Of late I’ve been having what can only be called a Pride and Prejudice fest. In the past few weeks I’ve re-read the book, watched the BBC 1995 version, and watched the 2005 film. My love of the novel – and it is rare enough to admire and adore something equally! – is well known. I don’t think I’ve spoken much of the adaptations on this blog, though I daresay they’ve been mentioned on occasion.
1995 BBC… well, this is the production which should be the benchmark for all literary adaptation. True, I saw it before I read the novel (I was 9 when it was released) but, even after discovering Jane Austen’s work to be superior to Andrew Davies’ working of it, I whole-heartedly love this version. Davies took the all-too-rare approach of using the novel’s dialogue in his adaptation for the majority. Since Jane Austen is the finest writer of dialogue I have ever come across, not to mention the wittiest, it always seems vainglorious for a scriptwriter to inject their own pearls. Just don’t. Stoppit.
And the acting! Every actor is perfect for their character, and Jennifer Ehle presents the definitive Elizabeth Bennet. Oh, and Colin Firth of course… (incidentally, did you know that collenferth is an Anglo-Saxon word meaning stout hearted?) One of my few reservations about this Pride and Prejudice is that we can’t see the development of Lizzie’s thoughts and affections as subtly and emotionally as they’re presented in the novel, but of course this must be true for any adaptation; and Jennifer Ehle’s wonderfully expressive eyes say more than most actresses could with pages of script. Every member of the cast was wonderful, and the series is one I could re-watch once a week for the rest of my life without reluctance.
2005 film… was there any point? Having made more or less the finest adaptation possible, could cramming the story into two hours be a worthwhile endeavour? There was never any chance for equally Davies’ adaptation with so little time – the pace of Pride and Prejudice is frenetic; whoever said nothing happens in Jane Austen must, like most of her opponents, never have read her. And the casting and directing… Darcy is sulky rather than proud; Bingley daft rather than amiable. Keira Knightley does a creditable job, and would be worthy of applause, had not Jennifer Ehle set such a high standard. Blenda Blethyn’s portrayal of Mrs. Bennet’s is admirable – Alison Steadman was criticised for going over the top in the 1995 version, but on re-reading the novel I remember just how over the top Mrs. Bennet is. Even Dame Judi Dench isn’t as good as her counterpart, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, in the role of Lady Catherine.
The chief culprits for this adaptation, though, are the scriptwriters. Ok, you can’t fit in everything that’s in the novel – but why change things? Why add things? Why take dialogue from the mouth of one character and place it another’s? The Oprah-moment from Charlotte Lucas…
And the directing. The near-kiss once Elizabeth has rejected Darcy? Throwing in Wuthering Heights when things get dull, so that the hero must wander around the moors in the rain….
My reaction upon watching it today was not as severe as when I saw it in the cinema, but it has confirmed in my mind the brilliance of the 1995 version, and I shall clutch the DVD of it to my chest with glee. Or, indeed, I might put it in the DVD player.