Adaptations – Pride and Prejudice 1995 vs 2005

One thing about Advent with Austen that I was really looking forward to was watching the 1995 Pride and Prejudice TV series. I had never seen it and had heard some marvellous things… especially about Colin Firth as a certain Mr. Darcy. I also decided to re-watch the 2005 film with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen.

Within five minutes, I knew that I was going to love the 1995 version of this much loved book. It is immediately clear that the casting for the Bennet family was chosen brilliantly.  It is almost unbearable to watch the high-pitched, shrieking Alison Steadman, who plays the annoying Mrs. Bennet superbly. Benjamin Whitrow is also fantastic as her quiet and sarcastic husband, forever teasing and making fun of her. The irritating daughter, Lydia is played by Julia Sawalha who is excellent and almost, but not quite as irritating as her mother.

I am slightly disappointed with Jane’s character in this adaptation, Susannah Harker is every bit as calm and collected as in the book, but I simply didn’t feel the same fondness that I felt for her character while reading Pride and Prejudice. In fact, I have to admit that I preferred Rosamund Pike’s Jane in the 2005 film as she had a sense of humour and seemed more realistic.

Finally, we come to the favourite Bennet sister of all; Elizabeth. Jennifer Ehle doesn’t so much act the part of Elizabeth Bennet, as is Elizabeth Bennet. She is pretty, polite and smiley with the same witty and sharp humour as in the book – without being too rude or obnoxious. I much preferred her to the 2005 version of Elizabeth. To me, Keira Knightley  is much too feisty and rebellious.

Elizabeth’s meetings with the proud stranger Mr. Darcy are exactly as I imagined. At first, he is obviously cold and unimpressed, but gradually the audience can see him warm to Elizabeth, and eventually to admire her deeply. I can’t imagine a better Mr. Darcy than Colin Firth. He plays the reserved, proud and cold character so believably and manages to contain all of his emotions in his eyes, with glances at Elizabeth Bennet, showing the internal struggle between his head and his heart. Of course, he also managed to make a whole nation of women fall in love with him!

The 1995 TV series has a lot over the 2005 film, and not just its almost too-good- to-be-true leading couple. With six episodes, all approximately an hour long, there is plenty of time to explore the characters, and show the gradual feelings of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy change over the episodes. In the film, everything has to be much more fast paced and when you add the exciting music and the sweeping romantic scenes; in the rain, or on a windy hill, the pace of the story and the meaning behind it is completely taken away.

The 2005 cast is full of excellent actors, but unfortunately, a lot of them simply can’t live up to the actors from 1995. This could be mostly because there is not enough time for character development. Mr and Mrs. Bennet played by Donald Sutherland and Brenda Blethyn are good but nothing compared to the previous adaptation. However, as I have said before, I prefer Jane in this film. Rosamund Pike portrays the kindness and patience of her character well, but seems happier and quick to laugh, which I found easier to relate to. I also liked Jena Malone as a ruder and nastier Lydia. I don’t necessarily prefer this version of Lydia, but it was nice to see her portrayed in a slightly different way.

Keira Knightley is a great actress but I think that she changes the character of Elizabeth Bennet in this film by putting too much of a feisty attitude into the role – or maybe I’ve seen her one too many times as another Elizabeth in Pirates of the Caribbean. I suppose it may fit in with a modern day take on the book, but as a fan of Pride and Prejudice, I wasn’t happy.

I was also very disappointed with Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy. I found his acting wooden and his haircut far too messy and modern! It is a shame that the two leading characters were such a let down – the chemistry between them was simply not there.

The changes of location for the most important scenes in the 2005 film are also unforgivable in my opinion. I was especially displeased with the proposal scene which took place in the open on a dramatically rainy day rather than in Charlotte’s little cottage. When I compare the two adaptations, Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle’s scene is perfection and brimming with emotion, while Matthew Macfadyen is very unconvincing as a man desperately in love. Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth has a tantrum, shouting her feelings, rather than speaking her thoughts in a much more effective, calm and emotional voice like Jennifer Ehle.

One scene change that I didn’t mind so much, was towards the end when Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy finally give in to each other and admit their true feelings. The 1995 adaptation is true to the book; while on a walk during the day, Mr. Darcy demands a final answer from Elizabeth. It is not the most romantic moment, with Elizabeth talking about her changed feelings in a conversational tone. The 2005 film may be a little over the top but it works well and is much more today’s idea of romance; a chance meeting in a misty field as the sun is coming up, less words spoken and more kissing.

