19th century zombie apocalypse in the process.

Fortunately their father has ensured that they are all trained in Chinese martial arts, and before long they are called upon to defend their friends and neighbours as a country ball is invaded by the undead. Also at the ball is skilled zombie-killer Colonel Darcy, and Elizabeth’s moves soon catch his eye.

Lily James, Sam Riley, Ellie Bamber, Sally Phillips, Charles Dance and Matt Smith star in this hilarious comedy-horror-period drama.

Watch Pride and Prejudice and Zombies on the BT Player

The Jane Austen Book Club 

Serial divorcee Bernadette starts a book club to discuss the works of Jane Austen, only for her and her five fellow readers to find their relationships, both old and new, begin to resemble 21st century versions of the author’s six novels.

Romantic drama starring Kathy Baker, Emily Blunt, Amy Brenneman, Maggie Grace, Mario Bello and Hugh Dancy.

Watch The Jane Austen Book Club on the BT Player

Bride & Prejudice

Jane Austen got the Bollywood treatment in this 2004 musical extravaganza. The action takes place in Amritsar, where Lalita Bakshi’s mother is determined to marry off her and her three sisters to respectable and wealthy men.

At a family wedding, Lalita meets American Will Darcy, but when they meet again on holiday in Goa the pair clash over gender politics and Indian economics, and she later meets – and falls for - the dashing George Wickham.

The film, directed by Gurinder Chadha (Bend it Like Beckham) and starring Aishwarya Rai as Lalita and Martin Henderson as Darcy, was filmed mostly in the UK but features all the colour and energy of Bollywood’s characteristic Bhangra and a special guest appearance by American singer Ashanti.

Watch Bride and Prejudice in the BT Player

Becoming Jane

Becoming Jane BBC Films

Finally, not a film based on the works of Jane Austen, but one based on the author’s young life – although it could quite easily be the plot of one of her own novels.

Anne Hathaway plays young aspiring writer Austen, whose parents are keen to find a suitable husband for. She turns down the affections of many eligible suitors until she meets lawyer Tom Lefroy. The two fall in love but the relative poverty of Jane’s family put their courtship in peril.

James McAvoy plays Tom, and Julie Walters and James Cromwell play Jane’s parents. Also stars Maggie Smith, Anna Maxwell Martin, Helen McCrory and Ian Richardson.

Stream Becoming Jane on BritBox.

 

Darcy and the diary: Bridget Jones's Austen link

Bridget Jones's Diary Universal Pictures

While it’s not a straight adaptation, one of the most successful films to date based on a Jane Austen novel is Bridget Jones’s Diary.

The Pride and Prejudice plot – single woman not getting any younger meets a man she doesn’t like before realising (following a doomed relationship with a scoundrel) that they are made for each other – is there in plain sight, and if you were still in any doubt, he’s even called Mr Darcy!

Writer Helen Fielding has said that she started writing the novel at the time the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice mini-series starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth was airing, and elements of the plot began to appear in her own book.

“I just stole the plot... and then the book increasingly began to mimic and nick stuff from Pride and Prejudice. But it's a very good plot and I thought Jane Austen wouldn't mind, and anyway she's dead,” Fielding admitted.

Of the many links between the Austen novel and Fielding's book and film adaptation, the most notable include:

  • Colin Firth, Mr Darcy in the 1995 BBC adaptation, plays Mark Darcy in the film. Of his performance, film critic James Berardinelli wrote that Firth "plays this part of Mark Darcy exactly as he played the earlier role, making it evident that the two Darcys are essentially the same".
  • Pride and Prejudice screenwriter Andrew Davies worked with Fielding and Richard Curtis on the scripts of Bridget Jones’ Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Davies went on to adapt Austen’s final unfinished novel, Sanditon, for ITV.
  • Elizabeth and Bridget both overhear Mr Darcy making disparaging remarks about them shortly after they first meet.
  • Bridget’s parents, like Elizabeth Bennet’s, consist of a sympathetic father and an insufferably overbearing mother.
  • Bridget works at Pemberley Press – Pemberley is the name of Darcy’s estate in the novel.
  • The scoundrels Elizabeth and George fall for (George Wickham and Daniel Cleaver, played by Hugh Grant) both turn out to have wronged Mr Darcy in some way: George broke Darcy’s sister’s heart; Daniel slept with Mark’s wife.

Stream Bridget Jones's Diary on Prime Video.