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Screen takes on Jane Austen's novels and life

This year it is the 200th anniversary of the first publication of Jane Austen's classic novel, Pride and Prejudice. To celebrate that tale of romance, misunderstandings and manners, here are the some of the best screen adaptations of Ms Austen's novels

A Bollywood take on Austen's novel, 2004's Bride and Prejudice starred Aishwarya Rai and Martin Henderson (pictured), as Will Darcy, and Naveen Andrews. Pathe Pictures International
A Bollywood take on Austen's novel, 2004's Bride and Prejudice starred Aishwarya Rai and Martin Henderson (pictured), as Will Darcy, and Naveen Andrews. Pathe Pictures International

Two hundred years after Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice was first published, we look at screen adaptations that have borrowed liberally from her life and sensibilities.

Pride and Prejudice (1940)

There have been numerous adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, but the 1940 black-and-white movie is the only one to boast Aldous Huxley as a screenwriter. Maureen O’Sullivan is Jane Bennet and Greer Garson is the stubborn Elizabeth, while Laurence Olivier is at his most deliciously arrogant as the rich suitor Darcy. Set two decades later than the novel, it looks absolutely gorgeous (check out the gowns) and is a treat to watch. Fans of the novel should however note that some of the events in the book have been altered for this Hollywood version.

Emma (1996)

Gwyneth Paltrow (complete with her impressive English accent) stars as the incurable romantic Emma Woodhouse, who fancies herself as something of a matchmaker in her 19th-century English village. With a script that is faithful to the novel, lovely Dorset locations and a cast that includes Greta Scacchi, Jeremy Northam, Alan Cumming, Toni Collette and Ewan McGregor (who revealed in an interview that he thought he looked awful and performed badly, too), it’s a delightful film and one that helped make Paltrow a famous movie star.

Clueless (1995)

A modern twist on Austen’s Emma, this snappy comedy delivered a new teen star – Alicia Silverstone, launched a spin-off television series and even gave us a new slang as spoken by the rich kids of Beverly Hills (dating the film somewhat, a good-looking boy is described as a “Baldwin”, referring to the Baldwin brothers Alec and Billy). Silverstone stars as Cher, of course, whose attempts at romance and matchmaking backfire hilariously with her new friend Tai (the late Brittany Murphy) and former stepbrother Josh (Paul Rudd).

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Emma Thompson deservedly won an Academy Award for Sense And Sensibility – not for her acting (although she was nominated for Best Actress) but for her witty screenplay. She plays Elinor, the eldest of the three Dashwood daughters, who needs to find a suitable (wealthy) husband, along with sister Marianne (Kate Winslet), since their father left them a meagre inheritance. Suitors for the ladies come in the form of Hugh Grant, Greg Wise and Alan Rickman, while the impressive cast also includes Robert Hardy, Hugh Laurie, Imelda Staunton and Imogen Stubbs.

Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

The movie version of Helen Fielding’s novel, a reinterpretation of Pride and Prejudice and set in 20th-century London, ruffled feathers when the svelte American actress Renée Zellweger was cast as the slightly pudgy Brit Bridget. But Zellweger piled on the pounds, wore the big knickers and pulled it off as the girl battling with her weight and the two men in her life – the stiff upper-lipped lawyer Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) and the cad Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant). Cleaver and Darcy’s very British “street fight” is still the funniest bit. Avoid the sequel (a third film is rumoured for 2014).

Becoming Jane (2007)

A sweet period romance that is a semi-fictional biography of Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway), focusing on a possible relationship with Thomas Langlois Lefroy (James McAvoy), who some believe was her inspiration for Mr Darcy. Hathaway (whose English accent is a little uneven) and McAvoy have nice chemistry, but it is the supporting cast who steal the movie – James Cromwell and Julie Walters as Jane’s parents and Maggie Smith as the wealthy Lady Gresham.

Mansfield Park (1999)

Loosely based on the novel, this tepid romantic comedy drama stars Frances O’Connor as Fanny Price, who grows up with her wealthy relatives, the Bertrams, at the stately Mansfield Park, with Jonny Lee Miller as the cousin she secretly yearns for. For fans, it’s an irritating adaptation due to the many differences – for example, Fanny is extroverted and outspoken here, shy in the novel – plus Lee Miller is glaringly miscast, O’Connor not quite right for the role and Harold Pinter as Sir Thomas Bertram is just plain awkward.

Bride and Prejudice (2004)

A Bollywood musical adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, this bright, fun romance directed by Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) stars Aishwarya Rai in her first English-speaking role as Lalita Bakshi (the Elizabeth Bennet role), Lost’s Naveen Andrews as Mr Balraj (Mr Bingley) and Martin Henderson as Will Darcy. Set in Amritsar, London and Los Angeles, the movie follows the basic Pride And Prejudice plot, with added wit and flamboyant song and dance numbers.

Pride and Prejudice (1995)

While the 2005 Keira Knightley/Matthew MacFayden adaptation is the most recent Pride and Prejudice movie, most people will prefer the superb five-hour BBC mini-series made a decade earlier that stars Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet, Alison Steadman as her domineering mother and, of course, Colin Firth as Mr Darcy. It’s best known for the scene where Firth emerges in a wet shirt from the lake (“Mr Darcy!”), but screenwriter Andrew Davies had originally intended Darcy to be nude, a suggestion Firth rejected.

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Stamps to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice

Earlier this year, the British postal service released a new set of stamps to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Each stamp of a set of six is dedicated to one of Austen’s novels, depicting key scenes from each of the novels, featuring original artwork by the illustrator Angela Barrett.

Two first-class stamps feature illustrations from Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Images from Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion finish out the set.

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