Thursday 29 May 2008

Words of four syllables...

Of late I've been having what can only be called a Pride and Prejudice fest. In the past few weeks I've re-read the book, watched the BBC 1995 version, and watched the 2005 film. My love of the novel - and it is rare enough to admire and adore something equally! - is well known. I don't think I've spoken much of the adaptations on this blog, though I daresay they've been mentioned on occasion.

1995 BBC... well, this is the
production which should be the benchmark for all literary adaptation. True, I saw it before I read the novel (I was 9 when it was released) but, even after discovering Jane Austen's work to be superior to Andrew Davies' working of it, I whole-heartedly love this version. Davies took the all-too-rare approach of using the novel's dialogue in his adaptation for the majority. Since Jane Austen is the finest writer of dialogue I have ever come across, not to mention the wittiest, it always seems vainglorious for a scriptwriter to inject their own pearls. Just don't. Stoppit.
And the acting! Every actor is perfect for their character, and Jennifer Ehle presents the definitive Elizabeth Bennet. Oh, and Colin Firth of course... (incidentally, did you know that collenferth is an Anglo-Saxon word meaning stout hearted?) One of my few reservations about this Pride and Prejudice is that we can't see the development of Lizzie's thoughts and affections as subtly and emotionally as they're presented in the novel, but of course this must be true for any adaptation; and Jennifer Ehle's wonderfully expressive eyes say more than most actresses could with pages of script. Every member of the cast was wonderful, and the series is one I could re-watch once a week for the rest of my life without reluctance.

2005 film... was there any point? Having made more or less the finest adaptation possible, could cramming the story into two hours be a worthwhile endeavour? There was never any chance for equally Davies' adaptation with so little time - the pace of Pride and Prejudice is frenetic; whoever said nothing happens in Jane Austen must, like most of her opponents, never have read her. And the casting and directing... Darcy is sulky rather than proud; Bingley daft rather than amiable. Keira Knightley does a creditable job, and would be worthy of applause, had not Jennifer Ehle set such a high standard. Blenda Blethyn's portrayal of Mrs. Bennet's is admirable - Alison Steadman was criticised for going over the top in the 1995 version, but on re-reading the novel I remember just how over the top Mrs. Bennet is. Even Dame Judi Dench isn't as good as her counterpart, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, in the role of Lady Catherine.
The chief culprits for this adaptation, though, are the scriptwriters. Ok, you can't fit in everything that's in the novel - but why change things? Why add things? Why take dialogue from the mouth of one character and place it another's? The Oprah-moment from Charlotte Lucas...
And the directing. The near-kiss once Elizabeth has rejected Darcy? Throwing in Wuthering Heights when things get dull, so that the hero must wander around the moors in the rain....
My reaction upon watching it today was not as severe as when I saw it in the cinema, but it has confirmed in my mind the brilliance of the 1995 version, and I shall clutch the DVD of it to my chest with glee. Or, indeed, I might put it in the DVD player.


  1. Couldn't agree more, except that I was more impressed with the Keira Knightly version when I saw it on the big screen than I was when I watched the DVD (but that's probably because I get to the cinema so rarely that I'd be impressed by *anything*!) I doubt I'll bother re-watching that one, but the 1995 version is a joy every time. If you haven't already discovered it, it sounds as though you'd be in the right mood for a visit to this Jane Austen blog:

  2. There is no greater Darcy (besides the one in my mind) than Colin Firth! He is perfection incarnate in this role. I adore "P & P" and when I went to England, Bath was first on my list of places to visit!

  3. Hurrah! Another convert to the BBC version!
    I watched the 2005 version purely out of curiosity, and it was as bad as I thought it would be. I'm not going to have a rant (not another one!) but I hate Kiera Knightly, and not even Emma Thompson (who did an uncredited rewrite) could save the script!
    The 1995 version is pure gold. I love it. I've also watched it more times than in healthy I think!
    If you want a laugh, watch the 1940s version, with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier - their costumes were, I think, reused from Gone with the Wind. Never ones for historical accuracy those Hollywood types!

  4. The first screen version I saw was at school (although as we weren't reading the book, I have no idea why!) and it was the BBC 1980 version. I must try and get hold of a copy as I remember thinking it was just wonderful. I also seem to remember that Mr Darcy had a stuck on plasticine nose to make him look more commanding but that could just be girlish cruelty rearing its ugly head...

    The 1995 BBC version was so much better than the film but then I've still not recovered from Kiera Knightly being cast as EB :(

  5. You've made me wish my DVD player weren't broken! I agree absolutely that the 1995 P & P dramatisation is definitive. One of the few series (see also Brideshead Revisited & The Barchester Chronicles) that one looked forward to all week and then could watch all over again with pleasure. I don't think there's ever been a successful film of P & P. Have you seen the dreadful Hollywood version with Laurence Olivier? Even he couldn't save it.

  6. The BBC 1995 is the only P&P worth watching. All I can say about the recent remake is Keira Knightley??? What were they thinking!?
    incidentally, did you know that collenferth is an Anglo-Saxon word meaning stout hearted? Love this tidbit.

  7. I try and watch the BBC version at least once a year (usually over my Christmas holidays when I have lots of free time). No one does dialogue like Jane did--that's for sure!

  8. I feel the same. Nothing can touch the Ehle/Firth version!

    I didn't care at all for the Knightly film.

  9. Did you just criticise Dame Judi Dench, your best chum in the world?!
    Heavens to Betsy.

  10. Thanks for doing the author meme! I enjoyed your answers. I agree with you about the P&P movies...there is no one who could touch Ehle/Firth. Though unpopular, I think there is a place for the 2005 version, that is, when I only have a short amount of time.

  11. I cannot argue with anything already said here. the BBC version is THE one for ever and ever and I have lost count of the number of times I have watched it. I remember when it was shown I was at home with my then husband and my two darling daughters and we would sit down, me on the sofa with a daughter on each side, my husband sitting on a chair trying to look uninterested but failing miserably, and the Wet Shirt moment! Well, both girls and I shriekd with delight and the wonderful meeting a few minutes later
    Mr Darcy!!
    Miss Bennett!!
    the music at that moment peaked quite beautifully, just listen and see and it reminded me forcibly of the theme of Tristan and Isolde. happy happy days.

  12. Glad you liked the BBC version. They also did a good one of Emma though Gwyneth P is good in the film one.
    The film version I was split about - odd to have Mr Darcy and Mrs Darcy getting on OK, but interesting, in a non-spirit of Jane Austen way. I also liked Matthew whatever his name is in parts - he was very romantic, and also good at being haughty, but not convincing moving between the two! I also liked the filming even though it's unlikely they'd wander about at dawn in their nightclothes! Yes, the BBC one better, but the newer one has its poetic moments. A new Emma is coming on TV I think.


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