Cara King, Author

Regency Movies

If you're looking for laughter, angst, romance, costume drama, a gritty war story, or pretty much anything else, you can find it in a Regency-set film, television movie or miniseries.  What follows is a list of suggestions, with ratings, capsule reviews, and trivia about the actors that appear in each production.  (You'll notice that a lot of actors appear in more than one of these!)  My list is divided into four categories:  adaptations of the works of Jane Austenmovies about the Napoleonic Wars, adaptations of Baroness Orczy's “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” and miscellaneous Regency-set movies.  (For the record, when I use the term "Regency" on this page, I'm referring to the extended Regency period -- approximately 1780 to 1830.)  So many movies, so little time!



If you haven’t already seen the 1995 BBC/A&E miniseries starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, you’re in for a treat.  Writer Andrew Davies (who later adapted the 1997 EMMA) and director Simon Langton sincerely respect and understand the Austen book, yet clearly also realize that television is a different medium than fiction.  This PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is vigorous, colorful, and vital, and it never drags.  Jennifer Ehle is a delightful Elizabeth, and Colin Firth strikes many as the essential Darcy.  Fabulous supporting performances by Julia Sawalha (Lydia), Benjamin Whitrow (Mr. Bennett), and Crispin Bonham-Carter (whose Bingley is, thank heaven, actually charming and attractive) help make this miniseries sheer pleasure.
  • TRIVIA:  Crispin Bonham-Carter is the cousin of Helen Bonham Carter, famous for “A Room With a View” and “Howard’s End.”
  • TRIVIA:  Julia Sawalha’s breakthrough role was as the extremely sensible Saffron on the television show “Absolutely Fabulous.”  She has also appeared in two of the recent “Horatio Hornblower” television movies.

2005 Feature Film “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”
This recent adaptation has created a lot of controversy, at least in certain circles.  So let me start by saying that, yes, I know director Joe Wright is taking liberties both with the period and with Austen.  Yes, I know that Elizabeth Bennet wouldn't be running around out of doors with her hair down and no bonnet, I know that ladies wore gloves while dancing and didn't allow gentlemen to buy them articles of clothing, I know that Darcy would not have been brooding around on Charlotte Bronte's moors sans cravat, sans waistcoat, and apparently sans shirt buttons.  I know all this, and yet I still find this film awfully entertaining.  (And if that proves that I'm no pedant, all the better!)  Keira Knightley is a passionate and likable Elizabeth, Matthew Macfadyen is properly proud and yet swoony as Mr. Darcy, and Brenda Blethyn is an absolute delight as Mrs. Bennet.  There are loads of nice little touches (Mary giving Mr. Collins a dreamy look, the younger girls actually looking like teenagers with iffy complexions) and perfect comic timing throughout.  And if Deborah Moggach's screenplay takes certain liberties (and leaves some things out), it nonetheless does as admirable job of translating a longish novel into a two-hour film.
  • TRIVIA:  This is not the only time Tom Hollander (Mr. Collins) will appear opposite Keira Knightley --  Hollander also appears in the second and third "Pirates of the Carribean" movies,
  • TRIVIA:  Kelly Reilly (Miss Bingley) appeared opposite Judi Dench (Lady Catherine) in "Mrs. Henderson Presents."
  • TRIVIA:  Quite a few of the actors in this movie also appear in the film 2004 film "The Libertine," including Rupert Friend (Wickham), Rosamund Pike (Jane), Kelly Reilly (Miss Bingley), and Tom Hollander (Mr. Collins).

1940 Feature Film “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”
The 1940 movie is disliked by some for the liberties it takes with the original (the women’s costumes are decades off, the five sisters are now four, and a key character’s character is quite changed), but many others adore it.  Adapted by Aldous Huxley, Helen Jerome, and Jane Murfin, it is aimed much more at mainstream sensibilities than anything else on this list.  Greer Garson is a suitably strong Elizabeth, and Laurence Olivier’s interpretation of Darcy makes his shyness quite clear, and his misunderstanding of Elizabeth believable.

Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth may be the modern Austen fan’s favorite Lizzie-Darcy pairing, but twenty-five years ago Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul were thrilling BBC viewers.  With a script by novelist Fay Weldon, it is faithful yet vigorous.
  • TRIVIA:  Irene Richard, who here plays Charlotte Lucas, starred the following year as Elinor in the BBC’s “Sense and Sensibility.”

2004 Feature Film “BRIDE AND PREJUDICE”
Directed by “Bend it Like Beckham”’s Gurinder Chadha, the joyous BRIDE AND PREJUDICE transplants Austen’s story to India.  Bingley is now an Anglo-Indian barrister, Darcy a filthy rich American, and the Bennetts a prosperous Indian family.  The script by Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges adds a lot of new things (musical numbers, tract housing) yet manages to stay true to the spirit of the original more than one would dream possible.
  • TRIVIA:  Bingley is played by Naveen Andrews, famous as Sayid on the television show “Lost.”


1995 Feature Film (in the U.S.) and television movie (in the U.K.) “PERSUASION”   
Those unfamiliar with the book may find the story here bit confusing at first, but the glories of this film are well worth a tiny bit of confusion.  Roger Michell’s direction of Nick Dear’s script is sensitive and emotional, realistic and yet somehow very romantic.  Amanda Root is brilliant as the quiet Anne Elliot, and Ciaran Hinds is oh-so-dashing as Captain Wentworth.  Wonderful supporting performances by many, including Simon Russell Beale and Fiona Shaw, heighten one’s enjoyment.  And though the portrayal of Elizabeth (Anne’s proud elder sister) is too broad and far too vulgar, it’s about the only misstep here.
  • TRIVIA:  Sophia Thompson, who plays the hypochondriac Mary Musgrove, also appears as Miss Bates in the 1996 “Emma.”  She’s the sister of Emma Thompson, who plays Elinor in the 1995 film “Sense and Sensibility.” 
  • TRIVIA:  Fiona Shaw, who plays the admiral’s wife, is now best known for playing Harry’s Potter’s cruel aunt.

1971 BBC Miniseries “PERSUASION”
This is a good example of the BBC’s erstwhile tendency to make very faithful, exceedingly lifeless, and utterly boring adaptations.  And that late 1960’s hair is painful to look at!


Famously written by Emma Thompson (who won an Oscar for her efforts) and directed by Taiwanese director Ang Lee (who was thought an odd choice, until the final product turned out so well), this film is delightfully understandable for those unfamiliar with the novel (or the period), and just plain delightful for Austen fans.  Sure, Kate Winslet’s Marianne seems more self-indulgent and silly than truly passionate (as Austen’s Marianne was supposed to be), but everything else is wonderful.  And certain parts of Austen’s original that many readers find unsatisfying (e.g. “Isn’t Edward horribly wimpy and stiff?  Why does smart, strong Elinor like him?”) are made more
palatable here.  The supporting cast is great too, from Harriet Walter’s grasping Fanny to Gemma Jones’s likable Mrs. Dashwood.
  • TRIVIA:  Hugh Laurie, who has a small role here as the newspaper-reading Mr. Palmer, is now famous in the U.S. for his dramatic role in the television show “House.”  In the U.K., he’s more famous for his broad comedy performances partnered with Stephen Fry in television programs such as “Jeeves and Wooster” and “A Bit of Fry and Laurie.”
  • TRIVIA:  In her diary of the making of the movie, Emma Thompson wrote:  “Greg Wise (Willoughby) turned up to ride . . . looking gorgeous.  Ruffled all our feathers a bit.”  She has since married Wise, and they have a daughter.
  • TRIVIA:  Alan Rickman, who plays Colonel Brandon, was the originator of the Valmont role in the play that became the movie “Dangerous Liaisons.”  (In the movie, the role went to John Malkovich.)

Irene Richard and Tracey Childs are well cast as Elinor and Marianne, and this (relatively short) miniseries is enjoyable and fun.
  • TRIVIA:  Peter Woodward, who here plays Willoughby, is better known to science fiction media fans as the techno-mage Galen in the short-lived “Babylon 5” spin-off “Crusade.”


