Clueless and the Bridget Jones movies are just a few unlikely, but beloved adaptations of Austen's classic works

By Drew Mackie
February 02, 2016 05:15 PM
Credit: Jay Maidment/CTMG

The love story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy has been told again and again onscreen, and each adaptation has in its own way addressed themes of class, social etiquette and romance that Jane Austen wove into the 1813 classic, Pride and Prejudice. But now Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, in theaters Feb. 5, introduces a whole new slew of themes: the undead, for example, and martial arts and lots and lots of blood and gore.

The film has Cinderella star Lily James playing Elizabeth, who in this version just happens to be leading a small army of sword-toting society women in a fight against the encroaching zombie hordes. It’s the kind of stuff that might make your high school English teacher cringe, but take some solace in the fact that this new horror flick, which opens in theaters Friday, may prompt more than a few viewers to investigate the original source material.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has literary origins in its own right. The script was based off Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 parody novel of the same name. The book sold well, hitting the No. 3 spot on the New York Times bestseller list, and spawned similar horror mashups such as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which was also written by Grahame-Smith and became a movie in 2012, and the awesomely titled Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.

As far as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies may be from anything Jane Austen ever intended, it’s also not the first time that one of Austen’s works was drastically changed for a modern adaptation. As a salute to the versatility of Austen’s stories (and Hollywood’s willingness to say “Sure, why not?”), we’re listing our favorites here.

Enjoy – and if you’re inclined, maybe dust off that copy of Pride and Prejudice (sans zombies) and give it a read sometime.

1. Clueless (1995)

It’s probably the most famous of the Jane Austen reworkings, but doubtlessly there are still high schoolers reading Emma for the first time and surprised to find that Alicia Silverstone’s Cher Horowitz is just a fabulous ’90s version of Emma Woodhouse. Dionne (Stacey Dash) is Miss Taylor, Tai (Brittany Murphy) is Harriet and Paul Rudd’s Josh is Mr. Knightley. Clueless was released to much more enthusiastic reviews than teen movies usually get, but it was for good reason: Its basic parts were assembled nearly 200 years before by one of the most celebrated writers in English literature.

Watch: Jeremy Sisto’s Ideas for Who Should Play Cher in New Clueless Musical

2. Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

Another famous adaptation, the source material is a bit harder to spot in this one. Author Helen Fielding based the initial book off Pride and Prejudice – and come on, Colin Firth’s character is named Mark Darcy – but reworked the components substantially. In a column for The Independent she explained the relationship by saying that Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy were her “chosen representatives in the field of shagging, or rather courtship.”

3. Bride and Prejudice (2004)

Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha decide to gussy up Pride and Prejudice in the colorful trappings of a Bollywood musical, and you know what? It works. The Bennets become the Bakshis, and Aishwarya Rai stars as Lalita, the eligible woman courted by Will Darcy (Martin Henderson). The film boasts seven musical numbers and an intertational cast that includes Naveen Andrews, Alexis Bledel and Marsha Mason.

4. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004)

What’s especially interesting about the Bridget Jones sequel and the book on which it was based is that they are actually reworkings of an entirely different Jane Austen novel: Persuasion, Austen’s last and a story about a woman who is persuaded by friends to break off her engagement with the man she truly loves. Fielding incorporated whole scenes from Persuasion into the book. It remains to be seen what Austen themes may be incorporated into the third movie, Bridget Jones’s Baby, which is not based on a book but the script for which was written by Fielding and famous Jane Austen fan Emma Thompson.

5. Becoming Jane (2007)

We joke about these adaptations not being anything Jane Austen would have ever expected, when of course she wouldn’t have expected any movie or TV adaptations at all, simply by virtue of such things not having been invented when she was around. But beyond that, Austen might have been especially surprised to see her own life transformed into a story not unlike the ones she wrote about in her books. This film, based off the 2003 book of the same name but also on Austen’s own letters, stars Anne Hathaway as Austen and James McAvoy as Thomas Lefroy, the man she loves. The work is one of historical fiction, though it is interesting to note that Austen wrote so often of romance, love, and marriage but never married herself.

6. Lost in Austen (2008)

This four-part BBC series stars Jemima Rooper as Amanda, an avid reader and Austen fan who ends up trapped in the world of Pride and Prejudice while Elizabeth Bennet (Gemma Arteron) takes her place in the modern-day real world. It’s fantasy but surely one born out of many diehards’ desire to enter the world of Austen books – though the heroine finds it not quite as easy as she might have hoped. There’s a lesson there.

7. From Prada to Nada (2011)

It’s Sense and Sensibility, only with Beverly Hills subbing in for London and East L.A. for the considerably less fancy Devonshire. Camilla Belle and Alexa Vega star as the Dominguez sisters, who must give up their posh digs and learn what life is like for the have-nots, just as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood do in the original book. And though the settings change, the themes remain as true to what Austen wrote about back in 1811.

8. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (2012-2013)

This web series literally took Jane Austen into the digital age. In this version, the Elizabeth character is a grad student who tells viewers about life, love and a woman’s place in the world via simulated vlogs. The series concluded with its 100th episode, which had Lizzie (Ashley Clements) finally getting into a relationship with William Darcy (Daniel Vincent Gordh).

9. Death Comes to Pemberley (2013)

Pride and Prejudice fans probably would like to imagine that Elizabeth and Darcy lived happily ever after, but this BBC series, based on the book by P.D. James, takes a different path. Set six years after Austen’s book ends, Death Comes to Pemberley has Darcy (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Anna Maxwell Martin) investigating a murder for which George Wickham (Matthew Goode) is the prime suspect.

10. Unleashing Mr. Darcy (2015)

That title suggests Jane Austen meets 50 Shades of Grey – and we don’t doubt that such fanfiction exists somewhere out there – but it’s much more benign than that: It’s a Hallmark Channel original film that translates Pride and Prejudice to the world of dog shows, and no, we’re not kidding. In case you’re wondering why Jane Austen hasn’t been reworked into light romcom original movies before, know that there’s also one called Scents and Sensibility, which is pretty much exactly what you’d exact.