A slightly different version of this post first appeared on my old blog on November 13, 2008.
I just finished watching the BBC mini-series version of Pride and Prejudice (1995). I borrowed it from Paul, who shares my passion for Jane Austen. Is anyone else interested in watching Colin Firth go all ga-ga over Jennifer Ehle? Damn, the eye sex between Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet was so intense I thought my laptop was going to burst into flames.
So did I enjoy it? Yeah. Is it better than the others? Hmm. Read on.
It’s not the first adaptation of Pride and Prejudice I’ve seen, of course. I first read the novel in grade six and I’m a rather jaded Janeite. I already had high expectations since the hardcore fans at the Republic of Pemberley seem to like this version best.
I knew it had to be better than the 1940 film version starring Laurence Olivier. *heavy shudders* Oh, that godawful tripe! The story was highly compressed, the era was completely wrong—damn it, Elizabeth shouldn’t be wearing Victorian hoops!—and all the Bennet sisters get husbands in a patchy ending. Ugh.
What I found adorable about this version was its fidelity to the text. It devoted many scenes to Wickham’s friendship with Elizabeth, which is hardly touched upon in the 2005 film version starring Keira Knightley. It was great in delineating Lydia’s unconscious descent into folly, and it took great pains to show Elizabeth’s relationship with her eccentric father and her friendship with the Gardiners. (In Patricia Meyer Spacks’s The Female Imagination, she mentions that the Gardiners are the only stable, mature relationship in the novel. So I find it nice to see them portrayed decently. They are usually reduced to bit parts.)
And Mr. Darcy. Oh, Mr. Darcy. No wonder Bridget Jones’s Diary was written. I wonder if Jane Austen would have wanted so much screen time spent on her most famous male lead. The script pandered to its female audience by devoting many scenes to Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy, trying to shed light on the hidden aspects of his character. Fencing practice? Check. Swimming half-naked? Check. Strange flashbacks where he shows up in Elizabeth’s mirrors? Check. I found the last bit a little too much for my taste. I’d love to marry Mr. Darcy myself, but no ghostly apparitions, please. Matthew Macfadyen may be the most yummy Mr. Darcy, but Colin Firth is more… combustible?
And a word on Mr. Collins. Oh God. That has to be the creepiest Mr. Collins I’ve ever encountered! It was not just his ugly comb-over either—it was the combination of pompous buffoonery and lecherous glares. It was like a strange mixture of Wormtail and Padre Salvi.
I didn’t watch this to compare versions but it’s almost impossible not to do so. If you ask me how much better I like it better than the 2005 film version, I’m going to hem and haw about it. The Janes were both sweetly angelic, the Lady Katherines were both menacing, and the Marys and Kittys all ridiculous in their own ways.
It’s difficult to say which version is superior. Both adaptations wanted to go to completely different places in the audience’s mind. The 2005 film captured the romance and imagination of Elizabeth Bennet’s wit, humor, and self-doubt. I loved the film for strange things, like Elizabeth’s swing being kept near the pigs and, oh dear, Mr. Darcy drenched in the rain, and Mr. Bingley’s awkwardly endearing proposal…
But the 1995 miniseries has so many good moments, too. Maybe it all boils down to how much time you have? If you only have a passing interest in Jane Austen and two hours to spare, I suggest the Keira Knightley film. If you’re a bit more patient and want to know exactly why Colin Firth has a huge female fan base, the miniseries is the place to start. It’s debatable whether he’s the definitive Mr. Darcy, but he sure does has a pair of fine eyes.