Sunday, December 18, 2011

Pride and Prejudice 1995 Review

I have successfully made it through the first semester of junior year. Yay! It feels exhilarating and yet wildly strange that I should be leaning back against the couch cushions so late on a Sunday night with no essay to write or monotonous history-book chapter to outline. Instead, I am able to relax and relish the large expanse of freedom that is mine for the next two weeks. 

First off, I feel the need to thank you all for your responses to my last post. It's been a while since a post has generated that much excitement and hit a hundred views in just a night. You've given me a lot to think about as well. Of course, I noted that many of you (like any other lit lover) love the comparison of adaptations, and so it wouldn't seem natural to review the 2005 P&P and leave it at that. So without further ado, I will lounge on my living room sofa and share my opinions on the second P&P I came in contact with: the '95. 

Casting: 

From left to right: Lydia, Elizabeth, Jane, Mary, Kitty. 
It's strange that adaptations cannot be entirely perfect, and many times they have exact opposite faults of their counterparts. The 2005 P&P had the perfect array of minor characters, in my opinion. Jane, Lydia, Mary, and Kitty were all defined by the actresses who portrayed them in the '05. Brenda Blethyn was a splendid Mrs. Bennet. Donald Sutherland (though some of you have suggested otherwise) was a great Mr. Bennet. Dame Judi was, without a doubt, a definitive Lady Catherine. The '95, on the other hand, missed the mark completely when it came to these characters. All the Bennet sisters were played by actresses much older than their age. Julia Sawalha, who played the fifteen-year-old Lydia Bennet, was twenty-seven at the time! The disparity in age was something I was completely unable to recover from. I understand the idea of rendering a five-year gap for leeway, but such a difference is unforgivable in a case such as this when one can obviously tell that the actress is much too old. It strips believability from the character. 

My next qualm is the distress of having to cope with a horribly miscast Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley. I'm sorry to sound harpy, rude, and (yes) bitchy, but Susannah Harker is not beautiful. I will not be persuaded otherwise because I do not see it. Even her portrayal of the character was wrong. Jane Bennet is sweet, diffident, and modest, but she is by no means boring and emotionless. Crispin Bonham-Carter had the same problem when playing Bingley: he's not handsome. Epic FAIL! The other actors I had problems with in this adaptation are also the women who played Mrs. Bennet and Lady Catherine, but I will refrain from expounding lest this review turn to a novel. 

The hardest part of reviewing a movie once again comes to the main characters. As you can tell, I'm feeling a bit ruthless and liberal with my opinions this evening. Jennifer Ehle's spirit matched Lizzy Bennet's to perfection. I was glad to see that. Physically, she too was a failure of the greatest kind. She was seven years the "real" Lizzy Bennet's senior, and it once again deducted from the believability. However, her portrayal of the character is one that's hard not to like. Her "fine" eyes do sparkle in a way that I find characteristic of the Elizabeth in the novel. Her mischievous sarcasm, always masterfully covered by a sly smile, is endearing to the viewer. Kiera Knightley's Lizzy was much more outwardly rebellious and much less artful in her arguments. Ehle, on the other hand, delivers her tongue-in-cheek blows naturally; it is only after she has already walked away that the person really begins to understand her meaning. If only she were actually nineteen! 

Colin Firth=the definitive Darcy. Is there really anything to argue? He is Darcy. The perfect amounts of pride, passion, insecurity are joined together in a single man. He fits the physical description to perfection with dark eyes that can flash from coldness to burning desire in mere seconds. His dark curls, tall build, and stately air are only bonuses. There's not much else to say about that...*sigh*. 

Screenplay/Cinematography/Soundtrack/Costumes:

Screenplay: Perfection itself. What did it leave out? It adhered with strict faithfulness to the novel in pretty much every aspect. 

Cinematography: Bad. But it was a nineties TV adaptation, so who really expects much? Better yet, who really cares? 

Soundtrack: Horrible. 

Costumes: Fine. Nothing amazing or particularly riveting, but true to the time period so I have no complaints. 

