As a man who likes Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice, I feel like I’m in on a huge secret. By that I mean that the book is a gem that is hiding in plain sight, and it requires multiple readings to get the full scope of the story and the characters’ inner turmoil.
In just over 300 pages, this book imbues its characters with more depth than most book series ever hope to do. And I’m going to talk about how a five-hour 1995 BBC miniseries flawlessly captured everything that makes Pride and Prejudice the best romantic novel ever written.
My History with Pride and Prejudice
I have to admit I was prejudiced against Pride and Prejudice as a child. I thought it was just flowery Shakespearean gobbledy gook, and so I avoided it in favor of Tom Clancy, Robin Cook, and John Grisham novels.
At college, many of the women I met were fluent in the language of Jane Austen, and there was a copy of the BBC miniseries in just about every one of their apartments. I couldn’t believe that anyone would want to sit down for five hours and watch a romance. I mean, at least the three-hour Titanic has an exciting second half to keep guys’ attention.
My wife is a huge Jane Austen fan, having read all of her novels at least once and knowing each of them inside and out. Shortly after we married she entreated me to read her copy of Pride and Prejudice because she was sure I would enjoy it. I wasn’t so sure, though. It was with great trepidation that I began reading.
I’m a romantic sort of fellow. I believe in love in the traditional sense, where a man and a woman are chaste during their courtship and then if they decide they are right for each other they get married and live happily ever after. It turned out that Pride and Prejudice was right up my alley. The English culture of the time was so refined and honorable that even a hint of impropriety was scandalous.
I found the book to be captivating in its plot and perfectly paced so that it let the characters and the story unfold in just the right ways so the reader is genuinely surprised by every plot twist.
What I Was Expecting
After thoroughly enjoying the novel, I had high hopes for the BBC miniseries. There have been numerous attempts to translate the book into a film, including a 2005 attempt starring Keira Knightley. But none of them managed to be as effortlessly charming as the book. If anyone could get it right, I thought, surely the British could.
What the Film Delivered
Wow. Just wow. I could not be more pleased with a film than I am with 1995’s Pride and Prejudice. And I’m not easy to please when it comes to romantic comedies.
The film stars Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, respectively. And yet, I don’t see any actors in this movie. They all embody their characters so precisely that I just feel like I am watching the book come alive. Jane, Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins, George Wickham, and everyone else are perfectly portrayed.
This movie has the luxury of taking its time, and it does so in the best possible way. It doesn’t feel the need to jump from plot point to plot point. Instead, things happen quite naturally and it feels like we’re witnessing a piece of history rather than a deliberately told story.
It cleverly embeds some of the most famous lines into the characters’ dialogue, such as “It is a fact universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a fortune must be in want of a wife.” But its faithfulness to the source material never devolves into fan service. Everything that happens feels as fresh and engaging as when it was first written. I love that it doesn’t feel the need to verbalize every memorable line from the book. For example, “What are men to rocks and mountains?” is replaced by Elizabeth looking at a gorgeous view of the mountains and simply saying, “Beautiful.” And “Angry people are not always wise” is summed up in the look on Ms. Bingley’s face after she induces Mr. Darcy to declare how beautiful he thinks Elizabeth is.
I love how most of the characters go to great lengths to avoid explicitly mocking people they don’t like. All of their words have a condescendingly cordial air to them. It’s like a big game where they all try to one-up each other by who can say the cleverest putdown while making it sound like a compliment so the target of their ire would seem like a fool to everyone else if they took offense.
The musical score is fantastic. The theme music of Mr. Collins, Charles Bingley, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and others reflects their personalities and is an instantly recognizable clue about who we’re about to encounter when a mysterious carriage arrives or some other intriguing event takes place. All of the music in the film has a unique feel to it that works well in relation to the mood of the story and characters. I especially love the song that is played during Elizabeth’s and Mr. Darcy’s one and only dance. It’s both cordial and confrontational. I couldn’t have thought of a better song to complement what is happening in that scene.
