Jane Austen's novels: BBC and other Film/Video adaptations

"So she wouldn't be available for book signings?"
-- An anonymous American network executive (?), on being told that Pride and Prejudice was published for the first time in 1813.
"Seeing a movie or television adaptation of any of Jane Austen's works is like hearing a symphony of Mozart played on a harmonica."
-- heard on Swedish television's Nattcafé, late June '96 ;-)
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Note: This page is mainly a relic of a period when information about older Jane Austen films in IMDB was incomplete, no one had ever heard of DVD, and it was not always easy for people to tell which movie was which, or how videotapes available in the United States were different from videotapes sold in the UK.
Nowadays the older BBC movies are available on DVD, and the Jane Austen filmography page contains more up-to-date information.

*Go to the Internet Movie Database for information about films from Jane Austen's novels
*Go to Jane Austen movie adaptations web page
*Go to CNN article (by Sherry Dean) on the recent Austen movies
*Go to the `Republic of Pemberley' (Jane Austen writings and adaptations discussion board site, including the Pride and Prejudice movie discussion bulletin board)
*Go to parodic scheme for an "All_Austen" cable channel
*Go to the "Photograph" of Jane Austen lounging at a Hollywood poolside <JPEG> (as seen in Entertainment Weekly).

The following notes on film versions of Jane Austen's novels are mainly the personal opinions of Mr. Wentz (I myself don't even own a VCR, or subscribe to cable!). See the article "Jane Austen Adapted" by Andrew Wright (Nineteenth Century Fiction vol. 30, #3, December 1975, pp.421-453) for a list of earlier stage, screen, radio, and television adaptations of the novels.

Date: 31 Oct 95 10:56:13 EST
From: Charles Wenz <100517.405@compuserve.com>
Subject: BBC videos

Included below is a list of BBC videos of Jane Austen novels; I have no link with the BBC apart from a vague chauvinistic loyalty to the old values of the corporation, of which these videos are a fine example.

Among the other dramatizations of Jane Austen is the famously inaccurate but hilarious 1940's Hollywood movie of Pride and Prejudice, with Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson in their Victorian finery, which still gets an occasional airing on the movie channels (and some people still remain rather fond of it). A recent film (Clueless) takes the plot of Emma into modern-day America, and the BBC's new version of Persuasion (last entry on the list below) is to be released in selected US cinemas. Sense and Sensibility, with Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson, has opened in the US, and a new adaptation of Emma for commercial TV by Andrew Davies (who was previously involved with the recently successful adaptation of George Eliot's Middlemarch with high production values) is under way.

He is also responsible for the successful adaptation of Pride and Prejudice screened by the BBC in Britain in Autumn 1995. The last of the six episodes of Pride and Prejudice was allegedly watched by over 10 million British viewers. (The press managed to get a Pride and Prejudice angle on almost everything for the six weeks of the series; there was much discussion on topics such as period wallpaper, whether people still marry for money these days, what would have happened to the Darcy family wealth in the nineteenth century, why did the women in the TV series all seem to be wearing Wonderbras, why did Radio Times give the end away by showing Elizabeth on the cover in wedding dress, and a scandal because a village near Exeter couldn't receive BBC [channel] 1 properly and would thus be deprived of their right as Englishmen to view the denouement.) A video version was released (and sold out twice) before the last episode was first shown. The video (see below) joins the older and more literal version of Pride and Prejudice in the BBC catalogue. The older productions are a memorial to a tradition of BBC "Classic Serials", usually transmitted on Sunday afternoons for the improvement of the young, but now largely extinct due to costs. They (and Granada's Persuasion) are much closer to the original books than most modern TV writers would deem sensible. As such they have their attractions for afficionados.

(Dates in the list below refer to the date of the first availability of video, not to the date of original broadcast.)