But that’s enough about the leading couple! Now let’s look at some of the other characters. I was glad to find one of the nicest characters, Mr. Bingley was very pleasing in both adaptations. In 1995 he is played by the smiling Crispin Bonham Carter, who is just how I had imagined him to be. The 2005 version of Mr. Bingley is a laughing Simon Woods who also does a brilliant job as a more dipsy character.

Mr. Bingley’s sister is equally horrid in both the 1995 series and the 2005 film. Anna Chancellor from 1995 is by far my favourite though. Her ability to slip snide comments in the conversation and pull disgusted faces throughout is hilarious. Kelly Reilly is also very good in this role in the 2005 film. She is nasty and mean, but doesn’t have quite the same effect as Anna Chancellor.

I was dissappointed with the 2005 Mr. Wickham, not because of the actor Rupert Friend, but because his part was a lot more fleeting than Adrian Lukis’ in 1995. Mr Wickham plays such an important role, both in the story and with his scandalous back-story. He is involved with a lot of characters and changes the course of the plot with his many lies and disgraceful deeds and decisions. I was glad we got to see more of him in the 1995 TV series.

The casting for Mr. Collins was spot on in both adaptations. In 1995, the role was played by David Bamber, a silly and laughable character. Tom Hollander is a more serious version with less smiles, but equally amusing. Mr. Collins is one of the most cringe-worthy characters from all the Jane Austen novels I have read and with both adaptations, I could hardly bear to watch as he embarrassed and offended half the characters!

The last character, but certainly not the least entertaining is Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Barbara Leigh-Hunt does a convincing job in the 1995 TV series, but I don’t think Judi Dench has ever been bettered in any role. In the 2005 film, Judi Dench is absolutley terrifying and I particularly enjoyed her icy words with Elizabeth towards the end. She is certainly a version of Lady Catherine that I would not wish to mess with!

So, which adaptation would I recommend? Well, they both have their good points and bad points. In some ways the 2005 film is superior. The higher budget allows for more elegant costumes and dramatically romantic scenes of windswept fields and pouring rain, but nothing can beat the character development and script of the 1995 TV series. The acting in both adaptations was brilliant, but again the 1995 series wins by having the absolute perfect leading couple.

If I were you, I would get your own copy, set a weekend aside and enjoy the six part TV series from 1995! (Click the picture below).

If you would still like to see Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen in the 2005 film, you can click the picture below to buy it.

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27 thoughts on “Adaptations – Pride and Prejudice 1995 vs 2005

  1. Just read this post quite by accident after commenting elsewhere. Funny…I was just thinking of trying to get hold of the 1995 version which I never watched when it came out as at that point I hadn’t read P&P and thought it would be sickly twee. Anyway having just read it for the umpteenth time and, as you know I watched the 1995 version the other week while ironing, I thought I would quite like to watch the older adaptation. I actually quite like Matthew Macfadyen as Darcy, but may be blinkered slightly as he is easy on the eye! Brenda Blethyn does a good job of Mrs Bennett, but I can imagine Alison Steadman would be amazing. Kiera Knightly plays Elizabeth Bennett as she plays most other characters – I’m not keen. Will strive to find a copy of the 1995 version and encourage the husband to go away on business for a couple of days!

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    • Oh you really have to see the old one!!!! It’s so much more true to the book – especially Elizabeth. Also, I never really liked Colin Firth, but watching the 1995 version has changed my mind about that big time!

      I’ve never really liked Matthew Macfadyen outside of Spooks but maybe that’s just because he played that character so well! It’s hard to imagine him as someone other than a spy!

      When you find a copy, let me know what you think!

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  2. Fascinating to compare different adaptations of well-worn classics… like the difference between those that are creating something ‘marketable’ (e.g 2005 version), or something more concerned with an understanding and empathy for a novelist’s motivations. I think Andrew Davies brings a lot to his adaptations (as in the 1995 version). I just blogged about one of his R F Delderfield series from the 80s, and it highlights his skill.

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  3. Apparently I never commented on this post, which is hard to believe. It was splendidly well written and a joy to read. Your post also inspired me to write my own reviews on book-to-film adaptions, so thank you! I even started the segment off with my own thoughts on the many different versions of Pride and Prejudice =)

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  4. While I love the 1995 miniseries, I found a lot to like about the Keira Knightley version. . . as long as I don’t compare it to the miniseries. I don’t mean that in a negative way— I thought the motive of the two directors was completely different. The miniseries is The Book; the 2005 film is an interpretation. For one thing, Joe Wright chose to set the story a few decades earlier than Austen’s book. This made it a little closer to earth and less polished (see the Lucas’s dance, where Darcy and Elizabeth first meet, as a perfect example of this ). Also, the characters feel younger to me. Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, while excellent, behave like mature adults experiencing a strong sexual attraction. Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfayden act like insecure but good-hearted young adults who fall deeply into love. The former is what Austen wrote, but I still like the latter.

