Hollywood seems to have discovered Austen in the last two decades, but which adaptations and inspirations are the must-sees?

For an author who died almost 200 years ago, Jane Austen has an amazing number of fans. Maybe it’s costume drama like Downtown Abbey, Bridget Jones pining for her real-life Mr. Darcy, or the love of all things British from Harry Potter to Doctor Who fueling the surge, but people are discovering Jane Austen like never before.

Everyone seems to have heard of the love story of Pride and Predjudice‘s Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy, but Jane Austen’s other novels and even her real-life story have inspired adaptations. Here are the best of the best.

10. ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (1995)

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There are other adaptations from a 1930’s black and movie movie, to a fairly recent Kiera Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen flick, but none is on par with the 1995 BBC miniseries. Everyone seems to know about Colin Firth, that infamous pond, and oh so clingy shirt. Even though Mr. Darcy didn’t take a spontaneous dip in the Pemberly pond in the Austen novel, the rest of the adaptation is spot on. Colin Firth’s brooding Mr. Darcy launched his career from relative unknown to household name. One of the best things about this adaptation is that since it is a miniseries rather than a two hour movie, lots of attention was able to be paid to character development and side stories. Every intricacy is explored from Lizzie and Darcy’s love-hate relationship, to Lizzie’s confrontation with Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

Best Scene: Any time Lizzie is arguing

9. ‘Sense Sensibility’ (1995)

Sense-and-Sensibility-

Sense and Sensibility works amazingly well given its number set of firsts. It was the first Western film directed by Ang Lee. It was Emma Thompson’s first attempt at writing a screen play. It was one of Kate Winslet’s first films. The result was that it swept the BAFTA’s and snagged seven OSCAR nominations, including a win for Thompson. The cast includes many who are now major stars, but then were little known U.K.-based actors such as: Hugh Laurie, Alan Rickman, and Imelda Staunton. The two key love stories are between Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant’s Eleanor and Edward, and Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman’s Marianne and Brandon. Both couples have amazing chemistry. If you’ve only ever seen Alan Rickman as the cold-hearted Snape, here he plays the ever faithful yet unrequited love.

Best scene: Colonel Brandon begging Eleanor to “give him an occupation”

8. ‘Clueless’ (1995)

clueless

Just in case you think Jane Austen is only costume drama and can’t be updated, think again. Clueless was inspired by the Austen novel Emma. Emma is an incorrigible matchmaker in the novel, and her counterpart, Cher, played by Alicia Silverstone in the movie, is just as bad. Matchmaking has been around for centuries, and clearly the meddlesome matchmakers’ techniques and insights haven’t improved any over time. True love tends to find you when you least expect it, and often it’s right under your nose. The movie’s standouts are Paul Rudd as Cher’s best friend and eventual love, and the late Brittany Murphy’s Tai.

Best Scene: Josh and Cher finally admitting their feelings for each other

7. ‘Bride and Prejudice’ (2009)

Bride and Prejudice-

Who doesn’t love a movie musical? What could be better than a Pride and Prejudice themed musical only Bollywood style. It’s a whole Indian culture meets Western culture mash-up with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, the darling of Bollywood, as the Lizzie Bennett character and Martin Henderson as Darcy. Naveen Andrews, of LOST, plays Bingly, but a much more assertive one than is in the novel. If you’ve never seen a Bollywood film this is a good way to test out the genre.

Best Scene: Dance sequence featuring Naveen Andrews. He does all his own dancing though he has never had formal training.

6. ‘The Lizzie Bennett Diaries’ (2013)

lizzie bennett

Jane Austen was brought swiftly into the modern day in this witty adaptation that turns Pride and Prejudice‘s Elizabeth Bennet into a video blogger. Clever use of transmedia elements, like spin-off web series and social media accounts, allowed the audience to enter the world of Austen in a unique way. But the particular the strength of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries lies in the focus on the supporting characters, and especially on Lizzie’s relationship with sisters Jane and Lydia, and best friend, Charlotte. The Lizzie and Darcy romance is still key (and don’t worry, you’ll get your swoon-worthy moments), but in this story romance is not the only important thing – and we love that.

