Pride and Prejudice (1995) Mini-series – A Review

The Pride Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge (2013)This is my seventh selection for The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013, our year-long event honoring Jane Austen’s second published novel. Please follow the link above to read all the details of this reading and viewing challenge. Sign up’s are now closed for new participants, but you can join us in reading all the great reviews and comments until December 31, 2013.

My Review

Eighteen years after it first aired on BBC One in October 1995, the television mini-series Pride and Prejudice (1995) is still blowing bonnets off Janeites and wowing them in the aisles! This week in London a twelve foot statue replicating Colin Firth’s portrayal of Mr. Darcy’s famous wet shirt ascent from the Pemberley pond was revealed. Its super hero size seems apropos in relation to the impact that the mini-series had on Britain in 1995, in the US when it aired on A&E in 1996, and the world. If that was not eye-popping enough, the scene recently topped a poll of the ten most memorable British TV moments! We will be bold as brass and claim it as the most memorable TV moment in period drama evah!

Mr Darcy twelve foot statue (2013)

Wet shirt Darcy may have fluttered hearts across the world, but let us not forget that there are five hours and thirty nine other minutes to enjoy too. The screenplay based on Jane Austen’s 1813 novel was written by Andrew Davies and introduced a more energized and sexier version of the classic love story than viewers had previously experienced with the 1980 BBC mini-series or the 1940 MGM theatrical movie. It was a modernized Austen that purist detested, Janeites embraced, and the general public adored, converting millions into fans and launching the Austen renaissance that we are enjoying today.

Image from Pride and Prejudice (1995) Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth © 1995 BBC & A&E

In 2010 the producers issued a re-mastered edition of Pride and Prejudice 1995 to much acclaim. With the reveal of the giant Mr. Darcy in the Serpentine at London’s Hyde Park this week, I can hear the clicks of computer keyboards across the world purchasing the DVD and watching streaming video on NetFlix. We may now receive our entertainment through modern technology, but P&P 95 is a pure Regency era fix. From sumptuous costumes, authentic English manor houses and superb acting, viewers are still entranced by the world that Jane Austen created and producer Sue Birtwistle recreated. Even though we have been privileged with several adaptations of Austen’s classic story since P&P 95 was aired, nothing can match it for production value and sheer squee appeal.

Pride and Prejudice (1995) restored (2010)

This mini-series is so well-known and there has been so much written about over the years that I will not attempt to post a synopsis or rehash the nuances of the changes that were made by the screenwriter, director and production team. At a certain point we all must just accept what was done and enjoyed it, again and again. I will however talk a bit about my first reaction to the series and my evolution in embracing it.

Pride and Prejudice (1995) Jennifer Ehle and Lucy Scott

In 1996 the US television station A&E actually showed period drama. When they advertised a new P&P mini-series I was really looking forward to watching it. I was curious what they would do with my favorite author’s novel and how it would compare to the BBC P&P 80 staring David Rintoul and Elizabeth Garvie, which I adored. With great anticipation I watched the first episode. The production values were stunning and the plot and dialogue were being fairly faithful to Austen’s intensions. But, I was not impressed enough with the direction and performances. In fact, I was so annoyed with Jennifer Ehle’s as Elizabeth Bennet that I could not continue watching the series—and did not. Her Elizabeth seemed too smug and conceited for me. I did not like her at all as a person, and I could not get past it. I was furious. What had they done to my Elizabeth?

Pride and Prejudice (1995) Netherfield Ball

Flash forward three years to 1999 and I am visiting a friend’s home and I arrive to find the P&P 95 playing on her TV. She is addicted to it and watches it continually, much to the annoyance of her husband. I am entranced. Did I miss something and not give it a proper try? Now, my friend knows that I love Jane Austen and is shocked that I had not seen the entire mini-series and puzzled why I did not like it. We proceed to watch the entire five hour series in one sitting together. I was converted and now totally hooked. How could I have been so hard on it the first time I viewed it? My aversion to Jennifer Ehle’s Elizabeth was banished. She was conceited, but that was what Austen had intended. After my reread of P&P, I was certain of it. AND Colin Firth as Darcy was just a knock out. My jaw dropped when I saw the wet shirt scene for the first time—and my girlfriend and I squeed and laughed and exclaimed our amazement. That was NOT in the novel! But WHO cared? It was fabulous. We of course had to rewind the VHS tape and rewatch it several times!