The Best Thing About the Film
By far the best thing about this film is Colin Firth’s interpretation of Mr. Darcy. His cold, calculating demeanor during the first half is a little jarring at first. But as you get to know his true personality and discover all the internal conflicts going on inside his mind, you realize how serious his struggle has been. Suddenly his hardened expression is revealed as a mask, and the performance is shown to be nuanced and extremely deep.
I love all the looks he gives Elizabeth. At first, Elizabeth believes he is looking for flaws in her. But at the end of the third part out of six, he reveals that he has been fighting his feelings, and he is unable to control his love for her. She is shocked by this revelation, and so is the audience. We’ve heard over and over that he must think Elizabeth is repulsive. Plus, he intervened to break off Elizabeth’s older sister’s relationship with his friend and ruined the life of one of Elizabeth’s soldier friends. All of these things are true to some degree, but there’s a lot of the story that Elizabeth doesn’t know about Mr. Darcy that has to be revealed before she starts to change her mind about him.
Once she rejects him, he could have easily reacted by writing her off as a lost cause and going back to his small-minded, egocentric ways. But instead, the next time we see him he is dramatically different. His whole countenance has changed for the better. He is kind and earnest in his efforts to put others at ease. He smiles warmly when he sees Elizabeth helping his sister. And he is so much more pleasant to be around. Elizabeth can’t believe that all of this could be because of her. But it is.
The two proposals he makes to her are my favorite scenes in the movie. Everything in the first and second half hinges on the first proposal he makes to Elizabeth. All of her misunderstandings and true feelings come to light, and it’s up to Mr. Darcy to make things right in the rest of the story. And after he has changed so much and seen the error of his ways, he is humbled when Elizabeth accepts his second proposal.
Mr. Darcy and Wickham
On a side note, I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies a little while ago, and I found it to be a humorous take on the source material. But one thing it reinforced to me is how much I prefer the original book if for no other reason than because of how Mr. Darcy treats Wickham in the end. In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, he beats Wickham to the point where Wickham can barely move or speak, and he has to live out his days as an invalid. But Pride and Prejudice has Mr. Darcy pay Wickham’s debts and bribe him to marry Elizabeth’s youngest sister after Wickham absconded with her under the false pretense of eloping.
If Mr. Darcy had taken such cruel revenge on Wickham, he would have shown that he had learned nothing from his experiences with Elizabeth. But the fact that he doesn’t take any kind of revenge on Wickham, but does everything he can to improve his station in life at the end, is a testament to how much he loves Elizabeth. At that point, he has almost no hope of marrying her because he thinks she still hates him. But he makes it possible for her to have a chance of marrying well by restoring honor to her family name anyway. Why? Because he loves her! He is not motivated by pride alone anymore. And he is willing to have a brother-in-law he despises if it means marrying the woman he loves. Now that is true love.
A Pleasant Surprise
It was a pleasant surprise how much I enjoyed both the book and miniseries, Pride and Prejudice.
It helps that my wife and I lived the story of Pride and Prejudice in many ways. She was being courted by several gentlemen when we met, and after our first date she wrote me off as not being worth considering at all. But as she got to know me and I got to know her, we realized more and more how well we complemented each other. We went our separate ways after I graduated from college and we lived in different states for two years. But during that time we kept in touch through letters and we eventually fell in love and decided to get married without having been face to face in all that time. No one in her family knew me and no one in my family knew her, so it came as a shock when they discovered we were engaged. But everything turned out well, we’ve been married for several years now, and we still intend to live happily ever after.
I have to admit I would probably avoid Pride and Prejudice if I wasn’t happily married because it would tear at my heartstrings to see so much happiness. I hope every woman finds her Mr. Darcy or Mr. Bingley and that every man finds his Elizabeth or Jane.
I hope you enjoyed learning the secret of why Pride and Prejudice is one romantic novel and miniseries that is absolutely worth checking out. Don’t let your own prejudice keep you from the incredible experience that awaits.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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Thanks Rob. I have to admit it – I found my Elizabeth, and we are doing just fine!
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I agree with tenor of your thoughtful comments. The actors performance was excellent..
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Thank you! Everyone is perfectly cast in this miniseries. No matter how many times I see it, I always find myself loving it even more.
I especially enjoy Mr. Collins’ portrayal.
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Yes!! David Bamber is a treasure!!
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