Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Review: Pride and Prejudice (1995)

(This is the fourth of my reviews for the Period Drama Challenge.)

Oh, Pride and Prejudice! Where to begin? I've already written about the novel recently, so I will try not get sidetracked into praising the book. I will simply say that Jane Austen is my favorite authoress, Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite novels, and the unabridged book is the absolute best version of Pride and Prejudice ever.  

Now that we've got that settled, I absolutely love this adaptation of the movie. Like any adaptation, there are differences, and things that they "left out," but what I particularly love is that this movie fits so well with the book that I don't really miss those parts, because my memory just inserts them. This adaptation is perfect for book fans, because knowing the book well makes you feel like you've got secret insight into the movie, like deeper knowledge of the characters' motivations, thoughts and feelings that only adds to your enjoyment of the movie. 

I'm not usually a "behind-the-scenes" type of person, my sister is the one who knows all about directors and scripts and filming and all the work that goes into a movie. I tend to focus on what I actually see, but I want to take a moment to express my appreciation for Andrew Davies's faithful and respectful screenplay. He gives Jane Austen's novels the care and attention they deserve while still making a great movie (he also did Sense and Sensibility (2008) and Northanger Abbey (2007) both of which I hope to review eventually). Even though I am a staunch book fan, I know that trying to "copy" the book into a movie wouldn't yield the best results. Andrew Davies has the skill and ability to properly translate a classic novel into movie. I feel confident that Jane's wonderful novels are safe in his hands. As the director, Simon Langton said: "We treated the story with great respect, but if we wanted to be utterly faithful, we would have got someone to recite it over the radio."

 I think the casting was close to perfect. I don't want to take forever going over all the many cast members who were each so great, lest this sound like a boring Oscar acceptance speech in which my rush causes me to forgo quality for quantity and forget half the people in the process, but I will go over the main characters, and some others. 

Jennifer Ehle's portrayal shows Lizzy's spirit without being over-the-top or wild. Her eyes sparkle with life, and she's "lively and playful" as Austen described her, but in a way that's still well-mannered and acceptable. I can see how Mr. Darcy would observe that "her manners were not those of the fashionable world" but "he was caught by their easy playfulness." She is not what society expected her to be, but there is nothing reproachable or shocking in her behavior.

Except, of course, when she runs about the countryside. But she always makes sure no one's watching first.
Ehle is often criticized for being too old for the role, which I think is a little silly considering she was only 24 when she played Lizzy, who is supposed to be nearing 21. Three years makes very little difference when you're in your early twenties. Her figure is also said to be "too heavy" for the part, but we must keep in mind that the stick-thin model figure that our society finds attractive would have been (rightly) considered a sign of deathly illness in Lizzy's society. I think Ehle's personal appearance fits the part perfectly. 

The only scene in which I didn't think she quite lived up to my wishes was the first proposal. I felt like she should have showed a little more shock when Mr. Darcy first declares his admiration. "Elizabeth's astonishment was beyond expression" (perhaps she was frozen in astonishment). Then as the proposal scene progresses, I thought she could have built up a little more anger. Ehle seemed to be near tears (possibly angry tears) almost the whole scene, but in the book Lizzy was growing more angry during the conversation, and then broke down and cried after Mr. Darcy left. That's my nit-picky book fan point. On this point I have nothing more to say, and no other fault to mention. I have the highest respect for Jennifer Ehle's portrayal of dear Lizzy Bennet.

Lizzy determines to leave the trouble of finding a subject to Mr. Darcy.
 It should be a truth universally acknowledged that Colin Firth will always be Mr. Darcy. The most common complaint I hear about his performance is that he doesn't smile as much as Mr. Darcy does in the book, but I think those folks just don't see what his "smile" is - he doesn't grin like Mr. Bingley, but when Sarah and I were watching this most recent time, we kept exclaiming whenever we caught one of his smiles, and there were several.

