See Jane go: Austen on the big and small screens

composite image of stills from Becoming Jane, Miss Austen Regrets, and Pride and Prejudice.
From left: Anne Hathaway in the 2007 movie “Becoming Jane,” Olivia Williams in the BBC TV movie “Miss Austen Regrets,” and Anna Chancellor, as Caroline Bingley in the BBC mini-series version of “Pride and Prejudice.”

Her novels have been adapted countless times at the movies and theater. But Jane Austen’s own life story? Less so. But if you’re interested in a visual experience, check out these silver- and small-screen offerings.

‘Becoming Jane’

The “biggest” of the bunch, this 2007 film stars Anne Hathaway as the young Jane, who rescinded her engagement to Harris Bigg-Wither a day after accepting his proposal. James McAvoy plays Tom Lefroy, the Irish gentleman with whom she supposedly fell madly in love — there’s some debate over exactly how close Jane Austen and Lefroy were since there are only a few mentions of him in her letters, though we do know Cassandra destroyed many of them. It’s stronger on romance than satire, speculation than fact. Available on Netflix with a subscription and for rental on other platforms (Amazon, ITunes, Vudu).

‘Miss Austen Regrets’

This 2008 BBC TV movie focuses on Jane (played by Olivia Williams, who incidentally played Jane Fairfax in the 1996 BBC version of “Emma”) later in life, as she nears 40, and her endeavors to help her niece Fanny Knight secure a husband. Other Austen adaptation alumni appear, including Hugh Bonneville, Phyllida Law, Greta Scacchi, Pip Torrens and Jack Huston. Tom Hiddleston (Loki of Marvel’s superhero movies) also appears as Fanny’s love interest. Available on Amazon Prime.

‘The Real Jane Austen’

This documentary — narrated by Caroline Bingley herself: Anna Chancellor, a grand-niece of Jane Austen — tells us about Austen through readings and reenactments by notable British actors, including Phyllis Logan (“Downton Abbey”), Jack Davenport (“Pirates of the Caribbean”) and Wendy Craig (“The Worst Witch”). It’s not officially available for streaming or on DVD, although someone has kindly uploaded it to YouTube.

‘Jane Austen’s Life’ and ‘Austen Country: The Life & Times of Jane Austen’

Both these documentaries take you on a journey through the locations and landscapes relevant to Jane Austen and her works. A bit dated in style, they often make use of Austen’s own words, from her novels and letters, to augment the videos of Steventon, Lyme Regis, Chawton, Bath and more. Both available on Amazon Prime.

About Zeina Makky

Zeina Makky is a newspaper designer turned web developer, living and working in the D.C. area. Besides Jane Austen, Zeina’s passions include calligraphy, pop culture and chocolate.

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