barometry: ([austen] elizabeth)
[personal profile] barometry
It's only been two days and already I have the next installment in this series up! I confess myself somewhat startled.

(Previously: 1940, 1980)

I think it's fair to say that most people think of the 1995 BBC/A&E co-production, starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, as THE Pride and Prejudice adaptation,1 and I am certainly one of those people. I saw it for the first time sometme in high school, when the Literature Club2 watched the whole thing on VHS. Then I think I saw it again in English class when we read the novel in... Grade 10? And sometime after that I was given the box set as a gift, and I couldn't tell you how many times I've seen it since. Many many times, anyhow.


Since this is the first adaptation of the book I ever saw, and the one I've seen the most times (despite it being 6 hours long), my feelings about it are not particularly objective. It is the best! Ever! You should all watch it (again)!

Like the 1980 adaptation, it is quite faithful to the original book. I can't think of any major changes to the structure of the plot in either version: the differences between 1980 and 1995 are mostly in direction and casting. The style of BBC productions had also changed a bit in the meantime. The 1995 miniseries is much less stage-y, less overacted in places, and they seem to have figured out how to light interior scenes (though some of that might come from the fact that they weren't filming almost entirely on sound stages). I sometimes wonder if any of this should be attributed to the fact that this is an A&E co-production.

Another (somewhat subtle) difference, one I mentioned in my last post, is that they took a different approach to filming letters. This is important because a lot of important plot developments in Pride and Prejudice are communicated by or are the result of letters. Intellectually, I understand that written communication is a tricky thing to transfer to the screen, and that there are probably independent developments in filmmaking that inform how this is handled, but the side-by-side comparison is instructive.

In the 1940 movie, for example, they excised letter-reading almost entirely, replacing letters with in-person dialogue, so that Darcy has to unexpectedly visit in order to explain his history with Wickham, post-proposal. In the 1980 adaptation, by contrast, they trusted that the audience was sufficiently enraptured to listen to letters in voice-over while watching a mostly static shot of Elizabeth reading, occasionally interspersed with flashbacks of recycled footage representing her recollection of earlier events. I have to say, that even as the most enraptured viewer the scene where she reads Darcy's letter about Wickham felt at the time like it lasted most of an episode, rather than only 5-10 minutes.

In the 1995 miniseries they had advanced to having the voice-over of the letter act as a kind of narration for footage of the events the letter describes. These are the most significant added scenes in this adaptation, and they mostly illustrate the bad behaviour of Wickham and Lydia in a way that is much more obliquely referenced in the book (though it's hard to communicate to a modern audience the fact that Lydia running off with a guy is a super-serious transgression that will cast a pall on the whole family).

This miniseries did go a step too far with this, in my opinion. In their keeness not to have too many shots of someone staring out a window and thinking, they established what is known in my own circles as the Floating Darcy Head: rather than have Elizabeth stare at (boring) scenery, she stares at a transparent projection of Darcy's face! Much more exciting to the viewer, clearly.3

Some of the other details of the production are interesting in the ways they seem calculated to increase the appeal to the modern audience. A very minor instance of this is in the costuming, which is by and large very period-accurate -- except that Elizabeth almost never has anything filling in the neckline of her dress during the day, presumably because chemisettes (which most often looked like a kind of gauze neck ruffle) mostly look kind of unfortunate to modern eyes.

In a yet more blatant effort to sex up Regency apparel, this production is engaged in an elaborate game I call Filming Colin Firth Wet. Possibly it is supposed to be some kind of cipher for Mr. Darcy's feelings? At any rate, they have him in a bath at one point, have him pour a jug of water over his head, show him sweaty (though fully-clothed) while fencing, and at last have him jump into a lake after removing all his outerwear. All of these feel somewhat... peripheral? to the plot as a whole, and I am forced to conclude that they're there mostly so that they can film Colin Firth half-dressed.

On that topic: Poor Colin Firth. It took him like 15 years to get over having played Mr. Darcy, but now he has! Congratulations to him. I hope he gets lots of royalties from this role, especially with the gratuitous filming-him-wet just outlined.

My total partiality for this production aside, I do think that Colin Firth was the best Mr. Darcy yet filmed. He's proud and brusque and clearly totally in love with Elizabeth, oh my gosh the slightly creepy staring. And the creepy staring goes from impartial to clearly full of warmth! It is possible that I make high pitched noises and refer to this staring as "gazing" almost whenever I watch the miniseries.

