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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe


The years 1995-96 yielded a bumper crop of filmed versions of Jane Austen’s novels, designed for both big and small screens. The adaptations released that year--six interpretations of four different novels--include some that still rank among Janeites’ favorites.

The screenwriters of two of these Austen adaptations have been in the news this month, for reasons both tragic and delightful:

* On November 3, Douglas McGrath, who wrote and directed the 1996 adaptation of Emma, died suddenly, at the age of 64. McGrath’s Emma earned generally good reviews and two Oscar nominations, for costumes and musical score (won by Rachel Portman).

McGrath’s adaptation isn’t perfect—it does pretty well with the comedy, less so with the emotional depth, and Ewan McGregor’s hair is truly dreadful—but Gwyneth Paltrow is charming in her first big role.

* The New Yorker’s November 14 issue includes a long profile of Emma Thompson, the screenwriter and star of the sublime 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, who is hard at work on a stage-musical version of her wonderful Nanny McPhee movies.

The piece includes an interesting discussion of Thompson’s performance in the climactic scene of S&S, when her Elinor bursts into jagged, ugly tears upon learning that Edward is free to marry her. Not sure I agree with the author’s analysis of the screenplay—“Whereas the novel announces their attraction at the beginning, the film allows them to fall in love in the course of the story”—but I’m always happy to think about this movie, my all-time favorite Austen adaptation.

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