Best scene: Lizzie tells Lydia she loves her after they reconnect

5. ‘Lost in Austen’ (2009)

lost in austen

What would you do if you suddenly discovered that all you had to do to go back in time was open a door in your bathroom? That’s exactly what happens to Amanda when she finds Lizzie Bennett in her bathtub enjoying flowing hot water and a bubble bath. She swaps places with Lizzie Bennett, who wants to live in present-day London, and meanwhile, she tries to fit in at Pemberley. As you can imagine, things don’t go well from Wickham being not at all what she expected to Caroline Bingly confiding she’s a lesbian and making a pass at Amanda. Fights, near fatal wounds, and four episodes later all is finally resolved in a not quite predicable ending.

Best Scene: Amanda asking Darcy to reenact the Colin Firth pond scene

4. ‘Becoming Jane’ (2007)

becoming jane

So how exactly did Jane Austen get to be Jane Austen? Relatively little is known about Austen save for the material found in her private journals, and frankly they weren’t all that revealing. In Becoming Jane, Anne Hathaway plays Jane whose life plays out as a cross between actual, historical events, and the events of her novels. There are homages and parallels to all of Austen’s novels most notably Pride and Prejudice. James McAvoy plays Tom Lefroy, a real-life beau of Austen’s who many speculate was the model for Mr. Darcy. The story isn’t so much historical as it is a romance with lots of twists and turns.

Best Scene: Twist ending which we won’t spoil

3. ‘Mansfield Park’ (1999)

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Mansfield Park is a tough novel to adapt. Many people don’t like the heroine, Fanny Price, because they find her a bit too preachy and stiff. However, director/writer Patricia Rozema came up with an interesting solution. She used the story of Mansfield Park as a guideline, and then inserted pieces from Austen’s early writings and her actual life. Instead of a preachy and moralistic Fanny that no one likes, the result is a charming, young women trying to discover where she fits in a world of unrequited love and unfeeling relatives. Jonny Lee Miller of current Elementary fame plays Fanny’s unrequited love, Edmund.

Best Scene: Edmund and Fanny after Fanny discovers something she is not supposed to late one night

2. ‘Persuasion’ (1995)

persuasion

Along with Mansfield Park, Persuasion doesn’t get nearly enough love from adaptations. Anne Elliot was persuaded not to marry the love of her life, Frederick Wentworth, because at the time, he was a man of inferior prospects. Now, ten years later, the tables are turned. Anne is considered to be an “old-maid” and her family’s fortune is endangered. When chance throws Anne and Frederick together, can their romance be rekindled, or will they each be persuaded again not to follow their hearts? Ciarán Hinds plays the dashing Captain Frederick Wentworth.

Best Scene: Anne reading a very key letter

1. ‘Emma’ (1996)

Dalibor Milosevic

Matchmakers have been around since the beginning of time. Nothing seems to be able to stop them from their meddling. They don’t even seem to learn their lessons when one disaster strikes after the next. Gwyneth Paltrow plays the charming Emma who keeps trying to get Harriett, played by Toni Colette, a match. Predictably, it doesn’t work. Jeremy Northam plays George Kinghtly, the neighbor who Emma has always considered an older brother, but who now might be something more.

Best Scene: Emma having a meltdown in the garden

Which Jane Austen project interests you the most?

The first two cast members for Disney’s live-action adaptation of The Lion King have been announced by director Jon Favreau.

James Earl Jones, who voiced Mufasa in the animated movie in the ’90s, is returning as the character in the live-action adaptation. Interesting!

Meanwhile, Donald Glover — who will co-star in this summer’s Spider-Man: Homecoming for Disney and Marvel — will play Adult Simba.

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The first two cast members for Disney’s live-action adaptation of The Lion King have been announced by director Jon Favreau.

James Earl Jones, who voiced Mufasa in the animated movie in the ’90s, is returning as the character in the live-action adaptation. Interesting!