  • Northanger Abbey, BBCV4378 (1990). 90 mins.
    Dramatised by Maggie Wadey, producer Louis Marks, director Giles Foster.
    Starring Peter Firth, Googie Withers, Robert Hardy, Katherine Schlessinger.
    The last of the six to reach the screens, and hardest to dramatise. Much of the gothic parody inevitably lost. Robert Hardy's jovial General Tilney is enjoyable.
  • Sense and Sensibility, BBCV4332 (1990). 174 mins.
    Dramatised by Alexander Baron, producer Barry Letts, director Rodney Bennett.
    Tightly edited and with dubious sound quality; would benefit from a `complete and digitally remastered' version as provided for P&P. The treatment of the Dashwoods' parsimony, and the outstandingly pedestrian demeanour of Colonel Brandon, remain in the memory.
  • Sense and Sensibility [Recently released on video] (1995)
    Dramatized by Emma Thompson, director Ang Lee
    Starring Emma Thompson (Elinor), Alan Rickman, Kate Winslet (Marianne), Hugh Grant (Edward Ferrars), Greg Wise (Willoughby), Imogen Stubbs, Gemma Jones
    *Go to the official Web site for this movie version of Sense and Sensibility; (other site)
    *Go to an article on the current wave of "Austenmania" (including an interview with the producer of the new Sense and Sensibility film).
  • Pride and Prejudice, BBCV4960 (1993). Double video, 259 mins. (previously, shorter version BBCV4331).
    Dramatised by Fay Weldon, producer Jonathan Powell, director Cyril Coke.
    Starring Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul.
    Novelist Fay Weldon plays this one for laughs; Mr. Collins and Mary (with book permanently 18 inches from her nose) are prominent. Strong leads for Elizabeth and Darcy.
    • Bad news: the longer remastered version of this video is not available in the U.S. I bought the remastered video at the BBC World shop in Bush House, near Kingsway in London. They are constantly being asked about US-compatible videos and simply give the CBS address (see at end). (Having flogged the rights, I suppose they can't then produce US versions themselves.) The address for mail order is BBC Video Ltd, BBC Worldwide Ltd, 80 Wood Lane, London W12 0TT. Phone is 0181-576-2000 and fax is 0181-576-3264, but be warned that European videos are in a format that generally cannnot be played on US VCR's (PAL instead of NTSC).
  • Pride and Prejudice, BBCV 5702 (1995). Double video, 301 mins.
    Adapted by Andrew Davies, producer Sue Birtwistle, director Simon Langton.
    Starring Jennifer Ehle, Colin Firth, David Bamber, Crispin Bonham-Carter and Susannah Harker.
    Darcy is seen fencing, and at Pemberley he is dripping wet in shirtsleeves, after an energetic dip in the lake, when he meets Elizabeth. These scenes, and others of Lydia and Wickham in London, are added to show the modern viewer that gentlemen did more than just dance, pose in drawing rooms and shoot wildlife. This production takes more liberties than the old Fay Weldon one did, but much can be forgiven in such a competent piece of TV drama. There's always the book.
  • Pride and Prejudice, Warner Home Video / MGM / Loew's Incorporated (1940; video 1989), black-and-white.
    Screenplay by Aldous Huxley and Jane Murfin, producer Hunt Stromberg, director Robert Z. Leonard.
    Starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier.
    Yes, "that version" is available on video. As it says on the box, "when the proud, aristocratic Mr. Darcy condescends to enter the Bennets' lives by proposing marriage to Elizabeth, nothing but confusion follows". Mrs. Bennet, surely, is W. C. Fields in drag.

    Date: Sun, 4 Feb 1996 15:22:46 -0500

    Pride and Prejudice
    Casts and Production

    Script       Aldous Huxley,    Fay Weldon        Andrew Davies
                 Jane Murfin
    Dir or Prod  Robert Z. Leonard Cyril Coke        p. Sue Birtwistle
                                                     d. Simon Langton
    Role              1940              1985            1995
    Elizabeth    Greer Garson      Elizabeth Garvie  Jennifer Ehle
    Darcy        Laurence Olivier  David Rintoul     Colin Firth
    Jane         Maureen O'Sullivan Sabina Franklyn  Susannah Harker
    Bingley      Bruce Lester      Osmund Bullock    Crispin Bonham-Carter
    Mr Bennet    Edmund Gwynn      Moray Watson      Benjamin Withrow
    Mrs Bennet   Mary Boland       Priscilla Morgan  Alison Steadman
    Lydia        Ann Rutherford    Natalie Ogle      Julia Sawalha
    Kitty        Heather Angel     Clare Higgins     Polly Maberly
    Mary         Marsha Hunt       Tessa Peake-Jones Lucy Briers
    Mrs Phillips May Beatty        Shirley Cain      Lynn Farleigh
    Mr Collins   Melville Cooper   Malcolm Rennie    David Bamber
    Mr Wickham   Edward Ashley     Peter Settelen    Adrian Lukis
    Capt Denny   Marten Lamont     Andrew Johns      David Bark-Jones
    Caroline     Frieda Inescourt  Marsha Fitzalan   Anna Chancellor
    Mrs Hurst    ______            Jennifer Granville Lucy Robinson
    Mr Hurst     ______            Edward Arthur     Rupert Vansittart
    Georgiana D  ______            Emma Jacobs       Emilia Fox
    Col Fitzw'm  ______            Desmond Adams     Anthony Calf
    Lady Cath.   Edna Mae Oliver   Judy Parfitt      Barbara Leigh-Hunt
    Anne DeB'rgh Gia Kent          Moir Leslie       Nadia Chambers
    Sir William  E.E. Clive        Peter Howell      Christopher Benjamin
    Lady Lucas   Marjorie Wood     Elizabeth Stewart Norma Streader
    Charlotte    Karen Morley      Irene Richards    Lucy Scott
    Mrs Gardiner ______            Barbara Shelley   Joanna David
    Mr Gardiner  ______            Michael Lees      Tim Wylton
  • Mansfield Park, BBCV4333 (1990). Double video, 261 mins.
    Dramatised by Ken Taylor, producer Betty Willingale, director David Giles.
    Starring Anna Massey, Bernard Hepton, Nicholas Farrel, Sylvestra Le Touzel.
    Sylvestra Le Touzel plays Fanny with a baffled air, like a mole just emerged into the light. But not without charm. The theatricals give the dramatisation a solid centre. Anna Massey is outstanding as Aunt Norris.
  • Emma, BBCV4997 (1993). Double video, 257 mins.
    Dramatised by Denis Constanduros, producer Martin Lisemore, director John Glenister.
    Starring Doran Godwin, John Carson, Donald Eccles, Constance Chapman.
    Solid adaptation. Harriet Smith stultifyingly dim, not a role for a young actress to kill for.

