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Pride and Prejudice (1995)

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Among the popular genre of the English novel of manners, Jane Austen’s novels stand out. Perhaps this is why all of her complete works have been made into movies- most of them more than once. But most agree that the best of the books is Pride and Prejudice, and the best of the movies is P&P 1995, starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. Since this has been my favorite movie since the tender age of four, it is the logical choice for a movie review. Though it is my opinion that the good outweighs the bad in this movie, I shall try to point out any minor flaws that I have noticed. There will also be a more than healthy amount of praise, as it is, after all, a critic’s job to give her opinion- be it good or bad.

Starting at the beginning, let me just make note of the somewhat controversial appearance of Jane Bennet. Every time a group of people watches this movie it is necessary to argue about how a somewhat plain woman could have been cast as the most beautiful of all the sisters. Jane Austen went to great lengths to describe the gorgeous Jane, the pretty Eliza, the young and flirtatious Kitty and Lydia, and the spinsterish Mary. The casting does not reflect this. While Susanna Harker is not ugly, the dresses and hairstyles do not flatter her, and she pales in comparison to Ehle. Because of this she might not have been the best choice for Jane (though her mother was Jane in a previous version). That being said, I do take a sort of history buff’s comfort out of the fact that Harker would fit Jane Austen’s idea of beauty. She has a distinctly historical look, if you will. Therefore, if Jane Austen had ever watched this movie, she would no doubt have been pleased.

The next complaint I hear from others is the utter absurdity and abrasiveness of Mrs. Bennet’s character. As foolish and loud people go, Mrs. Bennet could beat them all. She seems to be unrealistic and absurd. But that is how Jane Austen wrote her. Mrs. Bennet is less of a character than a caricature. Mothers in that time really were obsessed with marrying off their daughters. They really did go to extremes to introduce their daughters to men. Rich men. Aside from that, I agree that Mrs. Bennet is an idiot. She acts in socially unacceptable ways on numerous occasions, and is one of those people who always remembers warning you after the fact. The fact is Jane Austen always has a motive. In this case, it is to contrast silly Mrs. Bennet and Lydia with the more intelligent Jane, Elizabeth, and Mrs. Gardiner. Just like she compares Mr. Bennet, Lord Lucas, Darcy, and Bingley to each other. Full of contrasts, that Austen woman.

If you want to be concerned about accuracy as regards a movie/book comparison, the only scene that does not appear in the book is the wet Colin Firth scene. And who is going to complain about the wet Colin Firth scene? No one. In fact, though the movie is good through and through, I think that there are many who watch it just for the wet Colin Firth scene. (Also a good reason not to watch the 2005 version: does that version have wet Colin Firth? No. Just a damp Matthew Macfayden).

So that about does it for the bad things about it. If one considers that fact that the bad things aren’t really that bad, you get an idea of how mind-numbingly amazing this movie is. And we haven’t even gotten to the good parts yet.

If I haven’t mentioned it yet, Colin Firth’s Darcy is just amazing. Jane Austen would approve. And Jennifer Ehle did a spectacular job as Elizabeth. The one thing you could say against her is that she is too beautiful. But we already blamed that on Jane. Crispin Bonham-Carter is an adorable, sweet, naïve Mr. Bingley. He and Harker (Jane) have excellent chemistry. They are downright cute together. Anna Chancellor as Bingley’s evil and glamorous actual sister is superb, though one must wonder how a puppy can be related to a cobra. Benjamin Whitrow does a good job as the beleaguered and sarcastic Mr. Bennet, and there are several touching scenes between him and Elizabeth. And one cannot review this book without mentioning David Bamber’s humorous and greasy portrayal of Mr. Collins. With Collins comes the iron girded Lady Catherine de Bourgh, condescendingly played by Barbara Leigh-Hunt. The younger Bennet girls also deserve recognition. Julia Sawalha managed to play a convincing fifteen year old at the age of 27. Lydia, who she played, is one of the most memorable characters in the film. Polly Maberly was a decent, though not particularly memorable, Kitty. This may be Austen’s fault- Kitty is not a prominent character. Lucy Briers is the perfect Mary- grouchy, studious, and very plain. Adrian Lukis is an amazing Wickham- so handsome you want to love him, even though it is absolutely necessary that you hate him. And in a general way, I can say there are no bad actors in this film.

As for scenery, costumes, set, music, and the glowing Pemberly- they are stunning. The music sets the mood, the costumes pull you into the time period, and the scenery takes your breath away.

Truly a movie you will want to watch again… and again… and again!

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Claude Crowe said...
May 1, 2014 at 11:28 pm
I agree! If you read the original P&P, Mrs Bennet comes across even less lovable than the BBC Mrs Bennet. I think this character is expertly done in the TV series and I was disappointed by the wishy-washy/sweet figure she was portrayed as in the P&P film with Keira Knightly. I also agree with you about Jane, that she had a classical look. I love this TV series. Brilliant. Mr Collins, ha! If you are interested, I have written my own 'Pride & Prejudice' novel, a modern reboot c... (more »)
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