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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Alumni reunions

Over the holidays, my family settled in for a screening of that sublime romcom Notting Hill. When the movie ended (“I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy. . .” *sighs happily*), I asked my husband and children – as one does -- if they knew which four actors in the movie had also appeared in which three screen adaptations of Jane Austen novels.

They got Hugh Grant (Edward Ferrars in the 1995 Sense and Sensibility). They sort of got Samuel West (Mr. Elliot in the 1995 Persuasion). They did not get Hugh Bonneville (Mr. Rushworth in the 1999 Mansfield Park) or Richard McCabe (Captain Benwick in the 1995 Persuasion).

But then my husband asked which non-Austen movie’s cast included the most Austen adaptation alumni. I had thought about this question – as one does – and had my answer ready: the excellent 2009 coming-of-age movie An Education, whose stellar cast includes Dominic Cooper (Willoughby in the 2008 S&S), Sally Hawkins (Anne Elliot in the 2007 Persuasion), Carey Mulligan (Kitty Bennet in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice and Isabella Thorpe in the 2007 Northanger Abbey), Rosamund Pike (Jane Bennet in the 2005 P&P), Emma Thompson (Elinor Dashwood in the 1995 S&S), and Olivia Williams (Jane Fairfax in the 1996 Emma, and, for good measure, Austen herself in the biopic Miss Austen Regrets). If you’re keeping score at home, that’s six actors in six different novel adaptations, plus one biopic.

But then my daughter pointed out that the beloved romcom Love Actually scores even higher on the alumni charts, since it stars Colin Firth (Mr. Darcy in the 1995 P&P), Hugh Grant again, Keira Knightley (Elizabeth Bennet in the 2005 P&P), Kris Marshall (Tom Parker in Sanditon), Bill Nighy (Mr. Woodhouse in the 2020 Emma), Alan Rickman (Colonel Brandon in the 1995 S&S), and Emma Thompson again. That’s seven actors in five different adaptations.

Later in the vacation, my son’s college friend Flora came to visit. I am happy to say that she is a Janeite. (My kids have always had excellent taste in friends.) She applied herself to the puzzle with admirable diligence, and succeeded in matching the superlative Love Actually score. In Flora's nominee, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the cast-of-thousands includes Michael Gambon (Mr. Woodhouse in the 2009 Emma), Robert Hardy (Sir John Middleton in the 1995 S&S), Alan Rickman again, Fiona Shaw (Mrs. Croft in the 1995 Persuasion), Imelda Staunton (Mrs. Palmer in the 1995 S&S), Emma Thompson again, and Mark Williams (Sir John Middleton in the 2008 S&S) – seven actors in four different adaptations.

It's an exhausting business, this tracking of Austen alums, and I am by no means confident that we have identified all the movies that might deserve the title of Most Austen-Heavy Cast. Heck, I’m not even sure that we’ve located all such movies lurking in the Harry Potter canon. Those great British character actors constitute a deep, deep bench. Commenters are welcome to correct the record.


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