Meanwhile, Donald Glover — who will co-star in this summer’s Spider-Man: Homecoming for Disney and Marvel — will play Adult Simba.

Favreau tweeted the news Friday evening:

According to a statement from Disney, The Lion King “will build on the groundbreaking technology used in The Jungle Book to bring the story of Simba to photorealistic life.”

A release date for the film hasn’t been set. Favreau also helmed the live-action Jungle Book for the studio.

So far casting is off to a great start!

What Disney can learn from the 2009 Chinese live-action ‘Mulan’

Here's what 'Hua Mulan' got right

4:30 pm EST, February 17, 2017

Disney seems to have a long-term plan to churn out live-action versions of its most popular animations, and Mulan is the latest of its projects. The live-action version of the Chinese legend is already getting us excited, but many people don’t know that an excellent live-action Mulan movie already exists, made by a Chinese studio.

Hua Mulan (sometimes translated as Mulan: Rise of a Warrior) is a 2009 film by director Jingle Ma. It tells the story of Hua Mulan, a young woman who goes to war instead of her aging father, and rises in the army’s ranks. It won many awards in China, and stars Wei Zhao as Mulan.

Disney’s Mulan wasn’t favorably received in China when it was released, with audiences saying it was too different from the original legend, and too Westernized. Now would be a good time for the studio to make the film as globally appealing as it can be — and Hua Mulan is a perfect example of how to do our favorite female warrior justice.

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Disney seems to have a long-term plan to churn out live-action versions of its most popular animations, and Mulan is the latest of its projects. The live-action version of the Chinese legend is already getting us excited, but many people don’t know that an excellent live-action Mulan movie already exists, made by a Chinese studio.

Hua Mulan (sometimes translated as Mulan: Rise of a Warrior) is a 2009 film by director Jingle Ma. It tells the story of Hua Mulan, a young woman who goes to war instead of her aging father, and rises in the army’s ranks. It won many awards in China, and stars Wei Zhao as Mulan.

Disney’s Mulan wasn’t favorably received in China when it was released, with audiences saying it was too different from the original legend, and too Westernized. Now would be a good time for the studio to make the film as globally appealing as it can be — and Hua Mulan is a perfect example of how to do our favorite female warrior justice.

Here are some things Hua Mulan got right that Disney would do well to learn from.

hua mulan decision

Bringing more realism to the legend

Hua Mulan follows a plot that is more loyal to the original legend of Mulan, which states that she was a warrior for the Chinese army for over a decade. In the film, she even becomes a General, and retires with the nation’s respect, even after her identity as a woman is revealed.

Seeing Mulan lead thousands of men in Hua Mulan is a rare and empowering experience. Her struggles as a woman in a position of power, and the various dilemmas that come with commanding such a large number of people, are what bring intensity and meaning to the story. Mulan itself explored the concept of honor and femininity as well, but we only got a very small glimpse at the power that the legendary Mulan is said to have actually wielded.

While Disney may not want to make a movie that ventures too far from a family friendly atmosphere by portraying a Mulan who goes to war too realistically (as in, showing her killing enemies), it would be great to see her rise in the ranks and revolutionize such a male-dominated space the way she is said to have done.

hua mulan warrior

Not shying away from the grit — but not making it too grim, either

Hua Mulan does an excellent job of skirting the line between grim tragedy and friendly comedy. With thousands of extras, the battle scenes are as breathtaking and inspiring as they are horrifying. There’s a scene where Mulan counts the dog tags of all the fallen soldiers, and a considerable amount of time is spent exploring her despair and responsibility as the army’s struggle becomes more desperate. The emotional rawness of the story creates a very real, very flawed, yet very lovable Mulan — and takes audiences on an exploration of heroism, perseverance, and honor.

Of course, we can’t expect Disney to go all out with blood and grit — they’re bound to bring out Mushu, after all — but Disney prides itself on epic battles and fantastic special effects, and they’ll want to serve us war scenes as breathtaking and realistic as possible.

