Which Jane Austen Movie Should You Watch This February?

Written By Lorie Simonian, Copy Editor

As February rolls around once more, it is time for us as a society to dive headfirst into the bountiful film genre of romance. Normally, this means cozying up with our favorite gooey, corny rom-coms, or even a tear-jerking drama or two. Some Ryan Gosling here, a little Julia Roberts there. That’s all good and well, but after such a somber past year, I personally think that approaching Valentine’s in 2021 should involve a little more subtlety, a little more nuance, a little more…… repression. That’s right, I’m talking about the original rom-com-drama: Jane Austen film adaptations, in all of their lengthy glory. Because frankly, I think something shamelessly escapist is what we all need right now. There does, of course, exist an unfortunate group of people who have never encountered the beauty and splendor of an Austen movie. To remedy this particularly tragic affliction, I humbly offer you a reference sheet, a guide, a “what’s-what” to help you pick which Austen adaptation you should indulge in this Valentine’s season. 

So go ahead—don your finest silk and lose yourself in regency England; wander the halls of a handsomely decorated estate, ride horses through the countryside, mock the rich, and, of course, watch a central character fall gravely ill in the film’s third act. You deserve it. 


If You Love the Enemies-to-Lovers Trope

Pride and Prejudice (2005) is the quintessential Austen. Gossip. Banter. Meaningful glances. Intricate hairstyles. Constant hiking through the fields and a fancy ball scene so fraught with tension, it will make you squeal into a pillow. Notorious for its gorgeous cinematography, the film follows witty, beautiful, humble Elizabeth Bennett, one of five sisters whose mother is desperately trying to marry the girls off into wealth. The course of the story details her relationship with rich Mr. Darcy, a stuffy and pompous young man with whom Lizzie maintains a contentious rapport. He’s just so rude……or is he? This movie features the most sweeping, dramatic, breathtaking love confession in any movie, maybe ever. I’m talking emerging through the mist of the moors at dawn, people! If you never see another Jane Austen movie, I maintain that you must at least see this one. 


If You Wish Every Season Was Spooky

Oh, Halloween, that king of all holidays, when the wild and the wicked are cause for celebration! So short-lived, yet so ghoulishly exciting! If you’re someone who has a passion for infusing a little creepy into everything you view, then Northanger Abbey (2007) is the perfect Austen film for you to enjoy this February. This tale is Austen’s satire of gothic literature, and the film happily leans into the campier aspects of classic gothic fiction. Catherine Morland, the story’s bookworm protagonist, utilizes a wild imagination to color her experiences in the free-wheeling town of Bath with hints of danger and malice at every turn. The element of spook muddies the waters of this otherwise typical Austen plot and its romantic politics. Think eerie castles, melodramatic lightning and mysterious old notes tucked away in hidden drawers.


If You’re Pining for Someone You Can’t Have

Let’s face it. We’ve all been there, wistfully wishing we could be with someone so completely out of our grasp it feels silly to entertain the idea in the first place. Perhaps that’s why the viewer connects with Elinor Dashwood, the heroine of Sense and Sensibility (1995), so intensely. After their father dies, and half-brother John inherits their home estate, the Dashwood family (Mother and sisters Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret) is left entirely destitute. Early on, Elinor almost immediately falls for the kind-hearted, mild-mannered Hugh Grant in tights Edward Ferrars, brother of John’s wife. Unfortunately, she is soon forced out of her home and sent to the countryside, where she is separated from him indefinitely (knowing all the while that she is far too poor for them to marry). Meanwhile, the film follows the girlish flirtations of naïve Marianne, and while I can see how this might sound boring, it’s genuinely a very sweet, very funny movie that takes a look at not just romantic love but sisterly love as well. In my opinion, the payoff at the end is the happiest of all the titles mentioned here! 

(Fun fact, at the time of this film’s release, some Austen fans complained that Hugh Grant was “too handsome” to play Edward Ferrars…. you could never catch me complaining about 90s Hugh wearing a stiff collar and sputtering British nonsense).


If You’re Mourning the One That Got Away

The classic story of “the one who got away” seems to be as old as time itself, and it may very well be that even your heart is still stuck on a special someone from the past. If that’s the case, you might relate to the heroine of Persuasion (1995), Anne Elliot. She is burdened with an almost pathetic case of the blues ever since being persuaded by her family to reject the hand of Frederick Wentworth, her one truest love. The beginning of this movie sees the naval captain coincidentally reintroduced into her life nearly eight years later. What follows is a story about money and marriage positively dripping with concealed pining. The confession of love in this story is exceptionally poetic to boot! 


If You Live Vicariously Through Your Friends’ Love Lives

When we find our own love lives dull and uneventful, it’s only natural to get a little too invested in the romantic escapades of our dearest friends. No one understands this better than Emma Woodhouse, the “clever, rich, and handsome” protagonist of Emma (2020). As the daughter of an exceptionally rich widower, Emma is essentially mistress of an impressive estate. With no need for fortune or connections, she feels no desire to seek marriage. Instead, Emma takes a particular interest in matchmaking, pairing up friends and loved ones with much success. She pays special attention to a young girl named Harriet, who boards at a nearby girls’ school, and whose parentage remains a mystery. Emma entertains herself by meddling in Harriet’s affairs and attempting to set up prosperous marital arrangements for her newfound friend, naturally ending in chaos and disaster. The newest adaptation of this story is absolutely gorgeous in its design and color palette, as well as music and costuming, and is my personal favorite film on this list.


And there you have it, a how-to guide for attempting Austen. While they may be similar in theme, I’m of the opinion that there is an Austen movie for everyone, if only you have the patience to seek it out. So pick one and give it a try! Or be like me, and watch them all!


*Note that Mansfield Park, while a wonderful story, isn’t included on this list because some of the themes of the 1999 film (abolition in particular) are too serious for me to recommend it in good conscience as a lighthearted pick for the Valentine’s season.