Pride and Prejudice (1995) Jennifer Ehle and David Bamber

There were other performance that were just amazing too. Here is a list of the cast:

  • Elizabeth Bennet – Jennfer Ehle
  • Mr. Darcy – Colin Firth
  • Jane Bennet – Susannah Harker
  • Mary Bennet – Lucy Briers
  • Kitty Bennet – Polly Maberly
  • Lydia Bennet – Julia Sawalha
  • Mrs. Bennet – Alison Steadman
  • Mr. Bennet – Benjamin Whitrow
  • Mr. Bingley – Crispin Bonham-Carter
  • Caroline Bingley – Anna Chancellor
  • Mrs. Hurst – Lucy Robinson
  • George Wickham – Adrian Lukis
  • Mr. Collins – David Bamber
  • Charlotte Lucas – Lucy Scott
  • Lady Catherine de Bourgh – Barbara Leigh-Hunt
  • Georgiana Darcy – Emilia Fox
  • Mrs. Gardiner – Joanna David
  • Col. Fitzwilliam – Anthony Calf

Pride and Prejudice (1995) Colin Firth

Jennifer Ehle won the BAFTA for her Elizabeth. I still like Elizabeth Garvie’s interpretation in the 1980 version better, but Ehle’s Elizabeth did grow on me. Colin Firth as Darcy was just masterful. It made him a star and for good reason. His Darcy is stiff enough that we despise him for snubbing our heroine Elizabeth and yet his transformation from prig to passionate suitor totally wins us over. He is, to put it frankly, a dreamboat of a catch for our Lizzy. Handsome, rich and contrite. LOL, what young lady could hope for more? I have followed Firth’s career and enjoyed almost everything I have seen him in. Since P&P 95 he has been well recognized for his talent winning an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and the Screen Actors Guild Award.

Pride and Prejudice (1995) Allison Steadman as Mrs. Bennet

There are many superb performances but I must place David Bamber’s Mr. Collins as one of the most brilliant portrayals of Austen’s toady reverend ever. It never fails to make me laugh-out-loud. Allison Steadman as Mrs. Bennet is also hysterical. I will never look at a lace hankie again and not think of her. Barbara Leigh-Hunt as Lady Catherine de Bourgh is so imperial and imposing that you just want to slap her.

Pride and Prejudice (1995) Wedding scene of Elizabeth and Darcy

Pride and Prejudice (1995) remains one of my favorite Jane Austen adaptations. I watch it annually and it never ceases to entertain and amaze. It remains a cherished cultural phenomenon.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Pride and Prejudice (1995) Restored Edition (2010)
A&E Home Video 2010
DVD (5 hours and 39 mins)
ASIN: B00364K6YW

Images courtesy © 2010 A&E Home Video; text © 2013 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Pride and Prejudice (1980) Mini-series – A Review

The Pride Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge (2013)This is my fifth selection for The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013, our year-long event honoring Jane Austen’s second published novel. Please follow the link above to read all the details of this reading and viewing challenge. Sign up’s are open until July 1, 2013.

My Review:

I have been blogging about Jane Austen here at Austenprose for over five years and I have reviewed many books and movies, yet I have held off writing about the one that really turned me into a Jane Austen disciple—the 1980 BBC Pride and Prejudice. When something is close to our hearts we want to keep it in a special place, so my personal impressions of Fay Weldon’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s most popular novel has remained my own. In this bicentenary year, I think it is time for me to share.

It first aired in five (55) minute episodes on the BBC in the UK in 1979, and on US television on Masterpiece Theatre between October 26 and November 23, 1980. I was a great fan of Masterpiece and period drama and remember being quite excited to watch the new series. I was not disappointed in the first episode—in fact I was mesmerized—and watched the episode again when it aired again that week on PBS. Considering that in 1980 disco music was all the rage and Magnum P.I. and Three’s Company were the most popular television shows, you might understand why this anglophile was entranced by a series set in Regency England with beautiful costumes, country houses, sharp dialogue and swoon worthy romance. I was totally hooked and started reading the novel for the first time while the series aired.