1986 Television Movie “NORTHANGER ABBEY”
There are some good things about this production -- the costumes, the lovely views of Bath.  But instead of focusing on what was great about Austen’s novel, director Giles Foster and writer Maggie Wadey have run wild with the Gothic parody.  And as our handsome hero, we have . . . Peter Firth.  Not brooding Colin Firth, no—but Peter “I look like a weak and sneaky villain” Firth.  Painful.


1999 Feature Film “MANSFIELD PARK”
Hmm...if I were writer/director Patricia Rozema, and I thought Austen’s novel “Mansfield Park” needed a new heroine (because Austen’s Fanny is merely a teen girl, not an artist, and how can viewers sympathize with an ordinary heroine?); if I thought Fanny’s lazy mother and spiteful, adulterous cousin needed more sympathetic portrayals (because they’re women, so of course they’re victims of society, and cannot be blamed for their faults);  if I thought kindly Sir Thomas Bertram really needed to be evil, and his self-indulgent son Tom needed to be good (because viewers need a surprise twist!);  if I thought Austen’s story really needed to be spiced up with sex and violence (because that’s realism, right?) . . . if I thought all that, I would write my own story, and not call it “Mansfield Park.”  Making matters worse, Embeth Davidtz and Alessandro Nivola, who are supposed to be dangerously attractive as the Crawfords, are really rather bland.
  • TRIVIA:  Lindsay Duncan, who plays both Fanny’s aunt Lady Bertram and her mother, co-starred with Alan Rickman (Brandon in 1995’s “Sense and Sensibility”) in the original stage production of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” (which became the film “Dangerous Liaisons.)

1983 BBC Miniseries “MANSFIELD PARK”
With the exception of Nicholas Farrell, who is a handsome and likable Edmund Bertram, this miniseries is dull and lifeless.
  • TRIVIA: Bernard Hepton, who plays Sir Thomas Bertram, was later seen as Mr. Woodhouse in the 1997 “Emma.” He also appeared as Chauvelin in the 1969 miniseries “The Elusive Pimpernel.”
  • TRIVIA:   Samantha Bond, who plays Maria Bertram, was later seen as Mrs. Weston in (yes!) the 1997 Emma.  She is best known to American audiences as the Moneypenny in the Pierce Brosnan James Bond films.
  • TRIVIA:  Jonny Lee Miller, who plays young Charles Price, later played the role of Edmund Bertram in the 1999 film of “Mansfield Park.”  He also co-starred in the 1999 Regency-era highwayman film “Plunkett & Macleane.”


1996 Feature Film “EMMA”
Writer/Director Douglas McGrath has
actually managed to turn Austen’s long novel into a short movie, without losing the spirit of the characters.  Not all Austen fans appreciate the changes made to the original, but the good things here are so very good that I confidently give it a “Highly Recommended.”  Gwyneth Paltrow is a fine Emma, and Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley is a dishy romantic hero.  Toni Collette is a daring choice for Harriet Smith, and does wonderful things with the role.  But Sophie Thompson’s acting as garrulous Miss Bates in the picnic scene is the highest achievement of this film.  Sophie Thompson’s career has been overshadowed in many ways by that of her sister Emma Thompson, but she proves here that she has just as much talent.
  • TRIVIA:  Frank Churchill is played by Ewan McGregor, who later became the young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the “Star Wars” movies.  So check out Regency-era Obi-Wan with sideburns!
  • TRIVIA:  Jeremy Northam later starred in Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband,” though in this he was sadly burdened by an unfortunate mustache.

1997 BBC/A&E television movie “EMMA”
With a script by Andrew Davies, who wrote the wonderful BBC/A&E adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” two years before, good things seemed guaranteed, but the results here are disappointing.  In Austen’s novel, Emma is happy, self-satisfied, and loved by all, but Kate Beckinsale’s Emma seems moody and miserable much of the time, and she gives those around her little reason for their obvious affection.  Olivia Williams is a lovely Jane Fairfax, but her coloring is so similar to Beckinsale’s that it often takes a second glance to tell if one is looking at Emma or Jane.  And Mr. Knightley?  Sigh.  Our gallant Mr. Knightley is short, balding, and has eaten a few too many baked apples.  True to life?  Perhaps.  But true to what makes this viewer happy?  Sorry, no.  And yet . . . there are many enjoyable things in here.  The “production values” are high -- lovely costumes and settings -- and most viewers found this a solidly entertaining adaptation.
  • TRIVIA:  Lucy Robinson, who plays the social-climbing Mrs. Elton, appeared as Mrs. Hurst in the 1995 BBC “Pride and Prejudice.”

