Lecture nights: Austen on film

April 24, 2021

About a month ago Hillsdale College hosted a series of lectures on Jane Austen and the movies.

In the first, James Bowman gives an overview of the history of Austen adaptations for the screen. He is a longtime critic at The New Criterion, and though I’ve enjoyed his writing for many years, I’d never before heard him speak. He is as judicious and perceptive a critic as you could hope to find. If you take the time to watch, don’t abandon it before you hear his opinion of Autumn de Wilde’s 2020 adaptation of Emma!

In a second lecture, Peter Leithart speaks on ‘Jane Austen and Morality’. Although Leithart is a good judge of cinema (his book on Malick’s The Tree of Life is very worthwhile), his remarks apply as much to the books as to any film adaptations.

A final lecture brings us Whit Stillman speaking on his own experiences adapting Jane Austen for the screen. His is a more diffuse and, if you want, rambling approach, but I found it interesting to hear some stories about the creation of his marvellous Austen adaptation Love & Friendship (which I picked as one of my favourite films of the 2010s), not to mention the ways in which Austen’s books influenced his other films. Recommended especially to admirers of Stillman.

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There was also a fourth lecture in the series, in which Lorraine Murphy spoke on “The Life and Work of Jane Austen”. It sounded to me like an introductory lecture, so I skipped it, but, to judge by those I did see, I may have missed something good by doing so.

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For the record, I think the best screen adaptations of Austen are, roughly in order, the 1995 Pride and Prejudice mini-series with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, the Sense and Sensibility adapted by Ang Lee and Emma Thompson, the 1996 Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow, and, coming last simply because it adapts a minor work, Whit Stillman’s aforementioned Love & Friendship. And I am right.

2 Responses to “Lecture nights: Austen on film”

  1. Stephen Bishop Says:

    It is difficult to take seriously James Bowman’s views on anything Austen-related when he contends that Austen disapproved of amateur theatricals (which she frequently took part in with her family) or that her ‘alter ego’ Fanny Price did so – Fanny’s main objections were to the particular play being acted, not the principle of acting. All in all, he comes across as a condescending and behind the times old man talking to ignorant children.


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