Mr. Darcy smiling at the Netherfield ball.
See, that's a smile! There are many others much like that, building up to the truly joyful and carefree grin we finally see from him at the very end. Speaking of building toward the end, Firth did a great job showing the change in Darcy, slowly growing as he realizes his attraction to Lizzy, and then the sudden transformation when Lizzy and Darcy meet unexpectedly at Pemberley. 

"The very circumstance which had been designed to turn his thoughts from Elizabeth, seemed to have fixed them on her more, and more cheerfully." - quote from the novel
I can't praise Firth's portrayal enough, I have no complaints, only happy admiration. His appearance, his voice and his wide range of subtle expressions leave nothing wanting. He just IS Mr. Darcy. He and Ehle work so well together, it's simply delightful to watch.

Touching concern for Lizzy's distress.
I promised to refrain from (boring) speeches about every wonderful character, so I'll briefly breeze through the other main characters. Simply know that I have no complaints to voice about any of their performances, only pleasure and praise.

"Dear Jane! You are too good, your sweetness and disinterestedness are truly angelic." -Lizzy
Susannah Harker is a beautiful, elegant Jane. She always looks for the good in people, and "makes allowances for differences of situation and temper" but she is not a simpleton. When she comes to claim Mr. Collins's help with Fordyce's Sermons for Mary, and he hesitates, she sounds almost stern when she says, "I believe it is of great doctrinal import" and he instantly obeys. 

"He is just what a young man ought to be, Lizzy. Sensible, lively, and I never saw such happy manners!" - Jane
He is also handsome (which a young man ought to be if he possibly can) and played perfectly by Crispin Bonham-Carter. I love the scene when he's preparing to propose to Jane, and he tells the servant to bring out his horse. And then adds: "Quick, man!" 

Mrs. Bennet is brought to life in all her excessive silliness by Alison Steadman. No one else could be so thoroughly annoying, as Mrs. Bennet should be. Her squeals grate on your nerves, her complaints make you want to slap her, and the rare times when she behaves herself and seems like a normal person makes you simply sigh with relief. Mr. Bennet's preference of his library, and fondness for his two intelligent daughters is naturally understood. Benjamin Whitrow shows Mr. Bennet's nearly constant pain at his wife's stupidity with amusing calmness and resign.

Julia Sawalha, while perhaps looking a little old around the mouth for a 15-year-old, played Lydia with exactly the wild, inappropriate silliness that she should have. Considering that she was 27 when she played the role, I think she did look pretty well-suited, and her talented performance makes up for her older appearance, in my opinion.

"Oh! I want to go to Brighton!"
Polly Maberly as Kitty filled her role as Lydia's sidekick very well, with petty, simpering mousiness. 

Anyone know what she's doing in this shot?
The most easily forgotten sister, poor plain Mary (Lucy Briers) tries to make up for her looks by saying clever things and practicing the pianoforte. Unfortunately, she overestimates her own abilities in playing and singing. The "Dear Maid" scene is priceless in its tortuous qualities.

She and Mr. Collins would have made a good match. Too bad he couldn't see it. Speaking of which, David Bamber gave him just the right air of slimy pretentiousness. 

The creepy wave.
Barbara Leigh-Hunt is perfectly pompous and domineering as Lady Catherine. Her voice is nearly as sharp and annoying as Mrs. Bennet's, just slightly more refined. Still, she is too loud and impolite to really be genteel. 

She gets on Darcy's nerves sometimes too. His slight eye-roll at her is amazing.

Oh, I accidentally posted another picture of him smiling instead. Oops!
Finally, I will mention Caroline Bingley. Anna Chancellor is not exactly pretty, but she makes a very elegant Caroline Bingley, which I think works perfectly for the part. Miss Bingley is jealous of Lizzy and the admiration she provokes from Mr. Darcy, probably because she knows her own beauty cannot compete. Miss Bingley relies on jewels and finery where Lizzy has only to smile and her "fine eyes" instantly capture Mr. Darcy. Also, this scene is one of my favorite "book secrets" when I immediately hear the following lines.

