“A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.” is one of the many informal lines that Jane Austen wrote in her book Mansfield Park. The newest form of media to narrate stories and encapture the audience into a world unknown is the art of cinema. Netflix has managed to curate a fascinating list of live-action feature films that translate the phenomenal art of Austen’s writing into a world of fictional reality.
Her adaptations are often referred to as period romances as it gives more to us than just another troubled love story. It helps us understand the socio-cultural backdrop of the settings.
In the early 19th century, Austen’s writing intricately paints a picture of how the upper classes in prime rural England used to operate. Using reflections of her personal life, as she had lived within these circles, creating fiction out of reality, Austen provided us with an insider’s perspective about this niche world. A contemporary version of it would be Persuasion. This made her works an authentic source for us contemporary viewers to get a glimpse of the struggles of a woman in a world where feminism was more of a distant concept.
All of her sets paint a specific socio-cultural context where the protagonists struggled to find a balance between the mythical nature of love and economic stability, as these were intertwined. The question stands, how do stories anonymously written two centuries ago still make it to the top ten most watched on platforms with a large palate of trans-continental viewers of all ages?
The best Jane Austen adaptations on Netflix:
Pride and Prejudice (1995)
This limited series stars Colin Firth (Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy) and Jennifer Ehle (Elizabeth Bennet), featuring only six episodes, yet enough to be a fan favourite for almost two decades now. This Emmy and BAFTA-winning adaptation of one of Jane Austen’s classics is considered the best live-action version of itself.
From riveting sets to heartwarming chemistry perfect for purists and first-time viewers. The different worlds that these two people come from, yet the way they overcome their differences to find love in each other takes the viewers on a whole six-hour journey through the ups and downs of their relationship. This version continues to get more appreciation to date in spite of the 2005 feature film’s four Oscar nominations for the maddening on-screen chemistry of the leads and Colin Firth’s phenomenal performance as the dreamy Mr Darcy that made him the star that he is today.
Mansfield Park (1999)
Adapted from a rather not mainstream read out of Austen’s decorated list of classics, Mansfield Park continues to win the hearts of the old and more contemporary audiences.
With reflections on the author’s own personal life, the story follows the journey of a poor young woman called Fanny Price, played by Frances O’Connor, who travels to live with her wealthy relatives so she can introduce herself as a more suited choice to maintain a dignified position in society and shoot her shot at marriage with fiscal returns.
Created in the recent past, Emma is a work of art and a remarkable example of how Jane Austen’s stories can always feel refreshing and new. Starring the incredible Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhouse (lead). She belongs to a privileged background, is dignified, and always finds herself in the middle of trying to matchmake and work her way into the personal lives of the others around her.
This film is known for the standard of wit, comedy, and on-screen chemistry added to the mix by the brilliant cast.
Sense and Sensibility (1995)
It sure does seem that 1995 was the year for Jane Austen fans who had been waiting to see their favourite characters on the big screens. Directed by Ang Lee, this masterpiece was a star-studded mega performance by brilliant actors like Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, Gemma Jones, and Hugh Laurie.
This adaptation is based on the 1811 novel which is considered to be one of Austen’s bests. The story follows the struggles of the Dashwood sisters, who lost their wealthy lifestyle, and the only way they could “rescue” themselves was by marrying wealthy. This film continues to be loved and watched by several viewers to this day. Films like these can be categorised as a part of the nostalgic comfort watchlist.
Being yet another masterpiece from what now we can call Austen’s year of films, is not quite on the same note as the other adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels. The story follows Cher’s life, where she deals with problems in her adolescent years and meddles with others’ personal lives as she loves playing the matchmaker. However, while doing so, she finds herself growing strong feelings for someone.
Although the plot can be assumed to be directed towards a younger audience, anyone with a good sense of humour and is keen on irony, Clueless is definitely a must-watch. This movie is a light satire based on the lives of rich teenagers finding themselves within the contemporary materialistic world with precise observations.