I Finally Saw: BBC’s Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice still

As a palate cleanser to the enjoyable albeit overwhelming summer movie season, I decided it was high time for me to give the beloved 1995 BBC mini-series Pride and Prejudice a try. You may wonder why oh why have I been deprived of the joy of Pride and Prejudice starring Jennifer Ehle and (OMG!) Colin Firth for so long. I fell hard for the 2005 Pride & Prejudice movie. When friends who were fans of the 1995 mini-series trashed the movie, I balked against their reaction. I adored the movie and admired how it streamlines Austen’s masterful work while still retaining the energy and liveliness of the novel. If people didn’t like that, then I didn’t like what they liked. But I’m not an irrational anti-fan anymore. I’ve exhausted my DVD copy of Joe Wright’s film and failed to stomach the bewilderingly boring 1980 mini-series. So, how does Pride and Prejudice stack up?

Well, first I have to say: Jennifer Ehle is a vision. She embodies the wit and charm of heroine Elizabeth Bennet while simultaneously maintaining the poise and grace of a lady in the Regency Era. It took a couple episodes to get used to the formality of the mini-series — the characters and conversations in this series are more tonally accurate to the period than the Wright version. What makes Lizzie “wild” is not that her hem is literally “six inches deep in mud” but the twinkle in her eye — something Ehle most definitely possesses. Well, first I have to say: Jennifer Ehle is a vision. She embodies the wit and charm of heroine Elizabeth Bennet while simultaneously maintaining the poise and grace of a lady in the Regency Era. It took a couple episodes to get used to the formality of the mini-series — the characters and conversations in this series are more tonally accurate to the period than the Wright version. What makes Lizzie “wild” is not that her hem is literally “six inches deep in mud” but the twinkle in her eye — something Ehle most definitely possesses.

Colin Firth as the brooding Mr. Darcy is…(don’t hate me!) underwhelming. There’s nothing wrong about his take on the obscenely wealthy, mysterious Darcy, but given the cult of personality surrounding Firth as Darcy, I surely expected to swoon and faint at his every breath. It’s actually too bad — I’m sure I would have enjoyed his subtle yet strong performance more if it weren’t for the hype. Instead, he’s serviceable if not a little dull.

Overall, the series is a pleasant period rom-com, heavy on the com. The ridiculousness of Mr. Collins, Mrs. Bennet, the Bingley sisters, and the young Bennet sisters is on full display. The only major problem I had with the BBC series is Susannah Harker as Jane. Her performance is as bland as her eyes are vacant, which makes Darcy’s interpretation of her feelings for Bingley not just understandable but expected. It’s especially disappointing as Harker works a seemingly vacant expression so well in the original House of Cards.

What’s difficult in critiquing this popular adaptation — and really any adaptation — is the inevitable comparison to the original work as well as other adaptations. You fall in love with one work, making other versions automatically inferior even before you have a chance to experience them. If I had seen the BBC mini-series with its Darcy-in-the-lake scene and period-accurate set and costume design, I may have loved it just as much as many modern Austenites. But I didn’t…so I don’t.

Oh, as for that famous wet Darcy scene? Quite anti-climactic. It is better, however, after director Andrew Davies explains the scene in context of the time the series premiered.

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