From 'Clueless' to curious: how one film got me hooked on Austen

02 Mar 2017 BY Jennie Albone

4 mins
Clueless still
Clueless still

I discovered Jane Austen in 1995. By the end of 1996, I'd piled through Emma, Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility. What tipped me off was Clueless, the coming of age comedy written and directed by Amy Heckerling.

Clueless was released in 1995 and became a big box office hit. It's the story of Beverly Hills socialite Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) and her journey from well-meaning but spoiled society girl to a young woman with self-awareness and compassion. Cher and best friend Dionne (Stacey Dash) decide to play matchmaker between two of their teachers as a ploy to boost their shocking grades. They take Tai (Brittany Murphy), a new girl at school, into their clique and try to reform pretty much everything about her to make her popular. Predictably, their well-meaning meddling goes wrong along the way and what ensues is a teenage comedy of manners set to a platinum soundtrack and filmed in Californian sunlight.

It's a playful adaptation of Emma. It's fun and frothy. It's been over 20 years since I first saw it and the dialogue still cracks me up. You don't need to try very hard to peel away the veneer of 90s pop culture before you get to the bones of Austen's comedy. And that's what helped me make the jump from seeing something on screen to hunting down a novel written over 200 years ago. When it came to Regency literature I was more than clueless. But I was also curious. I felt like if I hadn't read the book then I was missing out on something.

At BookTrust we know discovering new things isn't just exciting - it's a key part of being a reader and supporting young people to develop their reading habit. Last year, over 150,000 11 - 13 year-olds took part in our 'Bookbuzz' programme and chose their own book from a collection curated by our expert panel of teachers and librarians. I Am Malala, co-written by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb, was one of the titles on offer which proved to be a huge hit with students. Some had seen Davis Guggenheim's 2015 documentary He Named Me Malala and wanted to find out more about her inspirational life. Others had heard of her incredible story and wanted to understand it for themselves. As one student put it: "I had heard about Malala in the news and that drew me to this book."

Our choices lead us to new and unexpected places. They invite us in to stories that were around long before us, encourage us to look differently at familiar stories, or ask us to re-examine facts from a different viewpoint. And films - even ones where the characters insist on wearing over-the-knee socks - are a great way of informing those choices.

Find out more about BookBuzz and how BookTrust can help generate excitement about books in your school.

Jennie Albone, Head of Schools at BookTrust

Jennie Albone, Head of Schools at BookTrust

Visit to find out how BookTrust can support your students on their reading journey.

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