You know the line with which I have to start.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman with a British TV/Jane Austen adaptation problem must be in want of even more movies based on Austen’s works and life.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s start to consider the numerous movies and TV series that are not, strictly speaking, Jane Austen Adaptations, but which are either updates or new takes on her works (or are biographies, fictionalized or otherwise, of her life). I’m going to call them Jane Austen Tributes. At some point I hope to make this a comprehensive list, but for now we’ll just start our list with some of my favorites.
Bridget Jones’s Diary. Not only a novel by Helen Fielding that ushered in the Age of Chick Lit (and was one of its best examples), this was a very fine 2001 movie starring Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth, and Hugh Grant. A modern retelling of Pride & Prejudice, complete with the male hero being named Mr. Darcy, everything about this movie was inspired. The casting of Colin Firth, who gave us arguably the most iconic Jane Austen Adaptation moment ever (in 1995’s seminal BBC/A&E Pride & Prejudice, when he took a dip in his estate pond* and emerged dripping and lovely in his eighteenth-century finest), as Mark Darcy? Inspired. The casting of Hugh Grant as the deliciously slimy Daniel Cleaver (who was a two-timing bastard and played by Hugh Grant who had some of his own image problems and yet STILL managed to be hilarious and charming)? Inspired. Zellweger turning in a star turn that included her doing a British accent that the critics couldn’t find a lot of fault with? Inspired. Bridget’s fantastic group of singleton friends? Hilarious, all.
Throw in a final kiss in the snow and you’ve got a modern-day product that preserved all the relationship angst of Austen, as well as her slyly brilliant humor. That’s not easy to do. I loved this book and all its sequels, and I love this movie. I re-watch it every holiday season because it starts and ends with holiday celebrations, and because I still have a little thing for Hugh Grant, even though I should know better.
Kudos also to Fielding for making Bridget Jones a cottage industry, but mostly for doing it so well. The books were all fun to read, even the last one where she got hammered for killing off one of the main characters, and even though the movies followed a slightly different trajectory. I’ll be the first to admit that Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason wasn’t a great film, but I thought Bridget Jones’s Baby came back strong.
Miss Austen Regrets. Well, don’t get whiplash as you careen from the delicious fluffiness of Bridget Jones’s Diary to this fictionalized but awesome take on Austen’s actual life. Not actually a biography, this movie provides a slice of life from near the end of Austen’s writing career (and her life), when she is already not feeling well, she is feeling pressured because her brothers’ finances (on which she and her sister and her mother rely for their home and living) are dwindling, and she is wondering if she would have done better to marry a rich suitor who asked to marry her when she was much younger (or even if she should have married a decidedly unrich, but somewhat charming and funny, vicar). It is definitely “autumnal” in tone, but it has a beautiful soundtrack, is a thoughtful take on both the outer circumstances and the inner life and fortitude of our dear Miss Jane Austen.
It is also strongly cast: Olivia Williams is fantastic as Jane Austen (although her extreme beauty is hard to hide, and is most likely not representative of what the real Miss Austen looked like), her sister Cassandra is played by a wonderfully down-to-earth Greta Scacchi (the sisters’ deep love for one another is clearly on display here and is, in fact, as beautiful and stirring a love story as any of those ever penned by Austen), and Hugh Bonneville is charming as Austen’s former vicar suitor. Imogen Poots plays Jane’s favored niece, Fanny, and also holds her own among much senior, in age and film credits, actors. A gorgeous watch if you’re feeling melancholy-ish and you just want to cuddle down with a nice melancholy-ish movie.
Death Comes to Pemberley. Not actually one of my favorite Jane Austen Tributes, but definitely a different work in this line, combining the imagined continued story of Lizzie Bennet after she becomes Lizzie Darcy and embarks on married life, with a murder mystery thrown in just to keep things interesting. This was a series, in three episodes, and was written by British mystery novelist P.D. James, but it was a bit dark and plodding for my tastes. I’m also not a huge fan of actor Matthew Rhys, who plays Mr. Darcy in this adaptation, but Anna Maxwell Martin did a nice job as Lizzie.
*It’s 30 degrees and cloudy and windy here today. That toasty summer scenery looks almost more delicious to me than Colin Firth.