Hearing that one of your favorite classic novels or plays is going to be adapted for the big screen can be an emotional roller coaster, ranging from "Yay! I can't wait to see how they interpret the story!" to "Oh my God, I can't believe they're casting her [or him] in the leading role!"
This week marks the release of 'Jane Eyre,' based on the beloved novel by Charlotte Bronte. The book holds a dear place in the hearts of legions of women who related to the plucky heroine so passionately during their youth. That means there's undoubtedly a lot of pressure on relative newcomer Mia Wasikowska to deliver. She has a decent track record, with 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'The Kids Are All Right' already under her belt. Here's hoping she lives up to the great expectations.
Of course, adaptations run the gamut from amazing (pretty much anything starring Kate Winslet) to meh (Gwyneth Paltrow in 'Emma') to the downright awful (ahem, Demi Moore in 'The Scarlet Letter'). But when the adaptations are done right, the actor who does your favorite character justice can earn enough goodwill to forgive several stinkers going forward. A halo effect, if you will.
With that in mind, I have compiled a list of the top five actresses who have managed to put their own stamp on a classic character. (In a good way, not the turned-a-classic-character-into-a-punch-line way that Demi Moore put her stamp on Hester Prynne.)
1. Katharine Hepburn as Jo March in 'Little Women.' Others have tried (Winona Ryder), but no other actress has been able to match Katharine's peerless portrayal of adored literary heroine Jo March. Jo's unique blend of raw authenticity and fiery passion resonated with millions of girls and women around the world, and Katharine captured those elusive traits to perfection.
2. Kate Winslet as Marianne Dashwood in 'Sense and Sensibility.' Kate is great in pretty much any role she takes on, but her spin on the lovably impulsive Dashwood sister is particularly memorable. Nobody does feisty and strong-willed better than Kate. This 1995 adaptation directed by Ang Lee and written by Emma Thompson is hard to top, with Thompson's flawless depiction of the practical sister Elinor, Alan Rickman as the dashing Colonel Brandon and, of course, Kate as hot-headed Marianne.
3. Helena Bonham Carter as Kate Croy in 'The Wings of the Dove.' Helena is indisputably skilled at putting her own distinctive spin on iconic characters. Look no further than her recent portrayal of the Queen Mum in last year's 'The King's Speech' as evidence. In 'Dove,' she breathed new life into the complex Henry James heroine, and raised the bar for all actresses who dare to follow in her footsteps. (Author's note: Thanks to reader 'escapemantua' for pointing out my mistake!)
4. Megan Follows as Anne Shirley in 'Anne of Green Gables.' Yes, this was a TV movie. But Megan encapsulated the iconic Anne Shirley so well that it's difficult to imagine anyone else donning the famous red pigtails. Ever. Just watch this audition tape and see.
5. Keira Knightley as Lizzy Bennet in 'Pride & Prejudice.' Many eyebrows raised when it was announced that this skinny newcomer best known for playing Orlando's love interest in 'Pirates of the Caribbean' would be tackling this meaty role. But Keira didn't disappoint. She captured Lizzy's fire and spunk, and held her own against the dishy Mr. Darcy, played to dreamy perfection by Matthew Macfadyen.