Friday, February 15, 2008


The delightful Luisa and I see eye-to-eye on so many things (among them: knitting is soothing to the soul, LM Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott should be canonized, and food is GOOD).

We also both love Jane Austen, and of course, Pride and Prejudice. (Really, show me a sane woman who doesn’t?)

Many film versions of P&P exist. And here is where our opinions diverge: I much prefer the A&E (which stands for Arts & Entertainment). It's also known as the 6-hour version, although the purist in me has to point out that it's really 5 hours (it was aired originally in 6, 50-minute episodes). While I live and die by this version, Luisa champions the more recent Kiera Knightly adaptation.

I find it interesting that neither of us holds any other version dear to our hearts, including the black and white one with Sir Laurence Olivier.

So today Luisa and I are joint blogging on the same . . ish . . topic, explaining to our somewhat joint readership why we espouse the P&P versions we do.

There have been something like nine different film versions of the story, and I’ve seen several of them. While they all have elements I like, my hands-down favorite is the A&E version.

This post could have become a novel for as much as I could have written about the awesomeness that is the A&E P&P, but this (granted, exceedingly long) post will have to suffice:

Mr. Darcy
He’s one of the most layered, complicated characters in literary history. As such, it takes a highly skilled actor to portray the layers instead of making Darcy look flat and hard to “get” instead of a real, complex human being. For me, even the amazingly talented Sir Laurence Olivier couldn’t quite him pin down believably.

While Darcy changes over the course of the story (as all good heroes do), he doesn’t change from one pole to the other, as he’s sometimes portrayed. He’s essentially the same man, but a better, more understanding version. And when’s he’s being snooty and hoity-toity, there’s still more going on inside him.

This is where Colin Firth rocks. I have seen the A&E version I don’t know how many times, and he never disappoints. You can see in his eyes, his manner, his voice—in everything he does (and much of it is subtle)—that there’s more going on here than just snubbing a girl from a lower class. His performance is so much more than constipated-looking facial expressions.

He’s conflicted. He’s proud. He’s going against everything he’s been taught, and by golly, he’s going to fight against those feelings. Yet he has a tender spot in that heart thanks to his little sister. Also thanks to her, he’s fiercely loyal and a fighter. Firth portrays every one of these qualities with apparent ease, making us feel that he is Darcy. Such a textured performance is a beauty to behold.

I love that Jennifer Ehle as Lizzy is pretty but not drop-dead Hollywood gorgeous. Her performance makes Lizzy real and down to earth. Her personality comes through so clearly that again, it’s hard to believe that she’s NOT Elizabeth Bennett. The performance has a lot of depth as well. Her anger at the proposal scene is a controlled simmer, not an explosive one, which would have been easier to perform, I’m sure. But this way it’s a more powerful moment. Her eyes are so expressive that you sometimes feel as if you could read her soul.

That’s good acting.

And if I’m being perfectly honest, I also love Jennifer Ehle in this role because she reminds me so much of my good friend Em, who is also an actress. I thought I was the only one who saw the resemblance, but when I mentioned it to some of our mutual friends, they agreed—and Em herself recently said that she’s had casting directors say that she reminds them of Jennifer Ehle.

The Bennetts
The entire family is wonderfully put together, almost as if they had stepped off Austen’s pages. (If I could have changed one thing, it would be to make Jane a bit prettier, since she’s supposed to be the prettiest of them all.) But from Mr. Bennett who puts up with his wife and silly daughters—and depends on Lizzy to be the sensible one, to the flighty little sisters (don’t you just want to smack Lydia sometimes?), their performances are en pointe. Even Mrs. Bennett (someone else you’d like to smack many times), is spot-on in her obnoxiousness. She’s delightfully melodramatic, the center of her household.

Mr. Bennett brings me back to the concept of layers. He’s supposed to be well-meaning and a good husband who sticks by his silly wife. BUT . . . he’s still not polished and upper class material. Without realizing it, he still says things and behaves in a way that can be seen as lower class or silly, just like the rest of his family. This causes Lizzy embarrassment, even though she adores her father otherwise.

I have yet to find another P&P version where Mr. Bennett shows all these layers as the A&E one. Instead, he’s sometimes portrayed as distant and above the rest of the family or he’s a sweet, doting father who behaves precisely as a gentleman would. Neither option gives what I think is a proper portrayal of his character, especially the last one: If he’s such a classy guy, it begs the question, why would he have EVER married Mrs. Bennett? He’d be much too smart for that.

And then there’s Mr. Collins, who gives me the creeps in a delightful sort of slimy way as he devotes his heart to his patron, Lady Catherine, and behaves as the horrendously misdirected cousin of the Bennett sisters. You almost feel like you need a bath after watching him. Or at least you want to wash his hair.

The Sound
Now I’m venturing into the technical side of things. The sound in the A&E version is clear, which may sound like a simple thing, but a good portion of the story has music in the background (such as all those balls they attend), yet the music isn’t overwhelming and never upstages the dialogue or what’s going on. The score is pretty as well.

Historical Accuracy
For a historical writer like myself, this is more important than it might be for a lot of viewers. It doesn’t take much to throw me out of the story and remember that people in contemporary times put a movie together and that it’s all pretend. If I’m watching a historical film and I see a wrong hairdo or style of dress, the fantasy is—*poof*—gone.

That never happens for a moment with the A&E version. I get to happily pretend I’m watching something from the first decade of the 1800s, with nothing to lurch me out of that fantasy.

Another accuracy issue that is nonexistent in the A&E version is the accents. Since the entire cast is British, I don’t have to cringe when an American comes on stage who can’t pull off sounding British.

The Screenplay
Brilliant. That’s all there is to it. The book is comprised mostly of long scenes with people sitting around talking to one another. Fun to read, but hardly exciting to watch. Adapting the story to film while being true to the text, making it interesting to watch, make sense, and have a natural flow to it all, takes skill.

The fact that the A&E version is significantly longer than the others gives it a definite advantage in the flow department. It’s much easier to show and explain some of the subtle plotlines when you have five hours instead of half that, so you can rely on a conversation instead of a single line to get a point across—which someone unfamiliar with the story might miss.

Which is what inevitably happens when you don’t have the time to devote to clarification. I’ve been with people watching other versions—people unfamiliar with the storyline (can you believe that such people still exist in the world? I know!)—and they get confused. Hold on—where are we now? Why did she just say that? What did he mean? Wait—who’s that? You never get that with the A&E version. The screenplay flows seamlessly from one major plot point to the next.

In the few places the screenplay deviates from the book, it does so flawlessly. For example, there’s a scene where Darcy practices sword fighting in a desperate attempt to distract himself from his growing feelings for Lizzy and banish the heat of his love for her. The first time I saw the film, that brief scene fit so perfectly into the story and the characters’ inner workings that it didn’t occur to me until much later—when a friend pointed it out—that the moment doesn’t exist in the book.

Such deviations are few and far between, and every one of them is relevant and true to the original. The screenplay doesn’t take liberties, changing locations or scenes from the book willy-nilly for the sake of upping the visual “romantic” factor. It relies on the story, the characters, and the dialogue to do all that. And it succeeds in spades.

The Cinematography
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. There are moments where I feel as if I’m right there in the English countryside. The locations they used to shoot this film are grand and gorgeous. Pemberly and its grounds alone would be a dream to visit. Lady Catherine’s mansion is wonderfully gaudy, Collins’ new home properly humble, and so on. When Lizzy reads Darcy’s letter, she does so as she takes a walk across rolling green hills. Every bit is a feast for the eyes.

This is a tough one for actors to pull off if they don’t have it naturally. But in the A&E version, Lizzy and Darcy have plenty of chemistry. The flip side of that chemistry is the fire they have when they fight. Fireworks go off—like that great proposal scene where she nearly bites his head off.

One of my favorite moments of chemistry is the scene at Lady Catherine’s where Lizzy is singing and Darcy gazes at her. Let’s just say there’s chemistry in loads. You can almost feel Lizzy going weak in the knees.

Wow—this is a very long post. I could go and on, talking about P&P for days (and at times, probably have . . .). Be sure to pop on over to Luisa’s blog today to read about her favorite version and why she loves it. I know I’m looking forward to it.


Luisa Perkins said...

Oh, so well done, my friend. Now I want to watch BOTH versions all over again.

And you're right; your post IS longer. :D

Jenna said...

You have no reason to feel like chopped liver! You did a great job, and made me want to invest the 5 hours again!

Tristi Pinkston said...

I love Luisa, but she is wrong! You rock, Annette, seriously and forever.

Jen said...

I agree completely about the script and I love, love, love Colin Firth, but I think MacFayden makes a better Mr. Darcy. He's more stilted at the outset - less pride and more awkwardness and the pride shines through as he develops, which I love.

Beautifully written post here and powerful argument, though.

Jeanette said...

I am with you. This is my favorite adaptation. There are some things I would change but overall it is the best. In a way I think I would like to take bits and pieces of each one and make the perfect movie.
On another note, I have heard so much about your book Spires of Stone that I am requesting it through interlibrary loan so I can read it. (Can't find it at libraries out here). Though I am sure you would prefer I actually buy it. :-)

Anonymous said...

I agree with you whole heartedly. The A & E is by far and away my favorite version. And I ADORE Colin Firth as Darcy. Ok, I adore Colin Firth anyway, but he does and incredible job with this role.

I've never seen the version Luisa reviewed so I will certainly have to rent that one, but somehow I doubt the A & E will ever be replaced in my heart.

And seriously? There are still people out there who don't know this story? lol Inconceivable!

Tamra Norton said...


All I can say is AMEN! Oh, and Colin Firth rocks! :)

Autumn Ables said...

Ah, the timeless classic P&P. There are great movies out there and then there are the TRUE classics. P&P is in my top 5.

The A&E version is fantastic- but the newest version with Kiera is wonderful too. I guess for me it's a time constrant issue---can I watch a 5 hour movie or a 2? Both are wonderful. I haven't seen the other version you've shared.

