Pride and Prejudice (1995)
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Pride and Prejudice (1995)

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There are some works of fiction with themes so human that they transcend the years and can be presented time and time again in film and television. One such literary work is without a doubt Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ In 2005 there was a very successful adaptation done for the movies. Ten years before that the BBC presented this work as a six-part television mini-series, no less than the sixth time this novel has been presented on British television. While each of these variations of the classic work provides its interpretation, none can match the sheer scope and attention to detail as this six-part series. After all, there is one thing that the BBC does better than anyone else, bringing English literature to the small screen. Instead of cutting back on the story to fit a usual couple of hours available for most films, having this novel presented as a mini-series provided the BBC the opportunity to remain far truer to the book than previously possible. In the autumn of 1995 millions of British citizens made certain they where home at 9 pm, that the telly was warmed up and snacks were at hand. There has been a VHS and previous DVD release of this series in the past, but now a fully re-mastered version has been made available. This is the definitive version of Pride and Prejudice; it is doubtful that the bar set here will ever be surpassed.

As the story opens, Mr. Bennett (Benjamin Whitrow) has a dilemma. Unless he can marry off one of his five daughters, he faces the loss of a heritance that is a sizable portion of the family income. His daughters are all of what was considered marriageable age and prospectively able to save the family should a suitable suitor come on the scene. The daughters consist of eldest, Jane (Susannah Harker), twenty-year-old Elizabeth (Jennifer Ehle), the bookish Mary (Lucy Briers), Kitty (Polly Maberly) who is seventeen and lastly the youngest Lydia (Julia Sawalha). When Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy (Colin Firth) comes into town, he has everything a young woman could want, a dashing figure of a man with an income of about £10,000 a year. At a ball in his honor, Mr. Darcy asks Elizabeth for a dance. She is repulsed by his prejudice of the lower classes and turns him down. He responds by stating that she is not ‘handsome enough to tempt’ him. Fortunately for the elder Bennetts, there is another prospect for their daughters. Mr. Collins (David Bamber), a bumbling clergyman whose aunt is no less than the Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Barbara Leigh-Hunt) who has been acting as his patroness. When his aunt suggests that it is time for him to marry he sets his sights on the eldest of the Bennett girls, Jane. Upon learning that she is involved with Mr. Charles Bingely (Crispin Bonham-Carter), he resets his sights on the next in line, Elizabeth. Elizabeth rejects the overtures of Collins causing a rift in her family. While her father supports her decision, her mother is less than pleased with her daughter’s rejection of a possible man to save the family. Since Collins is unwilling to reject the ‘advice’ of his aunt, he accepts Elizabeth’s rejection and turns to her best friend, Charlotte Lucas (Lucy Scott). He fairs better with her ad the couple is soon married. Of course, since this is after all a romance Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are soon thrown back together. Although Elizabeth is attracted to the handsome military officer Mr. George Wickham (Adrian Lukis), she finds herself falling in love with Mr. Darcy.

With the attention to detail that the BBC provides and the extended time allotted to a mini-series, this variation of the story can capture more of the nuances of the novel. There is such texture to the subplots, such amazing complexity to the way the characters are presented that only this version truly does the novel justice. Even though the book had been around for over two centuries and many have taken on the task of bringing it to the screen no one has come close to what is presented here. You feel if you boarded a time machine and were transported back to the time of the story. Every aspect of settings and costumes are recreated with exacting precision. In the space of just one hundred days, the production company was able to bring Austen’s work to life never before or since. Director Simon Langton is a veteran of many BBC productions and uses his expertise and considerable talent to work here. This mini-series is the crowning gem in a long and illustrious career. If this novel were done in the States, it would undoubtedly be reduced to a Lifetime movie of the week. The themes are so universal, going to the core of human emotions that although primarily thought of as a woman’s story even the guys out there will be pulled in. There is also a presentation of the title’s meaning displayed at last in all its glory. It is Elizabeth’s pride that initially keeps her from following her heart to be with Mr. Darcy. At the same time, his prejudice of anyone lower socially than him results in his overlooking the fine, intelligent woman that Elizabeth is.

Many actors have taken on the task of portraying the young lovers, Darcy and Elizabeth, but none have achieved the true feeling of the book as is done here. Colin Firth is well known on both sides of the pond and for a good reason; he is an excellent actor capable of nudging every last bit out of the characters he portrays. He can play the snobby Darcy while still making the man attractive to every woman watching. Jennifer Ehle is the perfect counterpoint to Firth and the rest of the cast. The way she presents Elizabeth is nothing short of wonderful to watch. Ehle captures the character as if she has lived the life herself.

When it comes to bringing the best of BBC to America, there is no network better than A&E. They are dedicated to the pursuit of excellent and this anniversary edition shows it. I’m not usually impressed by the packaging, but this one did it for me. Even before I opened the screener, I could feel the weight in my hands, at first I thought I received a book for review to my delight, I opened the package to find this box set. The set is contained in a book like a package that has the size and heft of a high-end coffee table book. Sliding out of this sturdy slipcase is a fold out containing the three-disc set. Also in there is a full color, a 120-page glossy book that details the production of this feature. It has that great smell of a book you might buy at a museum. Although marketed as a re-mastered edition the video was a bit muted at various points. The color palette was not as bright as it could have been. The Dolby Stereo audio track does the job but is nothing special. There are new extras provided here. There is a look back at the production of the series as well as an A&E Biography of Jane Austen. This is the definitive production of one of literature’s greats. It is a commitment to watch it all but well worth it.

Posted 11/23/06            Posted 04/10/2018

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