However, we’re all tired of grittiness for grittiness’ sake. Despite the heaviness of the more emotional scenes of Hua Mulan, there is sweetness and humor. The friendships in the army, much like those of Disney’s version, can be laugh-out-loud funny, and the scenes of Mulan’s struggle to preserve her male appearance are equally fun to watch.

Related: Disney’s live action Mulan lands female director

After all, audiences won’t be going to see Mulan to see war and sadness — the animated version was fun and adventurous, and although it had somber moments, it still managed to keep things just lighthearted enough for us to not get too sad. With animation, that lightheartedness is an easier task; portraying war with real actors could prove a more difficult challenge.

Establishing more depth in the main relationship

In Hua Mulan, Mulan and Wentai’s relationship is beautiful, but it builds over a long period of time, and strengthens through their mutual respect as they both struggle to lead an army. Their love is based on that combination of trust built over time, and shared responsibility.

Shang and Mulan have what is possibly one of the best relationships Disney has ever come up with. Among the Disney ‘princesses,’ Mulan and Shang probably have the greatest chemistry and story of all, and scenes from the animated film continue to be shipping fuel. Presumably, they’ll want to replicate this relationship in the new live-action version.

However, the animated film was sadly limited to only a few glimpses of the developing relationship. It would be amazing if we could see more of the friendship between Shang and Mulan (as Ping) and how it becomes something more. It’s rare in a ‘princess’ movie to see romance begin with sincere friendship, and it’ll be interesting to see how they deal with the confusion regarding Mulan’s gender in both a funny and profound way.

Giving it a more realistic conclusion

There are some scenes that could do with a makeover, especially at the very end. Mulan’s final trick to kill Shan Yu — by dressing three soldiers in drag and having them attempt to distract him — is hilarious in the animation, but would come off as strange and unrealistic in a live-action movie, and perhaps even a little offensive.

Hua Mulan’s approach to defeating the enemy is a much more powerful one. Although it equals Mulan in stealth and cleverness, it involves realistic strategy and power dynamics, and finally involves her making a deal that saves China through negotiation, rather than war — and making a terribly painful personal sacrifice.

Disney has a penchant for epic final battle scenes, but that isn’t what happens in either Mulan or Hua Mulan. In both cases, it’s Mulan’s cleverness that saves the day. It would be great to see that cleverness translated into a realistic solution, in the same way it does in Hua Mulan.

It’s not like Disney hasn’t subverted its own canon, after all. In Maleficient, it isn’t the prince’s kiss that lifts the spell. Disney could certainly benefit from giving Mulan a more epic finale, and perhaps one that does her legendary character justice.

Immersing us in historically-accurate China

Besides perhaps The Jungle Book, we’ve yet to see a live-action adaptation that takes place in a non-European culture. In fact, this would be the first film to employ solely actors of color. What Disney decides to do here will be particularly interesting; since Aladdin will be getting its own adaptation soon, and Pocahontas could also follow in the live-action trend, the decisions taken here will likely set a precedent for what will be done with those films.

There were rumors earlier of Mulan having a white love interest, which now seem to be crushed, thankfully. We want to see a film with an entirely Asian cast — hopefully at least mostly Chinese — and get a chance to explore the scenery, sets and props of ancient China.

Although, it’s only fair to say that Hua Mulan also has its own white character — a Russian singer called Vitas, who inexplicably pops up now and again. That’s another tip for Disney: don’t just insert white guys into the story for no reason.

Hua Mulan’s shots of rural China are beautiful and unique, and it would be amazing to see what Disney can do if they choose to show much of what they did in animation, with real sets and locations. Hopefully, Disney gets a chance to actually film in China itself.

All this doesn’t go to say that we want a copy of Hua Mulan. Not at all. Hua Mulan is an excellent film in its own right, but it’s considerably more adult than Disney would ever dare make an adaptation. The realism of its wars and of the toll duty takes on Mulan and her companions is nothing like the fun, if occasionally emotional, adventure Disney took us on with Mulan.

Disney’s version is a movie to be excited about, and the additions the animated film made to the legend are what makes it a classic. It would be amazing to see Mushu, Shang, the ancestors, and maybe even the cricket, on screen, as well as the songs, of course! “Make a Man Out of You” with real actors will definitely be one of the biggest highlights.

