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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

It was 20 years ago today (almost). . .

The year 1995 marked what I’ve called the Big Bang of contemporary Jane Austen fandom: Colin Firth’s wet-shirt scene in the BBC’s famous adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

But that beloved P&P was just one of six Austen adaptations released on UK or US screens between April 1995, when the Amanda Root/Ciaran Hinds Persuasion aired on British television, and February 1997, when US TV audiences saw the Kate Beckinsale Emma, three months after its British debut.

Arguably the most beloved of the six adaptations was yet another Emma: Amy Heckerling’s witty and charming Clueless, which hit our movie screens twenty years ago this Sunday. Heckerling’s clever screenplay proved for the first time -- but definitely not the last -- that Austen’s stories of money, romance and status competition make perfect sense in the feral world of adolescence, with its high emotional stakes and rigid, unforgiving social codes.

The movie’s anniversary is being marked by the release of an oral history (As If! by the pop culture journalist Jen Chaney) and a steady stream of online articles about the movie: its stars, its lingo, its fashion choices. And from time to time, its relationship to Jane Austen. (In that last category, I recommend these by Sarah Seltzer and Meghan O’Keefe).

As fresh as when it opened on July 19, 1995, Clueless is one of my very favorite Austen adaptations, truer to Austen’s satirical vision than many a slavishly faithful piece of costume drama. This momentous anniversary may call for a repeat viewing. Cue up “Rollin’ with the Homies” and pass the popcorn.


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