So I finally have time to sit down and write my thoughts on the many different variations of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Thank God!
Pride and Prejudice is one of my most favourite novels, so I had to start my adaptions segment with this classic story of first assumptions, regret, friendship and love. I first read Jane Austen’s novel in Grade 5, when I did a book project on Elizabeth’s character. It was too long of a book for me at that time, I admit, so I ended up reading the Great Illustrated Classics version of Pride and Prejudice — shorter, simpler words and illustrations. After watching the 2005 film adaption, I knew that I had to read the complete novel. And so a couple of years ago, I picked up the novel to finally read and fell in love all over again with Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, the storyline… pretty much everything. But it was then that I realized that the 2005 film lacked so much, it was heartbreaking. A few months ago I vowed to watch all the versions of Pride and Prejudice as I possibly could to evaluate them and make an informed decision of which film best portrays the novel’s wit, charm and loveliness.
Well, I’ve watched all the versions of it (minus the 1940s film, as I couldn’t find one online or in a movie store in my city, and including the offbeat film Lost in Austen) and am ready to share my thoughts (finally). I could easily give you my thoughts in one paragraph, but what would the point be in that? The whole point for me to do this segment is to really look deep into a film and share my opinions with anyone who cares. So here goes…
I think it would be ridiculous for me to say that I was absolutely satisfied with even just one cast (much less all the casts), so instead, I’ll let you know what I thought on each individual character, comparing each character between all the adaptions.
So first up — Miss Elizabeth Bennet!
I have to say that I was absolutely mortified with Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth. I cringed at so many of her scenes because she was just too tomboyish and rebellious for the part. In one of the most romantic scenes in the novel, when Mr. Darcy admits his feelings towards her in the Collins’ home, she firmly (not shrewdly) states her feelings back to him. Keira-Elizabeth, however, decided to yell at him, losing all Elizabeth composure. Shudder.
Unfortunately, I can’t comment too much on Gemma’s Elizabeth in the film Lost In Austen, as we didn’t really see her in the role Jane Austen had written for her. But looks-wise, she was perfect.
As for the actresses I did love, it was a tie between Elizabeth Garvie and Jennifer Ehle. They both were perfectly cast — but while some say Elizabeth’s eyes were expressive, I found her a tad over the top by stressing her eyes and widening them almost every sentence. Jennifer was brilliant in her role; however, I found it incredibly hard to believe that Mr. Darcy would find her unattractive compared to her sister (but we’ll get to that later). Elizabeth Garvie was not the typical Hollywood choice for one of the most infamous heroines out there — she was pretty, but plain, which is how Elizabeth is described in the book. Jennifer Ehle was a beauty, and a far more romantic choice as Elizabeth. Both actresses were witty, playful, sweet and stubborn — but truth be told, I found I cared far more for Jennifer’s Elizabeth because one could really see her feelings change towards Mr. Darcy as the story continued.
My oh my… what a beautiful sight to see. Okay, again, I’m going to say who I straight up did not like: Matthew and Elliot. Ugh. For one, I don’t know how anyone could enjoy seeing them as Mr. Darcy — Matthew was so not Mr. Darcy, it was incredible that he was even cast. His hair was far too modern and I just didn’t buy his pride or his love for Elizabeth. He was also too shy for Mr. Darcy — maybe that was the way the director wanted it or perhaps Matthew interpreted his character wrong, but whatever it was, it didn’t work for me. As for Elliot, he was off too. He was too brash and sultry for the character, that I found it hard to believe he was playing Mr. Darcy at all.
Again, I’m tied for the 1980 and 1995 Mr. Darcys as my favourite. I know Colin is considered to be best, but I disagree. Sure, he was more romantic and handsome and sweet, and you could certainly tell he was fighting his feelings for Elizabeth, but I thought he was just a tad over the top mopey. He looked more depressed than proud for his character, which is not how Mr. Darcy is in the book. While in many scenes I found David’s Mr. Darcy wooden, he portrayed Mr. Darcy’s pride very well. In my opinion, I don’t think I would have fallen for him but hey — that’s up to Elizabeth. The only time I could see even a glimmer of love and dashing good looks was at the end when Elizabeth accepts his hand in marriage. However, I still cared deeply for what happened to him and Colin’s Mr. Darcy, which is how it should be.