So far, we know that Mulan’s director will be Niki Caro. Although she isn’t Chinese, a matter that raises a lot of questions about representation, it’s still encouraging to see a female director chosen — and if Caro’s powerful film Whale Rider is any indication, she’s rather good at telling empowering stories with female leads. Hopefully, the rest of the team can be filled with talented Chinese filmmakers that deserve to have a hand in rendering such a culturally significant story properly.

After all, Mulan is primarily a Chinese legend, and her story spans a history much longer than the 18 years since Disney’s animation came out.

In the meantime, go check out Hua Mulan, which is a fascinating film (although a considerably more adult one; you’ve been warned)!

What are you expecting from ‘Mulan’?

There’s a new drama coming to HBO this Sunday and you can’t miss it. Big Little Lies is a delicious trip through the small, rich, and scandalous town of Monterey, California.

Featuring an all-star cast — Alexander Skarsgård, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Nicole Kidman, Zoë Kravitz, Reese Witherspoon, and Shailene Woodley — HBO’s book to TV adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s wildly popular novel should please both book readers and newbies (I’m the latter) thanks to the soapy drama and lack of censorship.

‘Big Little Lies’ review: Come for the cast, stay for the story

Big Little Lies takes elements of True Detective, Real Housewives, and Gone Girl, and mixes them into one lovely, hate-filled cocktail. Set in the beautiful coastal town of Monterey, the secrets and connections between characters run deep.

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There’s a new drama coming to HBO this Sunday and you can’t miss it. Big Little Lies is a delicious trip through the small, rich, and scandalous town of Monterey, California.

Featuring an all-star cast — Alexander Skarsgård, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Nicole Kidman, Zoë Kravitz, Reese Witherspoon, and Shailene Woodley — HBO’s book to TV adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s wildly popular novel should please both book readers and newbies (I’m the latter) thanks to the soapy drama and lack of censorship.

‘Big Little Lies’ review: Come for the cast, stay for the story

Big Little Lies takes elements of True Detective, Real Housewives, and Gone Girl, and mixes them into one lovely, hate-filled cocktail. Set in the beautiful coastal town of Monterey, the secrets and connections between characters run deep.

Reese Witherspoon’s Madeline is the ringmaster. She’s the typical Helicopter Parent trying as best she can to keep Monterey’s relationships and extracurricular activities together. Bringing her down is her ego and never-ending animosity toward a couple of characters, including her ex-husband’s new bae Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz, below). Together, Bonnie and Madeline’s new hubby Ed (Adam Scott) want to keep the peace between their two partners, but they’re the only two who seem capable of keeping tempers in check.

Meanwhile, Perry (Skarsgård) and Celeste (Kidman) have serious marriage issues that seem impossible to resolve. Of the leading ladies, Celeste seems to be the most level-headed despite her shitty husband. Then there’s Laura Dern’s Renata (below), who hates Madeline with all of her heart. Some of the best scenes are between these two ladies.

Not helping the Renata/Madeline relationship is the latter’s new friend Jane (Woodley). She’s just moved to town with her son Ziggy, who might’ve caused serious trouble on his first day of school.

It’s this event that initiates the show’s biggest mystery: A murder. Who did it? Who’s dead? The answer is not revealed in the first four episodes despite flash forward sequences in which we see an investigation taking place. As you continue to watch, it becomes increasingly clear that any of the characters could be be the victim or murderer. (This writer hasn’t read the book, so please don’t spoil me.)

Big Little Lies is the perfect show to cuddle up with on Sunday evenings for the next two months. While some have called this show corny, I find it to be a delight. I just have one suggestion for every viewer: Bring a glass of alcohol to the party. While screening the episodes, I very much enjoyed watching the drama unfold with a drink in hand.

The only problem? It’s just seven episodes long. Here’s hoping for more seasons or more adaptations of Moriarty’s books at HBO.

Big Little Lies premieres Sunday, February 19 on HBO.