The Complete Jane Austen "Pride and Prejudice" by Myretta Robens
I popped the DVD into my DVD player and sat down in front of the television with my laptop. The opening music (which, by the way, has been the start-up sound on my PC for over ten years -- supplanting the Elvira Gulch theme in 1996) came up, and my heart beat a little faster. It was like falling in love all over again.
By the time this adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was first broadcast in 1995, it had been long-anticipated by many Janeites. But it took others by surprise, turning totally unsuspecting people into Jane Austen fanatics. I don't think any of us of anticipated the visceral response we all experienced. One day we were perfectly normal people going about our business and the next the day we were raving obsessives. I watched the first two episodes, went to the phone and paid $100 (which I really couldn't afford) for the tapes, because I knew I would want to watch this repeatedly. And, for some reason, we all went to the Internet looking for kindred with whom we could discuss this sudden obsession.
Poor Austen-L. Austen-L was the existing Jane Austen listserv and, at the time, the only electronic means to talk about Jane Austen. It was... how do I say this... kind of dry and scholarly. Although not all of the participants were scholars, the discussion tended to be more academic than not. And then we descended upon them: ladies who wanted to talk about an adaptation (gasp!). They didn't know what to do with us, and it wasn't long before we took ourselves away to a bulletin board quickly thrown up by the lovely Amy Bellinger and devoted exclusively to this adaptation.
This bulletin board was the precursor of the community that became The Republic of Pemberley, the web site that I still manage. Pemberley now encompasses so much more than adaptation discussion, and receives over 10 million hits a month, but it still holds this film very dear.
This adaptation is entirely wonderful. Okay, it's not perfect, but it is, in my opinion, the standard by which other Jane Austen adaptations will be judged. From the moment Darcy and Bingley gallop across the screen after the opening credits to the final (and only) kiss, it is obvious that a great deal of care was taken in all aspects of filming. True, Mr. Bingley could have been less like a sack of potatoes on horseback, but Crispin Bonham-Carter is such an adorable Bingley that I'm willing to overlook his lack of equestrian ability.
While I was making notes for this blog, the first word I wrote down was "vibrant." And, for me, that is the key to this adaptation. The entire production is vibrant: from setting to character, from screenplay to music. The vitality ascribed to Elizabeth Bennet infuses the entire six hours, abetted by astonishingly gorgeous English weather. Rather than go into excruciating detail on all of the beauties of Pride and Prejudice, allow me to talk briefly the most apparent successes.
The screenplay captures the essence of the novel. I know that Andrew Davies is noted for touting that Jane Austen's novels are about sex and money. I can't disagree with that. Jane Austen's novels are about the society in which she lived and about women's place in that society. What had a gently-bred Georgian woman to look forward to but a good marriage? So, naturally, the books are about sex and money; it was the way of that world. The screenplay demonstrates the marital machinations of this society in a way that is accessible to the modern viewer while remaining respectful of the original work. I cannot rave about it enough.
The producers are equally respectful. The research into costume, hair, locations, music, dancing and sets, down to the minute details of food and china, is extraordinary and conveys the era while enticing the viewer into the scene.
The cast. What can I say about this? Jennifer Ehle won a well-deserved BAFTA for her performance. She is a sparkling, energetic, intriguing Elizabeth. Mr. Darcy didn't stand a chance. The secondary characters, from the shrill caricature of Mrs. Bennet to the overbearing Lady Catherine, are wonderfully realized. But I would be remiss in not admitting here that it is (*sigh*) Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy that hooks itself into the female psyche and causes us to pick up the phone in the middle of the night to order tapes we can ill afford.
If you haven't seen it, see it. If you have, see it again. It's not perfect, but it's as close as you're going to get in 1995, in 2008, and perhaps in 2020.