"A lady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment." - Mr. Darcy (quote from the book)
Lyme Park as Pemberley.
 The scenery is beautiful. I could wish that the filming was a higher quality, but I just purchased the restored edition and it was definitely worth it, overall much less grainy. Unfortunately, this was filmed in 1995, which, amazingly enough, makes it almost 20 years old! It's not the most artistic film-making, and the exposure and saturation isn't always ideal, but the fantastic characters and acting override any negatives about outdated technology. 

I think the hairstyles were very well done, and the costuming was beautiful! Some of the dresses are uncomfortably low-cut, which I don't think is quite authentic, at least not in the day dresses. Most of them weren't bad, though, and I love this dress on Lizzy!

Overall, this adaptation satisfies me as a completely honest, respectful and faithful adaptation of the beloved novel. This is Pride and Prejudice in movie form, I can't imagine that another attempt will ever be able to take its place in my regard. I could watch it over and over, almost as often as I reread the book. There are no words to adequately describe how much I enjoy this miniseries. It is the definitive adaptation. It's a classic.

Discussions welcome! Chime in with a comment!

Screen caps used in this post courtesy of


  1. I'm actually glad that I still have an old-fashioned, non-HD TV because then pre-HD movies don't look weird to me. Anyway, this is a BBC production, and their production values are not the same as Hollywood's, but like you said, despite the occasional quirk in that department, this is still a wonderful film.

    And thanks for linking to! I'd never heard of them before, but I'm bookmarking them right now -- so useful!

  2. Oh, I love your blog. What a wonderful thing to find so many( I was trying to get to the blog:aspiring homemaker by Mia, when I found yours) beautiful, wonderful girls wanting to be stay at home and serve at home. I homeschool my daughter and hope that she will grow up loving been a homemaker.
    Thanks for all the beautiful photos and comments about Pride and Prejudice, just finished reading(in Portugues) and decidid to watch the movie again, I am never can get tired of that movie.

    1. Thanks for your encouraging comment, Jackie!
      It's so neat that you read Pride and Prejudice in Portuguese! I love the book so much, and this movie is a wonderful adaptation! I can never get tired of it either. =)

  3. I have a question. I am not a Jane Austen fan (sorry!). But my teenage daughter's friends are. I was considering letting her watch this movie, however I noticed on one Christian review that it said there were several instances of using the Lord's name in vain. However, on several other reviews this was not mentioned. Is that the case? I realize this novel is loved in the Christian homeschooling community. However we, as a family, have a high sensitivity with regard to the Lord's name and reverence it deserves. Thanks for your help!!!!

    1. Hello! I don't like hearing the Jesus's name used in vain, either, so I understand your concern. Lydia (the wildest, youngest, silly sister) does occasionally use "lord" as an exclamation, like "Lord, I'm so hungry!" I chalk it up to being merely an exclamation equal to something like "My goodness, I'm so hungry!" and not actually meaning the Lord Jesus, but I know it could be taken as a vain usage. She never says "Jesus" or "Christ" or "God," and so far as I can remember, she is the only one that uses "Lord" as an exclamation. I hope that helps!!

    2. I agree -- that's the only instance I can recall either. And -- Lizzie, correct me if I'm wrong -- I believe Lydia used that word a great deal in the book as well.

    3. Yes, Lydia and Mrs. Bennet use "lord" quite frequently in the book. But I also recalled another movie occurrence: Mr. Darcy says "Good God" once.

  4. I DO know what Kitty is doing in that shot! :) It is paper filigree, or "quilling"-- I read all about it in The Jane Austen Handbook by Margaret C. Sullivan. (I cannot recommend that book enough times. It's great.) As it's put in there, it's "a decorative craft that involves rolling up thin strips of colored paper into spirals and arranging them in attractive designs". I think Lucy Steele decorates a basket with filigree for some child or other in Sense and Sensibility, and employs Elinor to help her. ;) (The book, that is.)

    Anyways. It's so great to see your review of this, AND 2005... what a worth P&P95Forever member you are. Hahaha. ;)

    ~Melody/Miss Marianne

  5. Oh, that's delightful! I'll have to look up that book! Thanks for enlightening me!

    Hehehe, oh, yes, I think I adequately love the '95 and hate the 2005... ;)