Click here to enter my other blog: Jane Austen's World.

Sunday, February 10

Pride & Prejudice 1995

I have made no bones about it: I simply adore the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle as Mr. Darcy and Lizzy Bennet. Yes, I still quibble with some minor points. The wet shirt scene, for instance, which was dropped in out of nowhere and which, as we all know, our Jane did not write; but all in all this adaptation of Jane’s touchstone novel still shines. This screen version has been around for such a long time, that I won’t bother to review it. I’ll merely make some observations about Pride and Prejudice productions in general.

Younger Jane fans tell me they prefer P&P 2005. Many of them argue that Colin and Jennifer were simply too old to play Darcy and Lizzy, and that Keira and Matthew are exactly the right ages. My, how our perception of starring roles has changed over time. As the movie 'Shakespeare in Love' so admirable demonstrates, for centuries women weren’t even allowed to play female parts! Once they were allowed to, the truly successful stars appropriated the best roles for themselves, including those of the opposite sex. During the 18th century, Sara Siddons scandalized Society by playing Hamlet. Most recently Cate Blanchett portrayed Bob Dylan and we didn’t bat an eye.
It was also not uncommon for middle aged actresses to play the role of a teenaged Juliet. In fact, Franco Zefferelli shocked the industry by using the more age-appropriate Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting in the lead parts of his marvelous 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet, thereby starting a trend. It was widely felt at the time that actors and actresses needed years of seasoning before they could tackle Shakespeare.

During the 1950’s, Mary Martin, who was born in 1913, played young Peter Pan on Broadway. The audiences at the time were so accustomed to seeing actresses play someone much younger than themselves that the play was a smash hit. In 1939, Greer Garson was a 35-year-old Hollywood studio mega star and Laurence Olivier was an up and coming 32-year-old romantic lead when they were contracted to play Lizzy and Mr. Darcy.

This 1940 version of P&P is now regarded a classic. Shown recently on Turner Classic Movies, I snorted and guffawed when I heard Carrie Fisher declare it to be the definitive cinematic version of Jane’s novel. Why, she asked rhetorically, were people bothering to make other adaptations when this paragon of filmdom had already been made? Why, indeed. Could it be that Jane’s plot for the 1940 version had been so altered; that the costumes were so wrong; and that the lead actress was more suited to playing a matron, that one alternately cringes or laughs when one watches this version? Food for thought, Carrie.

But I digress. P&P 2005 is also guilty of ageism, but in reverse. I love Brenda Blethyn and Donald Sutherland, two fine actors who I would pay to see in any movie in which they appear. But let’s face it. At 70, Donald is more suited to playing Lizzie’s grandfather than her father. And Brenda, bless her heart, was close to 60 when she tackled the role of Mrs. Bennet. We all know that Mrs. Bennet was a silly young thing when she married Mr. Bennet. According to my calculations she is closer to forty and no more than fifty when Jane Austen’s tale begins. I recall reading one comment last week about Jemma Redgrave being too young to play Lady Bertram. Actually, at forty-three she is just about the right age for the part.

As you can see our perception of age is a relative thing. The young viewer will always think that all people over 29 should be lumped together in the geriatric department, and those of us of a certain age will show more forbearance towards 26-year-old actresses (Jennifer Ehle) who dare to tackle the role of a 20-year-old. In fact, Jennifer was so successful in her portrayal, she received a BAFTA in 1996. For my own taste, Jennifer HAS become Lizzy. Her looks more closely resemble the regency ladies in George Romney portraits than Keira’s, who is too strikingly beautiful and modern looking for the role. As a reminder of the first impression Lizzy makes on Mr. Darcy, here is his view of her in conversation with Mr. Bingley:

"You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room," said Mr. Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet.

"Oh! she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you."

"Which do you mean?" and turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, "She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me."

When Matthew Macfadyen as Darcy echoed these words about the stunningly beautiful Keira Knightley, I laughed out loud. To be fair to Keira, her portrayal of Lizzy garnered an oscar nomination, and while I think her performance was fine, I thought the movie itself was much too short to fully develop the fine panoply of characters that Jane Austen created. Be that as it may, I will relish Sunday nights for the next three weeks, and will revel in seeing this version of Pride and Prejudice once again, thanking PBS Masterpiece Classic for bringing it back for a new audience to discover.

Click here to read this blog's posts about Mr. Darcy, including Mr. Firth and Mr. Macfadyen. - Ms. Place

Read more about Pride and Prejudice at Jane Austen's World and Austenprose.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

To use that quote from Darcy to make your case that Lizzy isn't very pretty is somewhat disingenuous.
There's every reason to think he wasn't being particularly objective at that time and the rest of Austen's text makes it perfectly clear that while Jane is #1 Lizzy is also generally considered a beauty. Second only to Jane and with Mary the only plain one in the family.

