Sunday, 18 March 2012

Pride and Prejudice (1995)


I've been meaning to write more reviews on Jane Austen adaptations but I've gotten a bit distracted by Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera adaptations. This post will be a review of the BBC series from 1995 - written by Andrew Davies - which is widely regarded as being the definitive adaptation of Austen's novel by Austen fans. This version is certainly the best P&P adaptation I've seen. Don't get me wrong though, I don't actually think this miniseries is perfect. Far from it.

Whilst I do think that the 2005 film is mostly inferior to this miniseries it did actually manage to improve upon it in some respects. The 2005 film has far better music, superior cinematography, and much prettier costumes. Some of the supporting actors in the 2005 film give better performances than their counterparts in the BBC series as well. I much prefer Brenda Blethyn and Jena Malone's performances as Mrs Bennet and Lydia in the 2005 film than Alison Steadman and Julia Sawalha's performances in the BBC series. Steadman and Sawalha are just far too over-the-top and annoying in this series! Yes I do realise that Mrs Bennet and Lydia are supposed to be silly, vulgar and annoying characters - but are they really supposed to be so annoying that you want to strangle them in all of their scenes?! I prefer Tom Hollander's Mr Collins in the 2005 film to David Bamber's in the BBC series too. Hollander's Mr Collins is pompous and smarmy but he isn't as obviously slimy as David Bamber's Collins is. In the 2005 film you completely understand why Elizabeth refuses Mr Collins' marriage proposal but you still don't think Charlotte Lucas is a complete idiot for marrying him. Also, I much prefer Rosamond Pike's take on Jane Bennet in the 2005 film to Susanna Harker's Jane in the BBC series. Pike's Jane is clearly shy and reserved but she still comes across as affectionate and warm. Pike manages to give Jane an actual personality but Harker's Jane just seems really boring. It's really hard to understand just what exactly Bingley sees in her. Also, Rosamond Pike is actually very beautiful. Harker isn't unattractive but she isn't as beautiful as Jane Bennet should be in my eyes.

Another problem I have with this miniseries is that it's sexed-up. There's the infamous pond scene for example and an implied post-coital scene of Lydia and Wickham at one point. Andrew Davies also includes extra scenes of Darcy's character that aren't in the book which I wasn't keen on at all. We see Darcy at Pemberley before Elizabeth does. We also see Darcy looking for Wickham and Lydia in London, and then being present at their wedding, before Elizabeth finds out about it! I really don't like the fact that Davies gives away some of the book's surprises to the audience before the characters get to find out about them. I suppose Davies must have thought it wasn't important and that the majority of viewers would have already read the book? Well, I know quite a few people who've seen this miniseries and have never read the book so that annoys me.  

These faults aside I still love this miniseries and it is my favourite Pride and Prejudice adaptation. I just don't think it's as perfect as everyone makes out. Overall the miniseries certainly has a lot more going for it than the 2005 film does. For one thing it has much stronger leads. Jennifer Ehle gives an excellent performance and she does a much better job at playing Elizabeth Bennet than Keira Knightley did in the 2005 film - even though she doesn't really look like my mental picture of Elizabeth Bennet. In the book Elizabeth is said to have a "light" figure whereas Ehle's figure is more voluptuous. Ehle looks too old for the role as well. I think she was only about 24 when she filmed Pride and Prejudice but she looks much older. I'd have put her down at 30. Having said that I do really enjoy her performance. Keira Knightley is beautiful and looks the right age but she giggles far too much and I found her Elizabeth annoying at times. Jennifer Ehle, on the other hand, seems to have a much better understanding of the character. Her Elizabeth is witty, intelligent and extremely likeable. Ehle does a brilliant job with the English accent for the role too. When you watch her in Pride and Prejudice it's hard to believe that she's a blonde American in real life. Ehle has genuinely great chemistry with Colin Firth as well. It probably helped that the two were dating at the time! Ehle thoroughly deserved the BAFTA that she won for the role too.

Colin Firth is great as well. He's aloof and arrogant at the beginning but over the course of the miniseries his character softens. I also loved his indifference towards Miss Bingley, his scenes with Georgiana, and his scenes with Elizabeth and the Gardiners at Pemberley. I don't find Colin Firth as attractive in the role of Darcy as much as everyone else seems too but he's still quite clearly good-looking and he does a great job with the character. In the 2005 film Matthew MacFadyen is decent but you never really see the arrogant, "pride" side of Darcy's character. On the flip side I wasn't too fond of some of the sexed-scenes that involved Darcy's character in this miniseries: e.g. him taking a bath and staring at Elizabeth through a window as she plays with a dog, fencing to get over Elizabeth, taking a swim in a pond (that doesn't even look all that clean!), and then managing to run inside and get fully dressed in time to stop Elizabeth and the Gardiners from leaving. But these scenes are Davies's fault and not Firth's. Again, both of the leads in the 1995 BBC series are excellent.

Most of the supporting cast in this series give stronger performances than their counterparts in the 2005 film do as well. Benjamin Whitrow does a far better job at playing the sardonic, witty Mr Bennet than Donald Sutherland does in the 2005 film. He nails the sarcasm and the exasperation. Crispin Bonham-Carter (cousin of Helena Bonham-Carter) does a far better job at playing Bingley than Simon Woods does in the 2005 film and is likeable and charming. Woods' Bingley comes across as a stuttering idiot! Barbara Leigh-Hunt is excellent and her Lady Catherine de Bourgh is much better than Judi Dench's. I also love Emilia Fox's Georgiana and Anna Chancellor's Miss Bingley (how cool is it that she's actually related to Austen in real life?!) All in all, the 1995 BBC series really is the best adaptation of Pride and Prejudice even if it is flawed. This series is also extremely faithful to the book and many scenes are word-for-word accurate. Since it's 6 hours long we see much more of the story than the other Pride and Prejudice adaptations show and it includes more scenes and characters from the book. It has an extra 4 hours worth of material than the 2005 film and the 1940 film. The miniseries is beautiful to look at, is funny, is mostly very well-acted, and captures the spirit of the book extremely well. I do really enjoy this miniseries. I have the DVD and I've seen it multiple times. I'm sure that they'll be more Pride and Prejudice adaptations in the future but I don't think this miniseries will ever be topped. 

Rating: 4/5


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