2009 Miniseries (Romola Garai)
Pros: Romola Garai plays Emma to perfection. Johnny Lee Miller is pretty cute. And who doesn't love Michael Gambon?
Cons: The scene where Emma is rude to Miss Bates (OK, she's constantly rude to her, but you know the scene I mean) makes me so uncomfortable I can't watch it. This isn't the movie's fault, since it's a pivotal scene in the novel, but I just needed you to know.
1996 Movie (Gwyneth Paltrow)
Pros: I know I just said that Romola Garai is a perfect Emma, but Gwyneth Paltrow actually is Emma. (For real. Case in point: Goop, which is a publication dedicated to snobby, unhelpful, yet somehow endearing advice. That's Emma Woodhouse's whole deal.) Plus this version has Alan Cumming, Toni Collette, and Sophie Thompson. All delightful.
Cons: Gwyneth's accent.
1996 TV Movie (Kate Beckinsale)
Pros: Meh. If you feel like watching Kate Beckinsale in a period movie, go watch Cold Comfort Farm.
Cons: Mark Strong as Mr Knightley really doesn't cut it.
Winner: It's a tie between the Gwyneth and Romola versions. Both have great casts and fantastic Miss Bates, who we all know is the heart of the story. If you have time, watch the miniseries. If not, watch the movie.
Honorable mention: Clueless. I've disqualified it for not being a period piece, but it would be the clear winner otherwise.
2008 Miniseries (Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield)
Pros: Overall, a pretty good cast. Hattie Morahan especially is a lovely Elinor. And Janet McTeer! Always a delight. The miniseries length does better justice to the plot of the novel.
Cons: Beginning the movie with the (spoiler alert?) seduction of Eliza by Willoughby means that we know (instead of merely suspect) that he's bad news from the start, which makes Marianne look dumber than she should for falling for him. Also, the main men (Dan Stevens, Dominic Cooper, and David Morrissey) all suffer from not being the main men in the 1995 version.
1995 Movie (Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet)
Pros: Literally everything, but mostly the Emma Thompson-penned screenplay. It's perfectly cast, makes you laugh, makes you cry, makes you do both at once. Thompson wrote some scenes that don't appear in the book and they feel natural and almost necessary to the plot and character development.
Cons: Literally nothing.
Winner: The Emma Thompson version wins both this competition and pretty much any other competition. Best sports movie? There's plenty of walking, hunting, and riding here. Best medical drama? Kate Winslet is a veritable encyclopedia of physical and emotional traumas. Best murder mystery? What did Sir John and Mrs Jennings do with Lady Middleton?
1999 Movie (Frances O'Connor)
Pros: Wasted Lady Bertram. The Crawfords. Pretty much every character of whom we're supposed to disapprove. Frances O'Connor makes Fanny as likable as she can.
Cons: They had to vastly alter the character of Fanny to make her interesting, and it only moderately works and makes her kind of a spazz. We're supposed to hate all the fun characters and love all the boring judgmental characters. We're supposed to get really worked up about a play.
2008 TV Movie (Billie Piper)
Pros: Fanny sure does put her foot down about that play, right?
Winner: Wasted Lady Bertram.
1995 Movie (Amanda Root)
Pros: First and foremost, Amanda Root. She transforms from a plain, quiet, depressed woman at the beginning of the movie to her lively, pretty, charismatic self by the end. Persuasion is such an interior kind of book and Root captures all of Anne's internal turmoil perfectly. Once again, Sophie Thompson gets to have fun annoying everyone. Ciarán Hinds is great as Wentworth. Last but not least, ladies wearing turbans.
Cons: It's a quiet adaptation of a quiet book. Not really a con, but if you're not super into period dramas you may not have much patience for this one (or this blog post, for that matter).
2007 TV Movie (Sally Hawkins)
Pros: Sally Hawkins is good at acting. Rupert Penry-Jones has a very British name.
Cons: It just leaves me a bit cold.
Winner: The 1995 movie, hands down. It's so lovely, if not exactly for the Austen faint of heart.
2005 Movie (Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen)
Pros: Matthew Macfadyen as Darcy. The film is beautifully shot. Rosamund Pike was a perfectly cast sweet Jane Bennett before she was a perfectly cast not-so-sweet Amy Elliott Dunne.
Cons: I have a maybe unreasonable dislike of this adaptation. Or is it perfectly reasonable? To start, where is the fun? Why do I feel bad for Mr Collins? Who decided that the best way to portray Jane Austen's razor sharp satire was to have Kiera Knightley laugh at inappropriate times? Far be it for me to question Dame Judi Dench, but why is Lady Catherine more scary than absurd? And I know Mr Bennett isn't the greatest dad, but even he deserves better than to be played by a leering Donald Sutherland. Did no one notice that Mary Bennett is actually a very pretty girl with an unfortunate middle part?
1940 Movie (Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier)
Pros: Laurence Olivier as Darcy. It has a bit of a screwball comedy vibe to it that perfectly suits the time it was made and surprisingly suits Austen's style. Greer Garson's eyelashes. The ending change that really should have been. Olivier and Garson have an easy, natural chemistry (and were apparently good friends in real life).
Cons: Lots of changes from the novel (including a major character turnaround, and a time period change, which was apparently done to save the studio money so they could poach costumes from Gone With The Wind), none of which bother me. Did no one notice that Mary Bennett is actually a very pretty girl with unfortunate glasses?
1995 Miniseries (Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth)
Pros: Colin Firth, hello. Everyone is great in this, and at about six hours, it certainly doesn't leave anything out. Perfect movie for a rainy day where you don't have anything else to do. Mr Collins is hilariously oily.
Cons: The length makes it occasionally impractical.
1980 Miniseries (Elizabeth Garvey and David Rintoul)
Pros: This movie is based off of Pride and Prejudice, which is a very good book.
Cons: There are several great adaptations of this book, and life is too short to watch the mediocre ones.
Winner: Surprise! I'm going with the 1940 version. It really is such a joy. You can't help but laugh when Greer bats those ginormous lashes, and you can't help but smile when Laurence Olivier is on screen. Sure, it leaves plenty of plot points out and it flat out changes one character's whole deal, but it's fun and charming and has a fabulous cast and I personally love it the most so a winner we have. And, luckily, we live in a world where both the 1940 movie and 1995 miniseries exist, so you can watch and love them both.
2008 TV Movie (Felicity Jones)
Pros: This was Austen's first novel, and it's charming if not especially remarkable. Felicity Jones and Carey Mulligan are adorable.
Cons: If you've never watched a Jane Austen adaptation, don't make this your first. If you've seen plenty of Jane Austen Adaptations, watch this over Mansfield Park.
Winner: This is the only Northanger Abbey I've ever seen. So, winner!
Don't fret, all! If you hate Jane Austen (why) but love wallpaper, shiny things, and cocktails, I'll be back to normal tomorrow.