1972 BBC Miniseries “EMMA”
Doran Godwin is an intelligent and lively Emma, and this is among the best of the earlier BBC adaptations.

1995 Feature Film “CLUELESS”
Writer/Director Amy Heckerling’s modern teen film is based on Austen’s “Emma,” and retains its spirit and many of its relationships.  Alicia Silverstone achieves something here that I’ve seen in no other Emma (or “Cher” in this case): she makes it perfectly clear why everyone else in her world adores her, despite her laziness and self-centeredness.  Emma/Cher is in love with life, herself, and the world around her.  She’s happy, never cruel, and has a lot of native intelligence.  The changes and modernizations of the story are fascinating (and reveal that Heck
erling has a real familiarity with the source material).  Paul Rudd is a workable Knightley figure, and as a bonus, we get Wallace Shawn as Mr. Weston!
  • TRIVIA:  Alicia Silverstone later appeared in the Shakespeare movie “Love’s Labours Lost,” directed by Emma Thompson’s erstwhile husband Kenneth Branagh.


Based on Patrick O’Brian’s popular Aubrey/Maturin series, this Peter Weir film is nothing short of incredible.  There is so much detail here, such a thorough rendering of life aboard a naval ship of the time, that one can watch it over and over and yet never be bored.  Russell Crowe transforms himself once again as Captain Jack Aubrey, and Paul Bettany holds his own as Doctor Maturin.  There is some violence and gore that dismays a minority of viewers, but even for them, this slice-of-life should not be missed.
  • TRIVIA:  Billy Boyd, who plays coxswain Barrett Bonden, is more famous for his “Pippin” in the recent “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
  • Paul Bettany, who plays Maturin, once played a bare-bottomed Geoffrey Chaucer in the just-for-fun movie “A Knight’s Tale.”  He also played Prince William of Orange in “Sharpe’s Waterloo.”

This series of TV movies from ITV and A&E ran from 1998 through 2003,  starring Ioan Gruffudd as Hornblower and Robert Lindsay as his wise captain, with a strong cast of supporting players and guest stars (including Samuel West, David Warner, David Rintoul, Julia Sawalha, and Greg Wise). 

Based on the venerable Horatio Hornblower novels by C. S. Forester, these follow the always honorable, ever handsome Horatio Hornblower in his career in the 1790’s British Navy, beginning when he is a lowly midshipman.   The visuals in the whole series are gorgeous -- period ships, period costumes, period oceans -- and these films are well worth watching.

In order, the complete series is:
  1. Hornblower: The Even Chance (1998) (US title:  Horatio Hornblower: The Duel)
  2. Hornblower: The Examination for Lieutenant (1998)  (US title:  Horatio Hornblower: The Fire Ships)
  3. Hornblower: The Duchess and the Devil (1999)  (US title: Horatio Hornblower: The Duchess and the Devil)
  4. Hornblower: The Frogs and the Lobsters (1999)  (US title:  Horatio Hornblower: the Wrong War)
  5. Hornblower: Mutiny (2001)   (US title: Horatio Hornblower: The Mutiny)
  6. Hornblower: Retribution (2001)  (US title: Horatio Hornblower: Retribution)
  7. Hornblower: Loyalty (2003) (US title: Horatio Hornblower: Loyalty)
  8. Hornblower: Duty (2003) (US title: Horatio Hornblower: Duty)
  • TRIVIA:  Ioan Gruffudd has also starred in a number of Hollywood films, including “102 Dalmatians,” “King Arthur,” and “Fantastic Four.”
  • TRIVIA:  Julia Sawalha (who plays Maria Mason in “Loyalty” and “Duty”) played the feckless Lydia in the 1995 BBC miniseries of “Pride and Prejudice.”
  • TRIVIA:  Greg Wise (who plays Major Côtard in “Loyalty”) played Willoughby in the 1995 feature film “Sense and Sensibility.”
  • TRIVIA:  David Rintoul (who plays Dr. Clive in “Retribution” and “Mutiny”) played Darcy in the 1980 BBC Miniseries “Pride and Prejudice.”
  • TRIVIA:  Samuel West (who plays Major Edrington in the fourth Hornblower installment) played William Elliot in the 1995 “Persuasion.”
This series of television movies from ITV (made by Carlton TV) has its stronger (Sharpe’s Eagle) and weaker (Sharpe’s Gold) episodes, but it is nonetheless heartily recommended.  Sean Bean plays Bernard Cornwell’s Rifleman Sharpe, a commoner who rises from the ranks in the Napoleonic-era British Army to become an officer and -- well, perhaps not a gentleman in any sense of the word, but certainly a strong leader, courageous fighter, and inveterate womanizer.

