As I promised in my last post, today I’m going to review a few of the many versions of Pride and Prejudice modified for the screen. The Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com) lists seven television mini-series, going back as far as 1952, a short movie made for TV in 1938 by the BBC (yes, I’m as surprised by the date as you are), and at least three full-length feature films with that exact title.
But that number doesn’t begin to cover the many movies that have used Jane’s story and title either as a basis or a starting point for something quite different, or the scores of TV shows that feature a “pride-and-prejudice” themed episode.
Clearly, Jane’s tale of love and marriage has struck an enduring chord.
Which brings me to today’s Friday Folly: my very own, admittedly opinionated take on the best and worst adaptations of Jane Austen’s classic tale.
Let’s get the worst out of the way first:
1. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)
Sorry, horror fans, but I think it’s a sacrilege to insert the walking dead and their penchant for eating brains into Jane’s gentle tale. And I say that with regret because Lily James (Cinderella, Lady Rose in Downton Abbey) is one of my favorite actresses and I think she would’ve made a fine Elizabeth Bennet without all the gore. I guess you just have to be a zombie fan (which clearly I'm not) to really appreciate this one.
2. Snide and Prejudice (1997)
My main objection to this one is that once again Jane’s title has been invoked for something quite different – a story about a mental patient who thinks he’s Hitler. This movie has its fans, including one very enthusiastic user reviewer on IMDB, but why, or why, must Jane be dragged into Hitler’s mess?
3. Pride and Prejudice, the 1940 MGM production
It pains me to include this movie on my worst list. The acting is fine – how could it not be with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy? And one of the screenwriters is the distinguished Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World.
But the history nerd in me can’t get past the wardrobe department's disregard for the story's Regency-era setting.
I mean, look at the gowns the Bennet sisters are wearing in this scene. Where's the distinctive Regency silhouette, with its loose, slender lines and high waists? The full skirts and leg of mutton sleeves shown here are from another era altogether. And don’t even get me started on Garson's 1940’s hairstyle.
Even if I could let those anachronisms go, I can’t forgive the publicity department's attempt to sell tickets by using advertising that promises something racier than Jane wrote. You can see what I'm talking about in this movie poster:
“Not Suitable for General Exhibition”? Really? And even worse, this tagline: “When Pretty Girls T-e-a-s-e-d Men into Marriage!” Jane would’ve probably reacted to all this hype with a wry smile, but I’m indignant on her behalf.
And now for the best adaptations, in my view:
1. Pride and Prejudice, 1995 BBC mini-series
For me, this is the gold standard by which all Pride and Prejudice adaptations, past and future, will inevitably be judged. Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth captured the essences of their roles perfectly, and their reward is that these roles will follow them for their rest of their careers. Remember the scene in The King’s Speech where Colin Firth as King George VI briefly interacts with Jennifer Ehle, who played the wife of the King’s speech therapist? It only lasted for a few moments, but for me, it was Mr. Darcy meeting Elizabeth all over again.
2. Pride & Prejudice, the 2005 movie
While Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen didn’t quite capture, in my opinion, the characters of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy the way Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth did, the movie was quite lovely, and the details – hair, costuming, setting – were believably accurate. This is a worthy addition to the list of great Pride and Prejudice adaptations.
3. Bride and Prejudice (2004)
This story, set in modern-day India, doesn’t try to invoke Regency England. Yet the spirit of this Bollywood musical is very close to the spirit of Jane’s novel, and I found the film delightful. I thought the lovely Aishwarya Rai Bachchan was very effective channeling Elizabeth Bennet in her role as Lalita, and you’ll see some familiar faces in the family of “William Darcy,” including Marsha Mason and Alexis Bledel (The Gilmore Girls) when the action shifts from India to Beverly Hills.
If you’re not familiar with the movie, here’s the trailer:
Before I wrap this up, I feel obliged to give an Honorable Mention to 2001’s Bridget Jones’s Diary (the first installment, not its dismal sequels), which is a merry riff on the basic themes of Pride and Prejudice. You know it’s a P&P adaptation at heart when you see Colin Firth reprise his role as a character named “Mark Darcy.” Though I doubt the level-headed Elizabeth Bennet would ever get into the kind of trouble Renée Zellweger does in this movie!
So that's my list. What do you think - did I omit (or misjudge) a favorite of yours? Let me know in the comments!
Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons