Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice: Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle In The 1995 BBC Production
Jane Austenites: Do You Love Mr Darcy?
Are you a Jane-ite? A lover of all things Austen (and probably, especially of all things Pride and Prejudice related, and further than that, all things Darcy!) Do your friends know you well enough to always give you Austen related gifts – Jane Austen t-shirts, mugs and box-sets? If so, then you will be, as a connoisseur, well aware of and familiar with the 1995 BBC production of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, amongst a starry host of other fine actors.
Pretty Coliln Firth!
Colin Firth: Mr Darcy In A Wet Shirt
Did you enjoy the production? If you’re not familiar with it, then you’ve certainly missed out. Aspects of it are famous enough to set a true Austen fan’s bosom heaving at the mere memory of them: the celebrated ‘lake and wet shirt’ scene springs to mind! (In this scene Darcy/Colin Firth is so overheated at the unexpected appearance of Elizabeth/Jennifer Ehle, that he simply has to take an unscheduled fully-clothed dip in the nearby lake, and then stalk out with his nice white shirt clinging to every muscle. Yes, this is a bit of a liberty to take with the original text: however, none of the devoted and numerous original audience seemed to mind a bit…)
Colin Firth As Mr Darcy: The Inimitable and Best?
There were reports and rumours of a romance between the onscreen lovers: however both are seemingly now settled with other partners. But how faithful was this well-known BBC production to the original characters of the book: Darcy and Elizabeth, Mr and Mrs Bennet, Wickham and all the rest? And really, how much does it matter? Except that with any production of Austen's work, the issue seems to come up.
I think the relationship between Mr and Mrs Bennett is the one that holds most true. There is an edge and an annoyance in their interactions that rings true, and that would be risky in a Hollywood film but is easier to slip in in a television production. Alison Steadman, hugely famous in England for her sterling work with director Mike Leigh, is absolutely terrific – and appalling – as Mrs Bennett. The bossy, interfering mother of your nightmares!
I find Colin Firth quite convincing and acceptable as Darcy: there is an undercurrent of doubt, perhaps self-doubt, in his performance. This makes it credible that he should begin to question his first impressions and assumptions about Elizabeth and her family, and fall in love with her.
Do You Love Jane Austen & Pride and Prejudice
Ehle is less altogether pleasing as Elizabeth: her manner is one of complete confidence and certainty, such that it is difficult to imagine her carrying on the interior monologue and intense inner life that we know she possesses, as readers of the original. I must add that I don’t care for the actress who plays Elizabeth’s sister Jane, Susannah Harker: she has been good in other parts (notably in the vampire romp Ultraviolet with Brit hottie Jack Davenport) but is terribly bland in this. (Although Jane is a fairly bland character, so perhaps it’s a rather unfair criticism.)
The wardrobe department do do themselves proud in this production: aside from the aforementioned lake ‘n’ wet shirt moment, all the women’s dresses are fabulously pastel, low-bosomed and feminine, and the men are attired in splendidly tight britches as all Austen men should be.
The production was adapted by Andrew Davies, a respected novelist (Getting Hurt, B Monkey) and writer of original series (A Very Peculiar Practice, fondly remembered). It is much more faithful to the original than some subsequent adaptations (e.g. the Keira Knightley/Matthew Macfadyen film) and yet is sexy and disrespectfully funny in a way that might have been shocking in Austen’s own time.
Would Jane Austen have enjoyed this production of Pride and Prejudice? Would she have recognised it as bearing a truthful, vital connection to her great book? I believe she would, and if you don’t own a copy, I can genuinely recommend that you go out and get yourself one right away.
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