In order, the complete series is:
  1. Sharpe's Rifles (1993)
  2. Sharpe's Eagle (1993)
  3. Sharpe's Company (1994)
  4. Sharpe's Enemy (1994)
  5. Sharpe's Honour (1994)
  6. Sharpe's Gold (1995)
  7. Sharpe's Battle (1995)
  8. Sharpe's Sword (1995)
  9. Sharpe's Regiment (1996)
  10. Sharpe's Siege (1996)
  11. Sharpe's Mission (1996)
  12. Sharpe's Revenge (1997)
  13. Sharpe's Justice (1997)
  14. Sharpe's Waterloo (1997)
  • TRIVIA:  Nicholas Farrell, who plays Fenner in “Sharpe’s Regiment,” was a sensitive Edmund Bertram in the 1983 BBC “Mansfield Park.”
  • TRIVIA:  Alexis Denisof, who plays the smug Rossendale in “Sharpe's Revenge,” “Sharpe's Justice” and “Sharpe's Waterloo,” is better known as the occasionally smug Wesley in the TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and its spin-off, “Angel.”
  • TRIVIA:  Julian Fellowes, who plays the Prince Regent in “Sharpe’s Regiment,” had the same role in the 1982 “Scarlet Pimpernel.”
  • TRIVIA:  Alice Krige, who plays the beautiful marquesa in “Sharpe’s Honour,” played Mary Godwin (the later Mary Shelley) in the 1988 film “Haunted Summer.”  Nonetheless, she is better known as the Borg Queen in 1996’s “Star Trek: First Contact.”


Baroness Orczy’s fop in disguise, who saves French aristocrats from the guillotine, is surely one of literature’s great characters.  The fact that Orczy’s prose and plotting were far weaker than her handful of wonderful ideas means that few still read any of her Scarlet Pimpernel novels, but Sir Percy Blakeney lives on in film and TV adaptations. 

Many find this the definitive “Scarlet Pimpernel.”  I find none of the adaptations perfect (and the source material not even close to perfect), but this one has a lot of wonderful things.  Leslie Howard plays Sir Percy as a silly, giggling sort of fop -- silly, fun, and bubbly.  Merle Oberon is fine as his wife, the erstwhile actress Lady Blakeney (though her sporadic attempts to act “French” are a tad embarrassing.)    Raymond Massey has real presence as the heartless Chauvelin, and Nigel Bruce (better known as Watson to Basil Rathbone’s Holmes) is a suitably silly Prince of Wales.

David Niven should have been a fine Pimpernel, but nothing about this production really works.  Don’t bother.
  • TRIVIA:  Margaret Leighton (Lady Blakeney) played Lady Melbourne in the 1972 feature film “Lady Caroline Lamb.”

1982  Miniseries “THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL”
Anthony Andrews is a very different Sir Percy than Leslie Howard--sarcastic rather than silly, with a sexily languorous wit.  This adaptation is worth watching just to compare the two concepts of Sir Percy the fop.  As for the rest -- some works, some doesn’t.  Ian McKellen and Jane Seymout are fine as Chauvelin and Marguerite, but neither is a stunner.  The pace is sometimes slow, but this is still a watchable, and enjoyable, adaptation.
  • TRIVIA:  Christopher Villiers, who plays Lord Anthony Dewhurst here, appeared the following year as Tom Bertram in the 1983 miniseries of “Mansfield Park.”  He was later seen as the cowardly Colonel Bampfylde in “Sharpe’s Siege,” and had a small role in the abysmal 1987 Barbara Cartland adaptation “Hazard of Hearts.”
  • TRIVIA:  Ian McKellen played the poet Keats in the 1970 BBC “Keats.”