Negatives: 

I've already shared 95% of them. The casting was a major setback. The soundtrack was another. There were also some areas that I found slightly dry in this version. The second proposal was especially unsatisfying, with little romance and even a slight hint of awkwardness. But then again, if you compare it to Darcy walking through the fog, shirt unbuttoned, and nearly taken to tears as he exclaims, "You have bewitched me body and soul, and I love, I love, I love you" then I guess it would seem rather dry, wouldn't it? Joe Wright always said that Americans like a little more "sugar in their tea." I do seem to fit that mold. 

In conclusion, the adaptation was perfectly sound and very enjoyable. The sparks between Ehle and Firth (or just emitting from Firth alone) are enough to satisfy anyone. 

Grade: A-...4 out of 5 stars. 



8 comments:

  1. For many, many years P&P95 was my favourite TV period drama (until North & South and Jane Eyre '06 came along). I still have a huge soft spot for it!
    It was hard for me to see it's faults at one time, but now I'm able to view it more objectively. Jennifer Ehle was a lovely Elizabeth (she was 25, so 5 years older than the 20-year-old Lizzy), but her maturation as a character wasn't as marked as it should have been.
    Colin Firth was a wonderful Darcy in my humble opinion! The picture that accompanies your review is gorgeous! And he embodied all the qualities that Austen describes.
    I was happy with most of the casting, particularly Mr Bennet. Mrs Bennet could have been a little less screeching, but it was in keeping with the more caricature style of P&P95. I know Julie Sawalha was too old, but she certainly didn't look 27. I had no problems with Jane and Charles.
    My biggest bugbear was with the second proposal, as you point out. It was as dry as dust! I remember my initial disappointment when seeing it all those years ago. Now, I didn't expect lots of kissing and embracing - that would have been incongruous. But I would at least have liked Darcy to take Lizzy's arm.
    Oh, well....

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  2. Haha! Wow, how people's opinions can differ! Personally, as I think you already know, I love this version & greatly disliked the 2005... I think Mr and Mrs Bennet in this one were so much more interesting and funny! I also like the soundtrack actually...I like the opening titles because they are so lively and happy-feeling! Not my favorite soundtrack but I like it quite for that movie.

    Okay I'll stop myself here. ;-)

    But at least you liked the Mr Darcy, and found the Elizabeth...tolerable. ;D

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  3. This is the first period drama I saw, aged eight and have I loved it ever since! Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy is perfect! Everything about this version of P&P is wonderful and it is lovely to watch anytime especially with a cup of tea and a bar of chocolate on a rainy day or when you are feeling unwell. Sit back & fall in love with Mr. Darcy!

    I first watched P&P in 1997 which was the second time it was aired on TV in England & I was recovering from an operation so P&P was a nice distraction, although I didn't fully understand the story at eight and we all love to escape with a lovely fairytale don't we? I love this version of P&P & the novel.


    Kate Leeds, England.

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  4. First off, let me apologize to all of you for responding so slowly. I have been EXTREMELY busy lately.

    @Supergran: North and South is my favorite TV period drama as well! I believe it was perfection itself. Perhaps I'm being a bit TOO picky, but a slight problem I had with Jennifer Ehle is that her physical build made her seem older than the real Lizzy. She is veryyy hefty and curvaceous and I'm not sure that's how I imagined Lizzy. Grant it, I never thought of her as anorexic like Kiera Knightley either so please don't think I'm feeding into the new concept of equating thinness with beauty. As for the second proposal, it just seemed so disappointing. The rest of the movie was filled with this kind of quiet but evident passion and it just didn't translate in that scene, which is weird because the second proposal is the scene that needs that passion more than anything.

    @Melody: Mr. Bennet was great to me. I just could not get over how annoying Mrs. Bennet was. Brenda Blethyn was annoying, but I felt slightly sympathetic because I could see that it was motherly instinct driving her on. In this adaptation she's just overly obnoxious and harpy. The soundtrack is really a matter of opinion. I really prefer string-filled soundtracks like the ones Dario Marianelli normally makes (such as in the 2005 P&P and the '11 Jane Eyre) and this one was a dainty harpsichord that I didn't really like. Elizabeth is MORE than tolerable! I think I, like Darcy, warmed up to her in the end.