This is where it gets difficult for me, because I loved all the actresses for different reasons. They each portrayed Jane slightly differently, which makes it hard to really evaluate them based on performance. I must say, though, that I’m confused with casting of Susannah. Compared to Jennifer Ehle, she was second best, which is not how it’s supposed to be. In the book, Jane is the beauty in the family and Elizabeth is second best. Susannah is pretty, but not in the conventional way and even more not in the Jane way. And I also didn’t see the deep devotion between her and Jennifer’s Elizabeth as there is in the novel. She was too serious for Jane. As for Morvan, she changed Jane, too, by making her a bit more stubborn and weepy. Again, she’s pretty, but I thought that Gemma (who played Elizabeth) was prettier. So I’m not entirely sure what the casting directors were doing there, but…
I absolutely loved Sabina Franklyn and Rosamund Pike. With both actresses, they understood Jane’s thought process perfectly, displaying her humour, love, maturity, fear and innocence to a T. And what’s more, they were gorgeous. I once read that someone didn’t think Sabina was beautiful and I was aghast — how could anyone not think her beautiful? I was more than happy with their performances and could not have asked for better Janes. Thank you!
Again, all actors played Mr. Bingley differently — from good-natured but not handsome to a bit dipsy but fun-loving. Osmund Bullock would not have been my first choice for the role, but he did bring a certain level of regality to the scenes. He was sweet and attentive, which is how Mr. Bingley is described, and you can tell that he’d be the sort to depend on Mr. Darcy incredibly. Was he my favourite? Unfortunately not. (Side note: does he not remind you of Samwise Gamgee, at least in this picture?!)
Crispin Bonham-Carter was both good looking, pleasant and looked the part of a wealthy young man. Sure, he bordered on “dim” on certain occasions, but it didn’t hinder his performance in the slightest, unlike Simon Woods. His Mr. Bingley was funny, good-natured, handsome but too dipsy for my liking. I liked this version of him, though, because he breathed fresh life into a character that many forget about.
Tom Mison played Mr. Bingley entirely not like the character in the book, but that was the screenwriters’ faults, for he was to be heartbroken, a drunk and depressed in the majority of Lost In Austen. But my God he was good looking! In fact, I would probably choose him over Elliot Cowan’s Mr. Darcy any day. To be fair, I can’t say he’s my favourite since he didn’t play Mr. Bingley correct, but he’s my favourite looks-wise. Exactly how I pictured Mr. Bingley in my head.
I wish I could say I loved Alison Steadman’s portrayal of Mrs. Bennet — for she sure was annoying enough — but I found her far too screechy and waily. I mean, there was supposed to be a streak of old beauty in her that made Mr. Bennet fall for her in the first place, but I just could not see that at all. If she had only toned it down a notch or two, she would have been perfect.
As for Alex Kingston, she certainly didn’t look the part of Mrs. Bennet. In fact, she looked more like her daughters’ older sister or cousin than their mother. As with many of Lost In Austen‘s characters, Mrs. Bennet was portrayed as vindictive and, at times, a bit frightening. It was certainly a funnier take, but she still had the immaturity and ridiculousness down pat.
I don’t think Brenda Blethyn is given enough credit for her performance as the mother. She and Priscilla Morgan were fantastic in their roles! They both were annoying, obnoxious, ridiculous, embarrassing and shrill without going over the top. Ah, I can’t say enough about how much I loved these two women.
Oh, Mr. Bennet, where do I begin? I could not like Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennet less than I already do. I don’t know what exactly they were trying to achieve with his “new and improved” character, but it didn’t work. I’ve never disliked Mr. Bennet’s character as some people do, because I know if I had married a person like his wife, I wouldn’t be able to handle it either. But he played the father in such a lazy way, that it was hard for me to find some part of me that liked him at the end. He cared too much for his family, unlike in the book where Mr. Bennet really only has a connection with Elizabeth.
Hugh Bonneville wasn’t altogether terrible as Mr. Bennet, but I thought he looked too young to play the father. He was still sarcastic and exasperated in all the right moments, which I’m glad, but in typical Lost In Austen style, he became a fighter and a do-er, rather than someone who sits back and contemplates life.
Moray Watson and Benjamin Whitrow were both very good Mr. Bennets. They portrayed the father every bit as witty, sarcastic, exhausted and altogether uncaring (in certain scenes) as the book allowed. However, I did think Moray’s portrayal was a bit too harsh as the father. I thought Benjamin suited Mr. Bennet the best — the one critique I have here is that you could see the loving relationship between Elizabeth and her father more in the 1980 version than the 1995 version.
All the actresses who played Lydia Bennet were great in their roles, but I think I liked Natalie Ogle’s Lydia slightly less than the others. I just didn’t feel her — sure, she was annoying and immature, but it wasn’t totally believable. In a few scenes her character seemed forced to me. Plus, I wasn’t a fan of her rendition of the whole “I’m 16 and want to find love, love me, look how handsome he is!, I love Wickham” charade either. Something was off.
Perdita Weeks was a lovely Lydia, but I thought she looked too old and modern for the part. Given her two or three more years and she would have been a lovely Jane Bennet.
On that note, I loved Julia Sawalha and Jena Malone as the youngest daughter. Julia looked like she was 15-going-on-16, which made me happy. She was giggly, embarrassing, immature and romantic as any 15 year old is, and it didn’t look forced at all. Jena played a more nastier and conniving version of Lydia, but it worked well. She also looked the part, and didn’t act skanky in certain scenes as someone else (ahem, Julia).
Kitty, unfortunately, is generally portrayed as just that “other sister.” She follows Lydia wherever she goes, even though she is older, and complains about her lack of opportunity. One would think this role would be easy enough to cast and play, but apparently not.
I wasn’t a fan of Clare Higgins as Kitty. Her voice was too high and airy and she looked older than even Elizabeth and Jane. And because of her apparent age, it was hard to believe that she would follow her much younger sister around like a puppy.
That said, she was the only one I didn’t like. I thought Polly Maberly, Carey Mulligan and Florence Hoath portrayed the sister wonderfully, while still adapting Kitty’s personality slightly differently in each film. Polly played Kitty very much like how she is in the book, but I thought Carey had Kitty’s giggly and immature personality perfect, if perhaps a bit more dim-witted than in the book. I didn’t see much of Florence as Kitty, but from what I saw, I liked. She looked the part.
Oh. Lord. I don’t even know where to begin here… I feel so bad for Mary Bennet. She’s constantly portrayed as a hideous, philosophical and repulsive young girl, which is so not the case! Sure, she’s studious and cares more for books and smarts than people, but that doesn’t mean she’s ugly! On that note, I have to make it known that I dislike Lucy Briers’ Mary. No no no. She was made to look ugly, and half the time I was wondering what that was on her face before I realized it was a wart. Ruby Bentall, also, was not my idea of Mary Bennet. In certain scenes, she was as flighty and giggly as Lydia and Kitty, despite her stern and harsh looks. Also — Mary Bennet is supposed to be younger than Jane and Elizabeth, so why do these two films make her look like she’s in her late thirties?!
I loved Tessa Peake-Jones and Talulah Riley (I realize there’s a spelling mistake in the picture above, I’m sorry!) as Mary Bennet, even though they portrayed her differently. In the 1980 version, Mary was studious but not entirely ugly, and you could tell that she didn’t care (or try to care) about the goings on of the young men and women around her. She spouted off so many philosophical quotes and thoughts that it was laughable, but didn’t take away from the character. On another hand altogether, Talulah presented a much more modern take on Mary. She wasn’t as philosophical as Tessa, but she was an outsider and lived for her studies and her piano.
Ah, the wonderful man that is Mr. Collins. Again, each film portrayed this ridiculous character differently and it was interesting to find out how each version would tackle him. I know that Lost In Austen was going for this effect, but I couldn’t stop shuddering and feeling nauseated during every scene of Guy Henry’s. He was atrocious — such a creep, feeling himself up and hitting on anything he walked in front of. UGH.
I really don’t know which Mr. Collins I liked best though, between the other three. Malcolm Rennie was clumsy, embarrassing, awkward, tall and heavyset, which was exactly what he was supposed to be. Oh, and a total dweeb when it came to Lady Catherine. David Bamber played Mr. Collins a little on the creepier/stupider side, always smiling with his greasy hair. I don’t know how Charlotte could even stand to be in the same room as him. In the 2005 version, the director decided to approach this character opposite to the other films. Tom Hollander was more stern, smiled less and wasn’t as creepy. He wasn’t tall or heavyset in the slightest though, which didn’t exactly match the character. But I still pitied Charlotte (heck, any women near him), so that proves he played the part well.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh:
I have to say, I only really liked one of the actresses who played the great and terrible Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Judi Dench stole the show with her miffed expressions, hard stares and indifferent glances. To be honest, I love her in any role. The other three actresses (Judy Parfitt, Barbara Leigh-Hunt and Lindsay Duncan) were just not right for the part. Judy Parfitt was too young in my mind and wasn’t as scary as I was led to believe. Barbara looked tired half the time and didn’t seem like she would have even takes the trip to scold Elizabeth. And Lindsay was far too young for me, too.