Image of the poster of Pride and Prejudice © 1980 Masterpiece Theatre Now, considering that many of you who are reading this review where not even born by 1980, you might not get the significance of the way in which our entertainment was doled out to us in the those early days. There was the television broadcast, and that was it. In fact there were no VCR’s yet, so you could not tape a video. I had to wait another 10 years before I saw the series again. Shocking, I know. But remember that the Internet would not be born until the mid-1990’s and the concept of streaming video was totally unknown.

On reflection, why did I like P&P 1980 so much when it originally aired, and does it still stand up to the litmus test for P&P adaptations?

Even though the BBC had produced radio and television adaptations of Pride and Prejudice in 1938, 1952, 1958 and 1967 this would be the first time that a US audience would see a television series of Jane Austen’s novel. Some of us had seen the 1940 MGM move of P&P staring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson, but it was hardly faithful to the novel and was a two hour theatrical movie. Very little of Jane Austen’s original language had been used and let’s not even begin the conversation about the changes that were made. Now for the first time we could hear Austen’s words and see the plot unfold as she imagined it—well not word for word or scene by scene—but screenwriter Fay Weldon did adhere much more faithfully to Austen intensions than we had ever seen before, nor since. Here is a list of the cast and production team:

Image from Pride and Prejudice 1980: Charlotte Lucas and Elizabeth Bennet © 2004 BBC Worldwide

  • Elizabeth Bennet – Elizabeth Garvie
  • Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy – David Rintoul
  • Mr. Bennet – Moray Watson
  • Mrs. Bennet – Priscilla Morgan
  • Jane Bennet – Sabina Franklyn
  • Mary Bennet – Tessa Peake-Jones
  • Kitty Bennet – Clare Higgins
  • Lydia Bennet – Natalie Ogle
  • George Wickham – Peter Settelen
  • Mr. Collins – Malcolm Rennie
  • Charlotte Lucas – Irene Richard
  • Mr. Bingley – Osmund Bullock
  • Caroline Bingley – Marsha Fitzalan
  • Lady Catherine de Bourgh – Judy Parfitt
  • Director – Cyril Coke

Image from Pride and Prejudice 1980: Elizabeth Bennet  and George Wickham © 2004 BBC Worldwide

I will spare you the rehash of the synopsis and cut to the case. This adaptation flies freely by the strength of the screenplay and the interpretation by the director of the actors. They act like Regency era ladies and gentlemen and in the manner that Jane Austen intended. Elizabeth Garvie as Elizabeth Bennet is perfection. She is just as clever and impertinent as her book persona. If she has any defect it is that she is too perfect, appearing too controlled at every moment and not quite as spirited and flawed as one would expect. Her hero Mr. Darcy, portrayed by David Rintoul, is flawed, but that is his strength. He is stiff as a wooden solider, and we hate him until we meet him again at Pemberley two thirds through the story. But, his portrayal is as Austen wrote the character: noble, proud, arrogant, overconfident and infuriating. His transition to an open and engaging personality is a gradual shift which grows as his affection for Elizabeth does. His transformation from an arrogant prig to an amiable gentleman suitor for our heroine is a great character arch well worth waiting for.

Image from Pride and Prejudice 1980: Elizabeth Bennet © 2004 BBC Worldwide

Every director wants to put their own stamp on a classic. I cannot condemn Cyril Coke for taking his chance. He does not swerve off the garden path too far. There are two moments that are his creations that are memorable for me. The first was when Darcy hands Elizabeth the “be not alarmed, Madame,” letter after the first proposal. Elizabeth and Darcy meet along a path at Rosings Park and he hands her his letter. She accepts it and takes a seat on a fallen tree and reads it. We hear David Rintoul’s beautiful velvet voice, and perfect diction, as a voiceover as she reads the letter. As he walks away from her, the camera pulls back and follows him. As he gets father away we see both Elizabeth and Darcy in the frame become smaller and smaller. It is quite affective in relaying his presence and driving home the fact that as she reads his explanation of his behavior, and she has her “until this moment I never knew myself” revelation, we are left with the feeling that he has walked out of her life, and now how will she get him back?

Image from Pride and Prejudice 1980: Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy © 2004 BBC Worldwide

The second great moment comes when Elizabeth and her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner are touring Pemberley. They think that Darcy is far away in Town. They are in a garden adjacent to the house and Elizabeth is admiring the facade and looks down to see Mr. Darcy’s dog appear around a corner of the building. His master soon follows and walks into the garden and is surprised to find Elizabeth at his home. They have an awkward meeting and Elizabeth is very uncomfortable. Now, Mr. Darcy does not have a dog in the original novel, but this addition of the well-trained spaniel, as proud and contained as his master, appearing as a foreshadowing to Elizabeth was brilliant.

Image from Pride and Prejudice 1980: Mr Collins © 2004 BBC Worldwide

The secondary characters really shine in this production too. Malcolm Rennie as Mr. Collins is just priceless. He is tall and toady and just the perfect smarmy buffoon. Peter Settelen  as George Wickham is such a handsome, charming cad that we want to love him like Elizabeth is tempted to do. There is a scene where he and Lizzy are walking in the garden and all I can concentrate on are his canary breeches! Judy Parfitt gives us an imperious Lady Catherine de Bourgh that is quite younger than I had envisioned in the book, but still as imposing.

Image from Pride and Prejudice 1980: David Rintoul as Mr Darcy © 2004 BBC Worldwide

Since the 1980 P&P aired there has been one major miniseries filmed in 1995 and a movie in 2005. Everyone has their favorite and I have this pet theory why Janeites love one version and abhor another. Everyone seems to bond with the first version that they see, so for those who love the 2005 Keira Knightley version with pigs in the Longbourn kitchen and Mr. Darcy walking across a misty morning glade to find Elizabeth in her nightgown, or the 1995 version with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy taking a bath or a dip in Pemberley pond, think long and hard about what Jane Austen wrote about and what she wanted us to experience with her characters, and watch the 1980 version again.

And, what may you ask is the P&P litmus test? Why the first proposal scene of course. If the screenwriter, director, and actors can portray the misguided, passionate tension of Mr. Darcy and the cool indigence of Miss Eliza Bennet in Austen’s masterful scene as well as it unfolds in the 1980 version, then there is hope for the rest of the production.

5 out of 5 Regency StarsImage of the DVD cover of Pride and Prejudice 1980 © 2004 BBC Worldwide

Pride and Prejudice (1980)
BBC Worldwide (2004 re-issue)
DVD (226 minutes)
ASIN: B000244FDW

DVD cover and images courtesy of © 2004 BBC Worldwide; text © 2013 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Lady Catherine vs. Elizabeth Bennet in the Prettyish Kind of Little Wilderness

One of my favorite scenes in Pride and Prejudice, and quite possibly in all literature, is the confrontation by Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Elizabeth Bennet in the prettyish kind of little wilderness at Longbourn. Lady Catherine has just heard an alarming report that her nephew, Mr. Darcy, was shortly to be engaged to Miss Bennet. The conversation, cat and mouse to be sure, is one of the most amazing dialogues in print. I will leave it to the reader to decide who is the cat, and who the mouse!

Each of the movie adaptations has made their attempt to capture Jane Austen’s incredibly civil, uncivil conversation between two opposing forces. Here are film clips for comparison created by Lelablue on Youtube for your enjoyment. Watch each of the versions and vote for your favorite.

P&P 1940: staring Greer Garson as Elizabeth Bennet and Edna May Oliver as Lady Catherine

P&P 1980: staring Elizabeth Garvie as Elizabeth Bennet and Judy Parfitt as Lady Catherine

P&P 1995: Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet and Barbara Leigh-Hunt as Lady Catherine

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Austen Film Locations: Pemberley – Pride and Prejudice 1995

The 1995 BBC/A&E miniseries of Pride and Prejudice staring Colin Firth and Jenniffer Ehle as Jane Austen’s most famous couple Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet is renowned for its period accuracy, sumptuous costuming and stunning locations. Please welcome guest blogger Helen Wilkinson today as she takes us on a tour of the two locations, Lyme Park and Sudbury Hall, used to stand in for Mr. Darcy’s palatial estate Pemberley in the 1995 production.

“Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!” The Narrator, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 43

When location researchers were scouting the British countryside for the perfect house to use as Pemberley in the 1995 Pride & Prejudice film production, they knew this was the house they had to get right.