    @Kate: I completely relate with falling in love with literature adaptations at a young age. I think, however, that what you like more depends on what you see first. Perhaps this version wasn't as good to me because I saw the '05 first...

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  5. I think I just LIKE to hate Mrs. Bennet. haha ;-)

    I wouldn't respond to this except I wanted to mention that it actually isn't a harpsichord, it's what a lot of 'pianofortes' used to sound like back then. They weren't as soft-sounding.
    I normally like a lot of strings better too. =) I remember getting the JE 2011 soundtrack from the library before I saw the movie, but I ended up not listening to it much because the songs were all so similar. When I watched the movie though I was reminded how beautiful some of the songs were, and so now I might get it again.

    Haha, that was off subject...

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  6. I do love this adaptation but, like you, love the 05 version more.

    Although I do have to agree on the 'Jane' thing. I don't think she's a great beauty either, but I don't think her being boring had to do with the actress, it was more what the script allowed her to do - or DIDN'T do, as the case may be. Most of the time they just sat around in their sparse sitting rooms, embroidering and delivering lines. There's not much an actor can do with that. I thought whatever lines she did have, she delivered them well. This is why I love the 05 version because it injects a lot of life - everything is vibrant and humming.

    Aww, I liked Crispin Bonham-Carter. I don't think he's overly handsome, but to me he fits the description of an attractive well-to-do gentleman. I especially love that smile of his - that kind of desperate grin he cracks when things are a bit awkward - it's like a toddler hoping everything will sort of patch itself up and everyone can move on :P

    Jennifer Ehle does seem a bit too old, but her acting is spot. on. The undercurrent of mischief and wit just exude from her eyes, and I don't really object to the body type of the actresses (either Knightley or Ehle). I think they both did a superb job but for me Ehle managed to portray the whole 'fine eyes' thing a bit better ;)

    You are so right though! I just re-watched this thing recently and that second proposal just had me gasping - and not for the right reasons either. It is SOO stilted, I wanted to die. With all that chemistry and passion sprinkling most of the adaptation and then - then, at the instant when they have the BEST chance to shine - they fall flat. This makes me want to weep.
    Ugh - a tad too long again; I never learn do I?

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  7. Sorry, I meant 'DISagree on the Jane thing'.

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  8. You never seem to learnt that I LOVE long comments either. :)

    You explained a bit of what I'm feeling perfectly. I think part of the reason I like the '05 more is because it has more vibrancy to it. I never really felt bored, which is kind of a miracle because Pride and Prejudice has so much "hang time" that it's often a little easy to lose yourself and not pay attention.

    Crispin Bonham-Carter was very...i don't know. For some reason Mr. Bingley seems like a hard character to cast correctly. Crispin's visual Mr. Bingley didn't really suite my taste, but his manners and energy were great for the part. I liked him a bit more than the '05 Bingley, who was a bit too vibrant and jumpy. I think that the '80 Bingley was probably the closest to my physical image of Bingley, but i'll have revisit it and determine whether he brings out the other aspects of the character. It's been so long since I've watched the '80 version in its entirety.

    Jennifer Ehle: Agreed. I admit that I can be a bit superficial when it comes to actors and actresses in a role. I imagine things so detailed in my head sometimes that I feel let down when what's portrayed on screen isn't at least a little like it. Most times you'll find that the physical image of the actors won't fit my mental image, but often times (in the cases of Ehle and Knightley) they more than atone for it through their acting. The only actors I can think of who really nailed their roles physically are Rupert Penry-Jones as Wentworth, Richard Armitage as Thornton, Colin Firth as Darcy, Rosamund Pike as Jane. Oh, and the entire cast of the '08 "Tess of the D'urbervilles" was a faithful fit.

    Words couldn't explain how disappointed I was in the last proposal. I understand that it's a hard scene, however because there's actually only a little bit of quoted dialogue. At the same time, the dialogue presented is very passionate, and a director (or screenwriter) could easily take a few liberties such as Joe Wright did in the '05. Even though it wasn't like the book, it was amazing. :)

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