I wouldn't say that the 1980 version is my absolute favourite Pride and Prejudice adaptation. I have a possibly irrational love for The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Nevertheless I still really enjoyed this adaptation. It has so much going for it! This miniseries was written by the novelist Fay Weldon and her script is excellent. She keeps much of Austen's dialogue and there are many lines that are word-for-word accurate. And as this miniseries is five hours long it includes minor characters from the book that tend to get left out in the shorter adaptations. We might not get Maria Lucas and the Forsters in this version but we do get to see the Bennet sisters' aunt Mrs Phillips and Bingley's other sister Mrs Hurst. The Gardiners get quite a lot of screentime in this version as well which I really appreciated. This version also keeps in scenes from the book that none of the other Pride and Prejudice adaptations have included! We get Elizabeth singing at the Lucas party, Miss Bingley offering to repair Darcy's pen, and Darcy asking Elizabeth to dance a reel at Netherfield. We get Miss Bingley taunting Darcy about Elizabeth's relatives and asking whether he'll hang portraits of them up at Pemberley. We get Mrs Gardiner warning Elizabeth about the danger of falling in love with Wickham. We get Darcy's final line in his letter to Elizabeth in this version ('I will only add, God bless you'). I also love that Weldon kept in the scene where Elizabeth and Darcy discuss when their feelings for each other turned into love. This is one of my favourite scenes from the book and it really upsets me that none of the other adaptations have it apart from this one! I even love the opening credits of this version. They're quite clever and I find them charming. They give me a nice nostalgic vibe.
Of course no adaptation is 100% accurate. There are scenes from the book that are left out in this version. There's an added scene with Mr Collins and a flotation hat. I didn't mind that added scene at all though because it's funny and completely in character. We get occasional voiceovers from Elizabeth as a means of letting the audience know her inner thoughts. I don't think those voiceovers were really necessary but it's a nice idea. This version gives quite an interesting interpretation of Anne de Bourgh too. When Elizabeth leaves Rosings for the final time Anne goes over to her and holds her hands. It's a very brief moment but you get the sense that Anne really likes Elizabeth and is grateful to have met someone who's willing to put her overbearing mother in place. I was annoyed by one change that this miniseries made though. In the book Elizabeth finds out about Lydia's elopement with Wickham when she reads Jane's letter at the Lambton inn. Darcy then walks in and finds her in deep distress. But in this version Elizabeth reads the letter at the inn and then runs off to Pemberley to look for her uncle Mr Gardiner! It's then that she finds Darcy. This is a ridiculous change! It doesn't make the scene any more dramatic and it was an unpleasant reminder of the Benny Hill scene from Persuasion (2007)! At least this version doesn't mention that Lambton and Pemberley are five miles apart!
One of this adaptation's other flaws is its low production values. The interior scenes are all filmed on cheap-looking sets and the cinematography simply can't hold a candle to the cinematography of the 1995 and 2005 versions. Even The Lizzie Bennet Diaries looks better than this version! In some reviews that I've read people have complained that they felt like they were watching a filmed play when they saw this adaptation rather than a television miniseries - and I can understand why. Viewers who are only used to the BBC's modern and more cinematic-looking period dramas might find the low production values of the 1980 version a real turn-off. However, as I'm a fan of classic Doctor Who and have seen a few of the BBC's pre-90s period dramas, the low production values of this miniseries didn't really bother me.
The 1980 version might not be my absolute favourite Pride and Prejudice adaptation but it has my absolute
Apart from a few exceptions the casting for this adaptation is really strong in general. Malcolm Rennie is hilariously pompous and is now my favourite Mr Collins. Osmund Bullock is now my favourite Bingley. He's quite good-looking, is clearly amiable and good-natured, doesn't come across as stupid or dim at all, and you can see why he's Darcy's best friend. My favourite Jane Bennets are Rosamond Pike and Laura Spencer but Sabina Franklyn's Jane is really good too. I wouldn't call her Jane drop-dead beautiful but she's the prettiest of the Bennet sisters and is very sweet. She and Elizabeth really look like sisters in this adaptation which I really liked. Priscilla Morgan is excellent as Mrs Bennet. She manages to be silly, annoying, ridiculous and embarrassing without going completely over the top. I've liked all of the Mrs Bennets that I've seen actually with the exception of Alison Steadman's. Judy Parfitt's Lady Catherine is great. She's very intimidating in her confrontation with Elizabeth. Also, because her Lady Catherine is younger and more active than the character is in the other adaptations I could much more easily believe that she'd make a 50 mile trip just to tell Elizabeth off.
As I've already mentioned there are a few exceptions to the 1980 version's mostly great cast though. Peter Settelen's Wickham wasn't good-looking or charming enough for me. Clare Higgins is miscast as Kitty Bennet. There's nothing wrong with her acting but she looks by far the oldest Bennet sister! It's really weird and unintentionally amusing! Moray Watson's Mr Bennet is also disappointing but this seems to be down to the script rather than his acting. Whereas the 2005 film softens Mr Bennet's faults this adaptation emphasises them! This Mr Bennet doesn't even attempt to use humour and a light tone of voice to disguise his insults to his wife and younger daughters. He's harsh and nasty and really quite unlikeable. This characterisation - and Elizabeth's run to Pemberley - are the only things about this adaptation that I think will annoy and vex the purists.
This adaptation is on YouTube and I'd definitely recommend watching it. If you're a fan of the book and can get past the dated production values then I think you should find a lot to enjoy in this production. It has its faults but it's still a really well-done adaptation of Austen's book. I'll definitely have to get the DVD at some point.
Rating: 4/5 (It will probably get an even higher rating with a re-watch :)