Monday, 15 October 2012

BBC Pride and Prejudice (1995)

picture from this site

I first saw this BBC adaptation of the much-loved novel by Jane Austen (albeit only partially) when I was attending one of the Novela Inglesa classes taught by professor Pilar Hidalgo at Málaga University. I was then a student of Filología Inglesa (Modern Languages).

As I watched the first part of the series, I don't remember being particularly impressed by the adaptation except for the amusement provided by Mrs Bennet's histrionics. Of course, watching it for the first time on videotape, at a distance from the TV, with a large group of fellow students around you, doesn't make for the best viewing experience. It wasn't until a few years later when I bought the DVD release while living in England that I realised how good the series was and began to enjoy watching it on a regular basis. Even more so now that I have it on Blu-ray.

OK, let's get down to brass tacks. This adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is one of the greatest TV productions ever. Everything in it reaches levels of excellence.

To begin with, the story is incredibly faithful to the book. Anybody who has read the classic will be delighted to hear whole sentences and dialogues straight from the novel (excellently adapted by screenplay writer Andrew Davies). This is made possible thanks to the length of this adaptation, with a running time of over 4 hours, thus allowing plenty of time for the events to unfold at a pace that does the book justice.

Of course, new scenes have been added. Yet these scenes do not detract in the least from the story. On the contrary, they contribute in general to a better understanding of the characters (for instance, Mr Collins's shock after seeing Lydia not fully dressed or Mr Darcy gazing out of the window at Elizabeth playing with the dog during her stay at Netherfield).

This series has all the necessary ingredients to become an immediate hit: a compelling story, romance, period costumes, gorgeous photography, beautiful music, superb acting and memorable characters. The whole cast is remarkable so I will just say a few words about the most prominent roles.

Jennifer Ehle's performance of Elizabeth Bennet is outstanding. She is pretty, spirited, intelligent and witty, with a very expressive face, but she is also prone to judge others too soon. I like her a lot better than Keira Knightley, who played the same character in the 2005 film version.

Colin Firth makes an excellent Mr Darcy. His smouldering presence and lingering looks keep you glued to the TV, expectant to see whether he is going to declare his love for Elizabeth any minute.

Jane (Susannah Harker) is all sweetness and light. My only gripe is that she is not as pretty as Jennifer Ehle especially when, according to Elizabeth, she is supposed to be "five times as pretty as the rest of us." (Ahem, are you sure Lizzie?)

Mr Bingley (Crispin Bonham-Carter) is a perfect match for Jane. He is an amiable, handsome, gentleman-like young man with a lively personality, although he tends to rely too much on Mr Darcy's judgement.

David Bamber's performance of sycophant Mr Collins is brilliant. He provides most of the humour and absurdity in the series and he does so very convincingly. You'll be smiling or laughing almost every time he opens his mouth.

Mrs Bennet (Alison Steadman) manages to give her character all the silliness and emotional (or hysterical) behaviour so evident in the book. She and Mr Collins are ridiculous characters mostly exemplifying the general stupidity of some people.

Mr Bennet (Benjamin Whitrow) is the opposite of his wife. He is a sensible and intelligent gentleman who tries to rise above all the foolishness and nonsense he has to endure in his own home, openly enjoying a bit of sarcasm and counting on the reassuring presence of his favourite daughter Elizabeth to help him along.

Adrian Lukis plays Wickham, a handsome, charming young man who is only outward appearance. Not surprisingly, Elizabeth is eager to approve of him after a short acquaintance, only to regret it later.

This adaptation proves to be a treat for Jane Austen's fans and all those viewers interested in costume dramas. You will probably find yourself watching it repeatedly throughout the year and enjoying it on every occasion. As Sir William Lucas would say, "Capital, capital!"

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