2017 Jane Austen Rewatch: Pride and Prejudice

Books & Mags, Movies & TV

Pride and Prejudice (1813) followed Sense and Sensibility to become another commercial and critical success. It was also published anonymously (“by the author of ‘Sense and Sensibility’”). The focus of the story is witty Elizabeth Bennet, one of five young, unmarried Bennet sisters with little economic incentives to entice suitors.

Jane Austen Rewatch PandP

JASNA again provides a handy map for tracking the physical locations of the story:

JASNA Pride and Prejudice Locations map-pp-1466h

Map of locations in Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen Society of Australia, via JASNA.

Just like Sense and Sensibility, there are several adaptations. We watched five: the 1995 P&P miniseries, the movie from 2005, modernized tales Lost in Austen and Bride and Prejudice plus the zombie action flick Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

I’m really not interested in most modernizations like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries or Bridget Jones’s Diary simply because P&P isn’t my favorite story. That’s also why I’ve decided to skip the 1980 miniseries. I confess, however, that I’m a little curious of the 1940(!) movie with Laurence Olivier as Mr. Darcy, but pretty much only for his sake. (I don’t think I’ve ever seen him perform.)

The Pride and Prejudice miniseries from 1995 (adapted by Andrew Davies, directed by Simon Langton) is my go-to version. This iteration stars Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, and is well-known in part because of the (in)famous wet shirt scene:

The Lake Scene (Colin Firth Strips Off) – Pride and Prejudice – BBC

I don’t much care for the wet shirt myself. This added scene does, however, add weight to Elizabeth’s thinking that she had essentially walked in on the Darcy family when they expected privacy, and clearly feeling the inappropriateness of it.

This version does have my favorite ever Mr. Bennet, played wonderfully by Benjamin Whitrow. I’ve long dismissed Alison Steadman’s performance as Mrs. Bennet, quite wrongly as it turn out: I happened just recently to see her in a Miss Marple adaptation, and her range blew me away. I clearly need to re-rewatch and pay special attention to her alone!

Besides the acting, the music is lovely and the story flows on smoothly. If there’s something missing, it’s a clearer picture quality and subtitling on the DVD.

My favorite scene: After Wickham and Lydia’s marriage, Elizabeth politely but decisively shuts down another attempt by Mr. Wickham to turn her against Mr. Darcy.

There are many fun and funny details in the Lost in Austen miniseries (2008, adapted by Guy Andrews, directed by Dan Zeff). Unfortunately, I find the lead (Jemima Rooper as Amanda Price) unconvincing and spiritless. The rest of the cast is simply superb, though, and given a lot to play.

Hugh Bonneville excels at delivering Mr. Bennet’s restrained wit, expertly foiled by Alex Kingston’s easily-agitated Mrs. Bennet. Christina Cole (whose Mrs. Elton in the 2009 Emma is perhaps my favorite) does fantastic work as Caroline Bingley, as does Lindsay Duncan as Lady Catherine de Bourgh. The latter I’ve long admired for her performances in the 1999 Mansfield Park and Doctor Who special episode “The Waters of Mars”. I like her Lady Catherine surprisingly much; this version is clearly sharp as a tack. Guy Henry delivers a both shoddy and sleazy Mr. Collins, who for some reason has gained three brothers in this version.

My favorite dialogue:

Mr. Bennet [introducing his wife to the Collins brothers]: “[…] and Mr. Cymbal Collins, enlivening a dull Tuesday evening with his amusing trousers.”

Mr. Cymbal Collins: “I trust, madam, you shall come to call me Tinkler.”

Mrs. Bennet: *speechless and flabbergasted*

Mr. Bennet: “Mrs. Bennet will dedicate herself to that end.”

Shriek! Snort! Guffaw!

The only recent movie-length version comes from 2005 (screenplay by Deborah Moggach, directed by Joe Wright). The adaptation has a lot to like: the lively ball scene in the beginning, a stunningly beautiful Jane (Rosamund Pike), a very realistic depiction of a family’s little everyday messes, Mr. and Miss Bingley that actually do look like siblings and sets dressed to perfection, among others. Too bad that Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) and Mr. Darcy (Matthew Mcfayden) don’t have any spark at all. (And Knightley’s pout is sulky rather than sexy.)

Where this particular P&P fails most is pacing. (Oh, time constraints, the foil of every Austen movie adaptation!) The beginning is slower, but especially towards the end director Wright basically just has to run through the plot.

My favorite scene:

Meryton ball scene in the beginning – it’s wonderful to see how much the people enjoy themselves!

P&P 2005 Movie Scene – Meryton Assembly (The Dance) via JV Rañopa

I’m not a fan of zombie stories in general, but I did want to see Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (written and directed by Burr Steers) when it first came out in 2016 and again for this rewatch.

I have mixed feelings. The movie does kick ass, and does so splendidly! However, there’s not much more than that there.

Jane Austen Rewatch PPZ

Lily James’s Elizabeth Bennet and Lena Headey’s Lady Catherine de Bourgh are ok, but most of the rest of the cast leaves me lukewarm. This Mr. Collins (Matt Smith of Doctor Who fame) didn’t have much of anything to do or say. The character of Mr. Darcy has never had much of an appeal to me; if I cared for him more, I might actively dislike Sam Riley’s version, although he probably did not have much to say on how the poor character was written. Mr. Bennet, however, is marvelous. His portayals tend always to be rather sarcastic, of course, but Charles Dance’s version takes it to an extreme: he is (to borrow Husband’s apt phrase) dry as the Sahara.

I guess PPZ really is a straightforward action movie with a side of Jane Austen, not a Jane Austen movie with a side of action – and the latter really is what I’d like it to be.

The 2004 Bollywood version, Bride and Prejudice (screenplay by Paul Mayeda Berges, directed by Gurinder Chadha) is a really fun take. The script omits many plot points and even characters – for example, there are only four “Bennet” sisters – but what is included makes a coherent whole. And the dances and colors! Wow!

Jane Austen Rewatch BandP

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is great as Lalita Bakshi (Elizabeth Bennet), but I’m seriously underwhelmed by Martin Henderson as William Darcy. Nitin Ganatra’s interpretation of Mr. Kohli (Mr. Collins), on the other hand, is as magnifient a performance as every other Mr. Collins I’ve seen.

Read more about this Jane Austen rewatch project.

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