    Date: Sun, 11 Aug 1996 09:48:28 -0700
    From: Lura Raplee

    Cast of 1972 BBC Emma
    (now available on CBS Fox video)

    Emma Woodhouse      Doran Godwin
    Mr. Knightley       John Carson
    Mr. Woodhouse       Donald Eccles
    Miss Bates          Constance Chapman
    Mrs. Weston         Ellen Dryden
    Mr. Weston          Raymond Adamson
    Frank Churchill     Robert East
    Jane Fairfax        Ania Marson
    Mrs. Elton          Fiona Walker
    Mr. Elton           Timothy Peters
    Harriet Smith       Debbie Bowen
    Robert Martin       John Alkin
    Mrs. Goddard        Mollie Sugden
    Mrs. Cole           Hilda Fenemore
    Isabella Knightley  Meg Gleed
    John Knightley      John Kelland
    Directed by         John Glenister
    Produced by         Martin Lisemore
    Dramatised by       Denis Constanduros
    Designer            Tim Hervey
    Costume Designer    Joan Ellacott
    Music Arranged      Tom McCall
    Dances Arranged     Geraldine Stephenson
  • Emma, initial release August 1996.
    Director Douglas McGrath, Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma Woodhouse.
    *Go to the official Web site for this movie version of Emma
  • Emma (1996) 2hrs. (ITV)
    Adapted by Andrew Davies, produced by Sue Birtwhistle
    Kate Beckinsale as Emma Woodhouse.
    (Rumors of a BBC miniseries Emma, to appear in 1997, were based on the early plans for what later became the ITV Emma.)
    *Go to official Web site for this movie version of Emma (was aired in the U.K. in Nov. 1996, in the U.S. on Feb. 1997)

    Date: Tue, 19 Nov 1996 19:54:05 -0800
    From: S Bishop

                  CAST LIST
     Emma Woodhouse .... Kate Beckinsale
     George Knightley .. Mark Strong
     Harriet Smith ..... Samantha Morton
     Frank Churchill ... Raymond Coulthard
     Miss Bates ........ Prunella Scales
     Mr. Woodhouse ..... Bernard Hepton
     Mr. Elton ......... Dominic Rowan
     Mrs. Elton ........ Lucy Robinson
     Mrs. Weston ....... Samantha Bond
     Mr. Weston ........ James Hazeldine
     Jane Fairfax ...... Olivia Williams
     John Knightley .... Guy Henry
     Isabella Woodhouse  Dido Miles
  • Persuasion, BBCV4996 (1993). Double video, 225 mins. (Originally produced by Granada Television in 1971 and `bought in' to complete the set of six.)
    Adapted by Julian Mitchell, produced and directed by Howard Baker.
    Starring Ann Firbank and Bryan Marshall.
    A production as true to the book as the other five. Even older than the others, so production values now look rickety, but the content is there. Bryan Marshall stands out as being as handsome as the blond pretty-boy actors who play the hollow Willoughby, Wickham, and the younger Mr. Elliot in this selection of videos -- even though he is not the villain.
  • Persuasion, BBCV5616 (1995), 102 mins.
    Screenplay by Nick Dear, producer Fiona Finlay, director Roger Mitchell.
    Starring Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds.
    Good modern television drama, taken at a dizzying pace (less than half the length of the 1971 rendition). The media hype calculated to make the most of controversial aspects, such as the public kiss between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth, marks a new approach to Jane Austen on TV.
    *Go to the official Web site for this movie version of Persuasion
    This has now been released on video in the US with a hokey generic romance-novel cover which seems to have nothing to do with the movie: an unknown woman in very heavy makeup, and with a loose Hollywood interpretation of an 18th-century barmaid's costume slipping off her bosom, is being nuzzled by a very young man with a trendy asymmetrical Generation-X haircut. (If one were feeling somewhat charitable, one could choose to interpret this as a modernized, glamourized, spiced-up version of the first engagement beteen Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth in 1806, with Kellynch Hall looming in the background -- though maybe not as ominously as it should loom).

In the United States, BBC videos are handled by CBS Fox Home Entertainment, 5th Floor, 1330 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10019. The above is probably not a list of all available Jane Austen adaptations on tape, nor a promotion for the BBC, but a record of a series of `true' and perhaps old-fashioned adaptations unlikely to survive the upcoming boom in new and glossy movie-style productions.

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*Return to Jane Austen's writings

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