Off the subject- but I also LOVE Sense & Sensibility and Emma. Both are nearly as perfect as P&P.

Heffalump said...

This makes me want to have a weekend long P&P marathon and just watch all of them.

Anonymous said...

When I'm weeks behind on the ironing and need a whole day to catch up, this is the version I watch. (I know, I'm the only person on the planet who still irons.)

I thought your description of Darcy was interesting. I always saw his transformation linked to Elizabeth's changing perception of him, not that his character was actually changing. He always was the wonderful Darcy we know at the end, it just took her a long time to see that because of her prejudice.

I'm going to check the ironing basket!

Jenn in Holland said...

I do believe you and Luisa have set me up!
I now feel compelled to find the two versions you have reviewed (which alas, I have not seen) and watch in marathon style.
This was a great review... I am indeed intrigued and do not know where my preference lies.

Bea said...

What a fantastic idea this face-off of competing interpretation is! I'm on your side of course - though I find it difficult to analyze why. It comes down to the fact that I've never to this day experienced anything to equal the riveting chemistry between Ehle and Firth: the first time I saw the proposal scene, I think I held my breath for its entire duration, then exhaled with a rush when it finally cut to commercial.

I agree that the characterization of Mr. Bennet is spot-on: Donald Sutherland's portrayal, by contrast, is an appealing creation but has nothing to do with Mr. Bennet as Austen wrote him. When it first aired on A&E some critics disdained Mrs. Bennet as too Dickensian, but I think she ably walks that line (the one Austen herself very nimbly toed) between realism and satire.

Allegra said...

I agree wholeheartly with your take on the A&E version of P&P. No other version comes close IMO. I've watched it an embarassing number of times, and each time feels like the first time. Which is by far not my normal behavior, as a rule, I hate repeats.

Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth were romantically involved during the filming of P&P which was a very good thing for the chemistry between Lizzie and Darcy.


Tristi Pinkston said...

I didn't know they were involved!

Okay, back to why I'm here . . .

I just gave you a blog award. Come get it!

Emmie said...

I LOVE that scene where she's playing the piano and looks up to see Darcy staring at her. -Sigh- The only thing I like better about the Keira Knightley version is the actress who plays Jane. She's so lovely, and much more three-dimensional than the actress in the A&E series.

I loved this blog entry, Annette! (And I'm always so flattered when people say I remind them of Jennifer Ehle. If I could, I'd wear her Pride and Prejudice wardrobe daily. I am rather fond of bonnets.)

Julie Wright said...

Oh dear Annette, I am in your camp with this one. I wanted to cry when I saw the Kiera Knightly version. So much was wrong that I felt depressed after. The A&E cast was perfect.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Very interesting post with some great comments. One scene in particular in this P&P version which I find fascinating is the ball sequence where Lizzie first dances with Darcy. She is reluctant, feeling resentment towards him and he is awkwardly trying to figure her out because he has admitted to himself that is interest in piqued. The piece of music playing in the background is called "Mr. Beveridge's Maggot", an unromantic name for a haunting and sensual piece of music. All the principle characters are in the ballroom, and we catch glimpses of them as the dancers turn and step in graceful unison. They are either among the dancers or they are standing along the sides of the hall, involved in private discussions. None of them ever looks as if he is just standing around; they are all deeply involved in private moments. No one looks in the direction of the camera, which spies on everyone in between shots of Darcy and Elizabeth growing more intimate by their very suppressed indignation and anger, and attraction. It looks as though every single movement and glance, not just the dance, is choreographed. I would love to know how many hours, or days, it took to shoot that scene.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

Brilliantly written.

I agree with you. Mostly. I have to confess to preferring Matthew Macfayden in certain respects. Keira Knightley as Elizabeth though? very wrong.

Julie Q. said...

I'm a big fan of the A&E version too, as attested to by the fact that I watched the last 2 hours of it on PBS last night even though I own the DVD and theoretically could watch it whenever I want. I think you've done a wonderful job of summing up the strengths of this version. I've decided that I love the major characters (of course, what's not to love about Colin's little bathing scene) but it's the supporting actors who really make this story work. Mrs. Bennett is perfectly obnoxious, Mr. Collins is perfectly creepy (and yes! I want to wash his hair every time) Wickham is perfectly charming and despicable, etc. After 5 hours with all these characters, I'm fully convinced they ARE those people. The shorter new version left me wanting more. There just wasn't time to get to know the characters. I also felt their acting was somehow diluted or toned down. Except Keira's acting which was too too much.

Have you ever seen the older BBC version? It's nice. They do a great job with historical accuracy and the dialogue is very faithful to Austen.

Anonymous said...

I loved the ehele version, i liked the knightley version. I like this story so much, it's killing me wondering if i will ever get to see the other versions. I have seen the 1944 version 1986 version and the 2006? version. I want to see the bbc version which is another miniseries. and i think there are even more versions. ahh this is horrible so many new movies (that arent really that good) clogging up the cable channels.. so some movies are getting lost in time.


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