I’m going to start off by saying how much I absolutely loved Tom Riley as Mr. Wickham in Lost In Austen. In the movie, Mr. Wickham was a more desirable and understanding man than how Jane Austen had written him, but that didn’t matter. Tom still was just as smooth-talking, attractive and amiable as the other Mr. Wickhams in the other films. But my lord, if I had been Amanda (the protagonist in Lost In Austen), I would have chosen Mr. Wickham over any of the other men. Mr. Darcy who?
But back to the real Pride and Prejudice versions. First up, Rupert Friend: I didn’t like him as Mr. Wickham. He was too feminine and complained all the time. Other than his occasional courtesies, I don’t know what Elizabeth would have seen in him. Peter Settelen and Adrian Lukis were both equally convincing as Mr. Wickham; however, I do have a couple of critiques that bugged me about them. While Peter was charming and looked the part of an innocent man, he was not attractive (at least not to me). Whereas Adrian was attractive and charming, but he looked guilty from the start. Because of these issues, I can’t say one actor was better than the other. However, I think I hated Adrian more at the end, which is how the viewer should feel after hearing Mr. Darcy’s side of the story and learning about Mr. Wickham’s involvement with Lydia.
Least Favourite Scene In All The Versions:
2005 first proposal
This was my hated scene in any of the films. First of all, it was way too dramatic for Elizabeth to run from the church to god-knows-where in the middle of the pouring rain, only to have Mr. Darcy somehow appear next to her (was he running after her?) drenched. And then he throws out the words “I love you” in typical Hollywood fashion. But I could have allowed that, if they had stopped changing the script there. Instead, they had Keira yell at him, baring her teeth and bringing her face inches away from his (which, I shouldn’t have to add but will, is so not like how Elizabeth is). Ugh.
Most Favourite Scene In All The Versions:
1995 Mr. Darcy drops by at the Collins’ home
To be fair, this is probably one of my most favourite scenes in the novel, and it was executed so well in this film version. You could just tell that Mr. Darcy was struggling with his thoughts and couldn’t think of how to form his words in a proper manner. Elizabeth was perfectly puzzled and looked appropriately uncomfortable as one should look when hosting an unexpected guest. The two of them were fantastic and I couldn’t keep that stupid little grin from forming on my face throughout the entire scene, as I did in the novel. Love!
Well, based on my thoughts above, I’d have to say my least favourite version/spin off of Pride and Prejudice is Lost In Austen, with the 2005 film coming in close behind it. Lost In Austen was a dry, long story of an average girl who gets herself inside the pages of her beloved story. While the concept was cool, I didn’t like how they changed the characters so much — particularly Mrs. Bennet and Georgiana Darcy (they made her into a total slut, pardon my words). While the 2005 film had more sweeping and romantic landscapes and a higher budget, I just didn’t feel the magic or the passion inside the story. I found the leads miscast, which basically decreases the film’s value in my mind.
I absolutely love the 1995 and 1980 versions of Pride and Prejudice, though. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses, but in general, they both swept me off my feet and had me grinning from ear to ear. While the costumes weren’t as magnificent as the 2005 ones were, I thought it added to the films because the Regency Era wasn’t clean or pristine like we wish to believe. People didn’t bathe often, they didn’t have the luxuries of dry cleaning and they certainly wouldn’t waste tons of money on beautiful clothes (remember: the Bennet family wasn’t wealthy by any stretch). On those reasons alone, among others, I felt both versions presented a true, but still beautiful, representation of the novel. Also, I’m a big fan of mini-series because you delve into the story more and can see the developing and already developed relationships between the characters, forming a stronger bond between the story and myself. Hollywood just can’t compete with that.
Pride and Prejudice 1980 — 8/10
Pride and Prejudice 1995 — 8.5/10
Pride and Prejudice 2005 — 6/10
Lost In Austen — 4.5/10