    If you ever have a spare evening where you just want to have a glass of wine and giggle, seek out Lost in Austen. It is a British miniseries about a woman who manages to climb into Austen’s Pride and Prejudice through a magic door in the bathroom. Oh my goodness, it is so silly. You’ll never guess what Caroline Bingley’s REAL motivation behind hating Elizabeth was. And it does have the best Wickham of them all.

    Also, have you seen the Bollywood version called Bride and Prejudice?

    I really enjoyed your blog entry and will definitely be back for more!

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    • Thanks for the comment! I will definitely check out Lost in Austen it sounds fun. I’ll save it for a girlie night! I haven’t seen Bride and Prejudice, because it didn’t really look like my sort of thing, but I might give it a go one day…

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  5. Loved this post! My all time favourite adaptation of a book is the 1995 Pride and Prejudice! I have watched it countless times and agree with you about the castings of Lizzy and Mr Darcy being the best ever! What a perfect couple. I love this so much, in fact, that I refuse to watch the Keira Knightly version….would do nothing but disappoint me! All I need now is to find my own Mr Darcy! (This is Becky by the way!)

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    • Thanks! 😀 Good on you refusing to watch the 2005 film! I am positive you would hate every minute. I see you have joined the blogging world – Will you be making your blog public at any point?

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  6. I do have to agree with you on most of what you’ve said: the 1995 miniseries is much better than the 2005 film. I blame the choice of medium and attempts to “update” the Darcy-Elizabeth romance as the key reason for the failure of the 2005 film. However, you make an excellent point about Dame Judi Dench as the perfect Lady de Bourgh. She was the only character I truly liked in the movie.

    It’s interesting how choices regarding medium, cast, script, and direction can mean the difference between the failure or success of an adaptation. In the case of Jane Eyre, it doesn’t fly, but there are also quite a few that do succeed. When I look at the 1983 miniseries of Jane Eyre (Timothy Dalton as Rochester, and Zelah Clarke as Jane), and then compare it to the 2011 film (Michael Fassbender as Rochester, and Mia Wasikowska as Jane), I think they’re both wonderful adaptations of the Bronte story.

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    • I haven’t seen either of those adaptations of Jane Eyre. I’ve been meaning to watch the 2011 film since it came out. I’ll make sure I also check out the 1983 mini series too if I can get hold of it!

      Thanks for the comment!

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      • I loved the 2006 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation. Toby Stephens was just a touch too handsome to be Rochester, but man did he play that role well.

        The 2011 adaptation was excellent as well, although it has the disadvantage of being shorter, which is always somewhat detrimental.

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  7. Agreed, the 1995 version was far superior. The costumes were better in the newest, but that was all for me. I didn’t really like the over-the-top dramatic scenes. As much as I love Knightley in most films, she just altered the character in this film far too much. Even though the ’95 version is rather long, the time was necessary to accurately portray the character arcs and emotions.

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    • Yes, I think a book like Pride and Prejudice needs time to develop the characters. Elizabeth’s feeling grow and change gradually, not all of a sudden in a dramatic moment. I suppose it was a good attempt to show the classic to a new generation, but they had a lot to live up to after the 1995 series!

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  8. I love, love, love the 1995 version, and hate, hate, hate the 2005 film. There was no time for character development, their wasn’t much chemistry, and everyone looked perpetually sweaty/oily, and every room was dark and dingy. This may be more true historically, but it was distracting and I couldn’t get over it.

    You should definitely never watch the 1940 version — it was horrifying. 😦

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  9. Really agree with you on the 2005 version – decent but let down by the lack of Lizzie-Darcy chemistry and slightly weird (supposed to be more modern?) interpretations of their characters. The 1995 version is fantastic and my favourite Sunday afternoon viewing. In fact, I think I might watch an episode now.. Thanks for the post!

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    • Hope you enjoyed your viewing! I agree, the 2005 film is weird! It is almost like they were trying to modernise it a bit, but not fully. I also still can’t get over the choice of actor for Darcy. Matthew Macfadyen was good in Spooks, but doesn’t fit Mr. Darcy at all!

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