barometry: ([austen] on horseback)
[personal profile] barometry
(Previously: Part One)

As you may recall, ages ago I made all these noises about making a series of posts about Pride and Prejudice adaptations. Then I made exactly one, and then fell off the face of the internet (except for occasionally reblogging things on tumblr). I've been feeling kind of guilty about that, though I will confess that that guilt is only about 10% of why I haven't posted anything else here in forever, but I've decided to take more or less the same approach to procrastination that some people suggest as a strategy for paying off credit debt: start with the smallest things first, so that you get a sense of reward and satisfaction early on.

Right, so this (much delayed) second post about Pride and Prejudice moves onto the 1980 BBC adaptation, which is subtitled (or alternately titled?) First Impressions. Which was the original title of the novel! This is the first of many ways in which it is clear that this was an adaptation made for people Serious About The Book. Not necessarily in a bad way, just a very BBC way.


As far as I can tell, no one in this adaptation is famous from anywhere else -- unless, perhaps, you watch a lot of British television from the 70s and 80s. And if you watch a lot of British television from the 70s and 80s -- or, heck, BBC adaptations even much more recent than that -- you will notice that this production has the instant visual feel of a BBC production, in the same way that public radio is instantly recognizable when you're scanning through radio stations. I don't know if they have terrible cameras, or terrible film, or terrible lighting, but it is undeniable that many BBC productions have a certain very stage-y look.

Almost as immediately apparent as the film quality is the fact that this production is going to be painstakingly faithful to the novel and to the Regency period, even if that means all the women are wearing ridiculous ruffled chemisettes in all the daytime scenes. This production is slightly shorter than the 1995 adaptation (5 episodes for a total of about 4.4 hours), but I think on balance it manages to include more details from the book.

That faithfulness, to be honest, is not absolutely to the benefit of the production, even for a wild-eyed devotée of the book like myself.1 Many lines that originally occurred in unspoken narration are copy-pasted into conversational dialogue, where they are almost invariably unnatural and occasionally out of character. Admittedly, it is absolutely necessary that someone say that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife, but I feel that beyond that point the script should probably exercise as much restraint as possible -- especially since the actual dialogue from the book already tends towards unnaturally continuous monologues (thank you historical standards of fiction!).

After the faithfulness and BBC-ness of it all, the most striking aspect of this production is Darcy, who I invariably refer to as Robo-Darcy. I don't really have the words to describe how he's robotic, so let me do this in video form:

So, yeah. And he's a major character, so it kind of stands out. Though I should say, even Robo-Darcy grew on me through the five episdoes -- and so did Elizabeth, who is kind of over-the-top and stage-y herself.

The other casting is a bit of a mixed bag. Kitty and Lydia, the silly younger sisters, are pretty terrible. Mostly they make affected remarks about officers (starting from episode 1, so slightly distorting the time line of the book), really loudly and not terribly convincingly. Mr. Bennet is the strictest ever, stern and grave 100% of the time, which is not precisely out of character from the book, but is certainly a different interpretation than most people have of the character. The rest of the cast is fine, in my opinion, without any real standouts for good or bad, with one notable exception. This being a Super Faithful Adaptation, no characters are eliminated, which means that it is one of only two adaptations to feature Col. Fitzwilliam! And this Fitzwilliam is without a doubt my favourite of the two I've seen on screen, fitting the description from the books and making it clear why Elizabeth would like him so much: he's less handsome than either Darcy (even Robo-Darcy) or Wickham, but more engaging than Darcy and with more substance than Wickham. And he and Elizabeth have an actual contentful on-screen conversation that shows what a well-informed conversation was supposed to look like in that historical period! In short, Col. Fitzwilliam is the best thing ever.2

This adaptation might also have my favourite officious Lady Catherine -- or, well, 'favourite' might be an odd way to put it. This is the Lady Catherine who I can most clearly see "whenever any of the cottagers were disposed to be quarrelsome, discontented or too poor, [sallying] forth into the village to settle their differences, silence their complaints, and scold them into harmony and plenty." This is done partly through some added scenes where Lady Catherine harangues Charlotte Collins (née Lucas) about her housekeeping, and partly though actual acting, which is always a bonus.

Indeed, though the adage "show don't tell" annoys me more frequently than not,3 this adaptation illustrates it very well. It's strongest, I think, when they do manage to show rather than tell -- which they basically only let themselves do for things that were wholly implicit in the book -- and weakest when they rely entirely on telling. This might be clearest in the scene where Elizabeth reads the letter Darcy gives her after the first proposal. This scene lasts almost 10 minutes, and consists mostly of a voice-over during largely static shots of Elizabeth sitting on a log and Darcy walking slowly and implacably across a field. It's hard to film a letter-reading scene, I'll admit, but I think the 1995 adaptation did a good job of learning from this mistake, and livened it up with some flashback footage.

As might be clear from a lot of this text, at almost every point this adaptation is best compared with the 1995 miniseries. More on that next time, since I should probably talk more about that production on its own terms before I start waxing eloquent about how I think it compares to this one.

A personal note that is relevant at this juncture though: of the four adaptations I'm talking about in this series, this was the last I got around to watching, at a time when I was already thinking about the adaptations from a fairly analytic perspective, from their decisions about costuming, to their representation of period dancing, to the pacing of the plot as a whole. I therefore find it really interesting to think about what the adaptation must have felt like in 1980, where the only thing it was competing with was the 1940 movie (which, let's be honest, is a terrible adaptation, whatever its virtues as an example of film making from that era). From that perspective, it's undeniable that to the 1980s fan of the novel, this adaptation would have been amazing, the best thing ever. And that's interesting to think about, because I was once on the internet reading some old reviews of the 1995 miniseries, which tended strongly towards sentiments such as: "Colin Firth is not my idea of Mr. Darcy, and Jennifer Ehle is a fine actress but will never match Elizabeth Garvie as my perfect image of Elizabeth Bennet." At the time I couldn't fathom these opinions,4 but now I can more completely understand the idea of imprinting on a particular production of something, even when you're able to abstractly acknowledge some of its flaws (and especially when you aren't able to abstractly acknowledge some flaws).

So yeah. Stay tuned for Part Three. Hopefully it won't take me four months this time?

1: It has been a slow and gradual process through which I have come to admit that what makes a good book is not exactly the same as what makes a good movie or show (though I am still slightly bitter about Stardust), but I am proud to say that I no longer automatically condemn deviations from source material.

2: I remain distantly confused about the whole one-cousin's-last-name-is-the-other-cousin's-first-name thing.

3: At least in writing. It's too often used to criticize world building exposition, and I am weak for world building exposition, and annoyed when it's left out. On the other hand, when you are working in a visual medium, probably better to show what you can.

4: Frankly, having now seen Robo-Darcy, I still can't fathom some of them.
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barometry: solid wall of paperbacks stacked up (Default)
Barometry Jones

October 2014


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