Ms. Place said...

Yes, it was a bit disingenuous using that quote, but it was the fullest description I could find, and one that showed how two people looking at Lizzy can come up with two different conclusions.

Culling through the novel, you will find only short clues about Lizzy's looks. Elizabeth Bennet was second to her sister Jane in beauty, was her father's favorite, had a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman (Darcy's observation to Miss Bingley), had pleasing features or features rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes (which were brightened by exercise), had playful manners, a glowing complexion after exercise, looked remarkably well, had a light and pleasing figure, was witty and vivacious, etc.

In fact, Lizzy appearance changes depending on who is viewing her. Obviously, Darcy's opinion of her looks changes the most, to where he finally says that she is "one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance."

Nowhere is she described as being prettier than her sister or so stunning that all eyes turn to her when she enters a room, as Keira Knightley surely must.

becca said...

I don't think ms. place was saying that Lizzy wasn't very pretty. She was just stating an opinion that Jennifer Ehle is pretty like Elizabeth Bennet, and that Keira is too beautiful for Darcy's first impression to make sense.

kayedacus.com said...

I had to laugh at your description of Kiera as "stunningly beautiful," as I personally cannot abide looking at Ms. Knightley and thought she was totally wrong for the role of Elizabeth. But, alas, I have such strong opinions formed of those who've been in those roles previously (favorites are David Rintoul and Jennifer Ehle from the '80 and '95 versions respectively) that an actress who was already not a favorite with me was only going to suffer my ire rather than receive my good opinion. And my good opinion once lost . . . :-)

deleilan said...

Who's Kate Blanchard? ;-)

Linda Merrill said...

You are so right, Ms. Place, about our perceptions of age. I dislike the Greer Garson P&P for all the reasons you state. Meanwhile, my mother loves the movie. She has no problem with their ages and thinks that Laurence Olivier could do no wrong. My only quibble with the 1995 version is that I don't think the actress playing Jane was prettier than Jennifer Ehle. I think the hair styles were particularly unbecoming on her, which may affect my opinion. But, while Jennifer has the kind of prettiness described in the novel - pretty but not stunning, full of life and wit - the Jane was somewhat morose looking and I couldn't see the appeal. But, she does have a "classic" look of old Grecian busts, which was perhaps the appeal?

Ms. Place said...

Cate Blanchard? Ah, thank you deleilan. My spelling, as usual, is atrocious!!!!

Ms. Place said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Georgie Lee said...

I agree with Linda regarding Jane and the 1995 version. I haven't seen the Greer Garson version but if I saw it I don't know if I could get past the Victorian clothing.

Ms. Place said...

Linda and Georgie Lee, I agree that P&P 95's Jane is not as pretty as Lizzy. Susannah Harker, the actress, plays her sweetly, but she just isn't prettier than Jennifer Ehle.

Anonymous said...

I honestly do not understand how one could think Kiera Knightly the more beautiful of the Elizabeth Bennets. For one, she is dreadfully skinny, and when compared with Jennifer Ehle seems, in my own opinion, to be pretty in the most ordinary sense, rather than the other way around.

Juanita's Journal said...

My favorite version of "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE" has been the 1995 miniseries for over a decade. I have vague memories of the 1980 version, but the 1940 and 2005 versions are also favorites of mine. With a story like "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE", one can rarely go wrong. And so far, I have yet to see a bad version of the story.

Scott Jones said...

You are absolutely right. This version of is by far the most satisfying. I've watched the others and they simply pale in comparison. The 30's version is farcical - just silly and unwatchable. The 2005 version is very nice acted and the Netherfield dance camera work is exceptional but again you're correct about the film being way too short to tell the story properly. Too many important characters were either give short shrift (everyone, really)or simply done away with (Mr. & Mrs Hurst).

The 1995 version is the absolute classic - and the one all others cannot help but be compared with. Nearly perfect casting, magnificent performances, a close following of the whole of the story, and beautiful set locations and costumes. A practically perfect adaptation. Very worthy of (at least) a yearly viewing.

Charity U said...

I am a mid-teens girl, and I LOVE the 1995 P&P. It is my favorite movie. Like Scott said, the shorter one can't do it justice.
I think that the 1995 Lizzy is the prettiest, I really don't like Keira Knightley acting as her.
Finally: we watch the 1995 P&P approx. every six months. I am lucky enough to have a mom and three sisters (all younger than me) who also love it. (-:

CAM Creations said...

I absolutely adore the 1995 version of pride and prejudice too. No modern versions come any were near it. xx

Anonymous said...

UUUffff there there...I honestly adore "Pride&Prejudice" but my favorite version of "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE" has been the 1995 TV-miniseries with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle...and I simply adore Colin Firth as Mr.Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Luzzy Bennet...