The character of the Scarlet Pimpernel is truly memorable for two reasons: he pretends to be a fop, and he can impersonate anyone perfectly.  So why, in this 1999 BBC/A&E version, did the resident geniuses nix the whole idea of the Pimpernel in disguise?  In spite of that, this miniseries (and the two TV movies that followed) are quite enjoyable.  Richard E. Grant might not have been my first choice to play Sir Percy, but he does a fine job.
  • TRIVIA:  Jonathan Coy, who plays the Prince of Wales, played Captain Bracegirdle in the ITV/A&E Horatio Hornblower series.  He also was John Thorpe in the disappointing 1986 ‘Northanger Abbey.”
  • TRIVIA:  Emilia Fox, who plays Minette, was seen earlier as Georgiana Darcy in the 1995 “Pride and Prejudice” miniseries.
  • TRIVIA:  Jamie Bamber, who plays Lord Tony, is quite the versatile actor!  He played Archie Kennedy in the recent Horatio Hornblower series, and is now seen as Apollo in the new “Battlestar Galactica” -- quite a different sort of character.

1941 Feature Film “PIMPERNEL SMITH”
Directed by and starring Leslie Howard, who of course had played the Scarlet Pimpernel a few years before, “Pimpernel Smith” moves the story forward in time to World War II.  This film is surprisingly successful, considering the circumstances under which it must have been made.  Quite entertaining.


1954 Feature Film “BEAU BRUMMELL”
Ouch.  Stewart Granger is a romantic hero as Brummell, and Elizabeth Taylor is his lady fair.  Nothing to do with history, and very little to do with a good story either.  Trite and pathetic.

1987 Television Movie “A HAZARD OF HEARTS.”
Good heavens, what a waste of talent.  We have Helena Bonham Carter, Eileen Atkins, Diana Rigg, Christopher Plummer, Anna Massey, and more -- and yet this adaptation of the Barbara Cartland novel is excruciatingly bad.  Your life is too short to be spent watching this.

1994 Feature Film “PRINCESS CARABOO”
This movie doesn’t want you to take it too seriously, so don’t.  It’s pure fluff: fun, whimsical, rather silly.  Phoebe Cates plays a young woman who claims to be an exotic foreign princess, and around her are a slew of colorful characters played by Kevin Kline (her real-life husband), Stephen Rea, Jim Broadbent, John Lithgow, and more.
  • TRIVIA: Anna Chancellor, who plays Mrs Peake, appeared the following year as Miss Bingley in the miniseries “Pride and Prejudice.”

1996 BBC/PBS Television Movie “A ROYAL SCANDAL”
The story of Prinny’s marriage to Caroline of Brunswick.  Richard E. Grant is of course too thin to be our prince (as was Rupert Everett in “The Madness of King George”), but this is quite enjoyable nonetheless, with gorgeous costumes, wigs, palaces and mistresses.  A fun soap opera which we can pretend is educational.
  • TRIVIA: Richard E. Grant is better known as the most recent "Scarlet Pimpernel."
  • TRIVIA:  Irene Richard (Mrs. Fitzherbert) starred in the 1981 BBC version of "Sense and Sensibility" as Elinor, and played Charlotte Lucas in the 1980 BBC version of "Pride and Prejudice."

2005 Feature Film "CASANOVA"
This film is not serious at all, and not meant to be.  Instead, it's loads of fun, with bright comedy, beautiful scenery, and gorgeous people.  Heath Ledger is subtly wonderful as Casanova, and his dry line readings are a delight.  Oliver Platt and Omid Djalili are hilarious supporting players, and director Lasse Hallstrom gives us gorgeous Venice as a backdrop.
  • TRIVIA: Oliver Platt (as Porthos) was the best thing in the 1993 "Three Musketeers."

Back to Top

Home     Books     What's the Regency?    Regency Info     Movies     Bio     Links

Last updated 4 July 2006.

All text and images copyright 2005, 2006 by Cara King