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.