Houses on the scale of Pemberley are few and far between. It is supposed to be in Derbyshire which would give it a distinctive northern look, and it has to be very big and set in stunning scenery. Some people think Jane Austen was thinking of Chatsworth as Pemberley, but in fact Chatsworth was referred to in its own right in the novel.” Sam Breckman, P&P 1995 Location Manager

Once the BBC had settled on Lyme Park near Manchester everything looked set to fall into place. But a change of management at Lyme meant that shortly before filming began, the interior was no longer available. So a last minute search began for an interior which would match Lyme – it had to be a house of the same look, age and feel which wouldn’t jar with viewers.  The interior they settled on was miles away at Sudbury Hall, a house which looks very different to Lyme Park from the outside, but had just the elegant interior that Sam Breckman and the production team were looking for. The flow of rooms at Sudbury, and the exquisite long gallery provided the marvellous scenes where the house-keeper leads Lizzy and the Gardiners through Mr Darcy’s home. As the camera follows Lizzy through one elegant room to the next, her heart is melting towards its owner.

“I still haven’t been inside Lyme Park – it would spoil the illusion in my head. Whenever we take people to Lyme I like to believe that the interior is the same as the screen version. In our minds we think we have seen Jennifer Ehle looking out of the windows and seeing the lake – but in fact it’s all down to skilful editing.” Maddy Hall, Production expert & tour guide

For many people, the moment when Lizzy sees Pemberley and its lake, is a highlight of the entire series. She is only half joking when she tells Jane that she fell in love with Darcy when she first saw ‘his beautiful grounds at Pemberley’.

Helen Wilkinson, P and P Tours

P&P Tours visit both locations for Pemberley as part of their tours. Visit their P and P Tours website for further information and bookings details.

The BBC Pride and Prejudice: It DOES Get Better Than This (+ a book giveaway)

Please welcome author and admitted Jane Austen addict Laurie Viera Rigler who joins us today to chat about one of her favorite obsessions, P&P 95 and the paperback release of her book, Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict.  (Don’t ya just luv the cover?)

How many of us will resist buying the newly remastered BBC Pride and Prejudice DVD from A&E Home Video, with its color-perfect English countryside and the ability to see, as Laurel Ann led us to envision in her post that individual droplets of water running down Colin Firth’s chest as he emerges from his famous dip in the lake?

 ***pauses to fan self***

I don’t know about you, but I’ve already ordered my copy.

How do I love the BBC P&P? Let me count the ways. I love it for its dearest, loveliest Elizabeth Bennet and her fine eyes. I love it for its faithfulness to Jane Austen’s beloved novel. And I love it for its deviations therefrom in the form of the dishiest Darcy ever to fence and swim and smolder his way into my heart.

Certainly the unprecedented popularity of this BBC miniseries has had a phenomenal effect on popular culture. Many have credited it with contributing greatly to the wave of “Austen euphoria” that, according to the authors of Jane Austen in Hollywood, increased membership in the Jane Austen Society of North America by fifty percent during the single year following its release. Not to mention giving rise to the dozens of Austen-inspired books, films, blogs like this one, and other entertainments that populate the Janeiverse.

For me the BBC P&P has special significance beyond its function as video wallpaper in my home. For it found its way into the very first chapter of my second novel, Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict. There, it served as my heroine’s first close encounter with twenty-first-century technology. She, being a gentleman’s daughter from 1813 England who inexplicably finds herself inhabiting the body and life of a woman in 21st-century Los Angeles, assumes that the tiny figures acting out her favorite novel inside the shiny glass box are real people. And that the box is some sort of window. Strange that the figures inside the box cannot hear her when she talks to them. And that they are so small yet so distinct to the eye…

Imagine my delight when I read, right here on Austenprose that the remastered edition of the BBC P&P is out on April 27th. The very same day that Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict  is out in paperback.

In honor of this serendipity, I am giving away two personally inscribed copies of Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict. For a chance to win a copy, all you have to do is post a comment that tells us how you’d include a reference to the BBC P&P in a book or other form of art or entertainment. Let your imagination run wild, “give a loose to your fancy, indulge your imagination in every possible flight which the subject will afford.”

Have fun, good luck, and see you at Pemberley!

Giveaway Contest

To sweeten the deal I will throw in a copy of Laurie’s first novel in the series, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict. So, that 2 personally inscribed copies of Rude Awakenings of a JA Addict and one copy of Confessions of a JA Addict to three lucky winners. Contest ends at midnight Pacific time on May 3rd, 2010. Shipment to continental US addresses only. Good luck!

The perfect pairing: Pride and Prejudice 1995 &

Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict

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