Sunday, 3 October 2010

Pride and Prejudice

If I said that I don't really watch television, that would be a lie, since I watch the majority of the films I see via the television screen, whether they are delivered by satellite broadcasting or by DVD. What I really mean is that I see very few programmes actually made for television. I have in the past been 'hooked' by certain series, such as "Soap", the original "Forstye Saga", "Cheers", "Lost", and currently "Dexter", but I never watch 'reality' programmes and hardly ever watch the bulk of what constitutes TV fodder. I therefore have missed nearly all of the 'heritage' films and mini-series derived from the classic English writers, although oddly enough I have acquired many of these on giveaway DVDs.

Take the 1995 six-parter of "Pride and Prejudice". I was certainly aware that Colin Firth segued into a nationwide lust object when his Mr. Darcy appeared emerging from an impromptu swim in a clinging wet shirt, but I was never tempted to find this out for myself. However I did get around to watching this over a few days last week and found myself surprising drawn into this very superior production. I did not find myself lusting after Mr. Firth, but I thought he did a first-class job as the supercilious Darcy vs. Jennifer Ehle's sparky Elizabeth Bennet. Since the writers had over five hours at their disposal, they were able to include all of the original novel's ins and outs of plot, without any of it becoming tiresome. The casting was spot-on, although Alison Steadman's flighty Mrs. Bennet made my ears ache (as indeed the role demanded) and the actors playing Mr. Bennet and Mr. Collins were also subtly brilliant. All in all I was impressed.

This got me to thinking about the many other versions of this story: it has been a television play/series umpteen times and has also been a feature film twice. To be frank, I can remember absolutely nothing of the 2005 production starring Keira Knightley, although I know I have seen it, so it can't have left much of an impression. Then I remembered that I have a copy of the 1940 Hollywood movie and I thought I should have another look to see how it compared.

Well, obviously the plot needs to be condensed when reduced to under two hours and I thought the obvious attraction between Darcy and Elizabeth was too blatant without the constant verbal sparring of the longer version. However, being a buff of older Hollywood character actors, the casting was something of a treat with the five Bennet sisters all played to the hilt by established screen actresses (although I must say that Greer Garson was a lttle long in the tooth at 36 to play the 21-year old Lizzy). Mary Boland as the mother was nearly as annoying as Steadman, but Edmund Gwenn and Melville Cooper were the perfect Mr. Bennet and Mr. Collins. Even Laurence Olivier who I often find the ripest of hams was fine as Mr. Darcy, although I think Firth managed to out-Olivier him. The happiest casting of all however was reserved for Lady Catherine in the shape of the wonderful Edna Mae Oliver, even if the film's ending was altered to have her approve the forthcoming Darcy/Elizabeth nuptials. I probably would have enjoyed this rewatch more had I not just seen the mini-series and therefore been aware of the unnecessary tinkering with the plot and the curtailing of both the various characters and action.

So for once I find myself in the unusual position of actually preferring what in my pride I have labelled "TV fodder"; this prejudice is indeed ill-founded when it comes to this particular mini-series. I guess I am getting soft in my dotage...
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