I am similarly filled with enormous love for Jennifer Ehle's Elizabeth, but I don't think she reflects the Elizabeth of the novel quite as well as Colin Firth does Darcy. Her Elizabeth is playful and intelligent, sure, but equally calm and sedate. In many ways I actually think that Elizabeth Garvie in the 1980 production played closer to the playfulness of Elizabeth as written -- but her acting was also over the top in a way, too arch and self-conscious, so that in the end I still prefer Jennifer Elhe.

The other casting for the 1995 adaptation is solid all around, if not always amazing. Mr. Collins is the Creepiest Creepster Ever, and I love both Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. I like Lady Catherine, she's wonderful and imperious, but it's hard to imagine her strong-arming anyone into anything, unlike the 1980 version. Lydia and Jane -- the two sisters most important to the plot -- are both solid, though I confess neither is my favourite. (My favourite portrayals of all the sisters actually come from the 2005 adaptation. But more on that later.)

A lot of these comments are semi-negative, so I feel I should re-iterate that this adaptation has a place incredibly close to my heart. I love it irrationally and completely, and think that everyone should see it -- and having seen it, should admit that it is basically the best thing ever. My reaction to things that I love is often to examine and critique them relentlessly, something I have realized many people find odd or off-putting. I have never quite decided if I think this is a common fannish impulse, though it's certainly common in the parts of fandom I find interesting.

I find it really interesting to reflect on this emotional attachment, and see how it colours my reactions differently from how other people's colour theirs. As I mentioned last time, when I was hunting around years ago for information on the adaptations of Pride and Prejudice before this one, I found lots of comments from people for whom the 1980 version was clearly THE Pride and Prejudice adaptation, people who quite disliked the 1995 series. These people didn't feel Colin Firth embodied Mr. Darcy! They thought Jennifer Ehle paled in comparison to Elizabeth Garvie! This did give me some perspective when I came to see the 2005 movie -- to which my first reaction was intense and violent dislike -- and it is that most recent adaptation to which I will turn next.

1: I should qualify this to say that most people who were alive in 1995 think of this as the definitive edition. I recently learned to my horror that my younger sister thinks of the 2005 movie as THE Pride and Prejudice -- the horror is a little ridiculous but nonetheless genuine on my part, and it's possible that I immediately embarked on a campaign of showing her the 1995 version and giving her a copy of the book.

2: Yes, I was just that cool. I believe we watched the Pride and Prejudice miniseries in part because we were looking for a more structured activity than sitting in the library being social outcasts.

3: I always assume that someone in the production team was really excited about some technique for overlaying, say, an image of Darcy's face over a window Elizabeth is looking through, and decided to use it what feels like constantly, but is probably only 2-3 times.

Date: 2013-01-17 03:02 am (UTC)
chaila: Diana SWORDFIGHTING in a BALLGOWN. (mr. darcy IS smiling)
From: [personal profile] chaila
Is it terrible that I don't remember which adaptation I saw first, 1995 or 2005? I think that might make me a terrible Austen fan. I should probably save my comments for the next post, because I may be the only Austen fan in existence who was alive in 1995 and for whom the 2005 movie is still THE adaptation. I KNOW. It's true though. It's Elizabeth though! And her sisters! I really can't peg it, but it's the only one I own and the one I would like to vid, and I just. . . love it. I love the 1995 one too though, and give Firth's Darcy the edge.

Date: 2013-01-17 05:25 am (UTC)
muccamukk: Charissa looking down at someone. Text: Yeah (Sarcasm Implied) (A-Team: Yeah...)
From: [personal profile] muccamukk
Haha. That poster is so perfect. Giant Floating Heads!

I will admit that I had read the book several times but never seen any of the movies. I mentioned to my roommate planning to see the Knightly one, and she sort of flipped out and sat me down and made me watch this one. All six hours of it. Apparently she had opinions about Austen adaptations?

Anyway, I really liked it, but didn't imprint on it as she clearly had.

Date: 2013-01-19 08:49 pm (UTC)
trinity_clare: (Default)
From: [personal profile] trinity_clare
I find this hilarious because my two younger sisters (who were toddlers in 1995) spent their entire winter break watching the 2005 movie. I think they watched it four times. One of them is an Austen fanatic, has read the book repeatedly, and still counts the 2005 one as her favorite movie of all time.

One day I will get them to watch the 1995 miniseries. One. Day.

Date: 2013-06-10 10:59 pm (UTC)
likeadeuce: (bella)
From: [personal profile] likeadeuce
she stares at a transparent projection of Darcy's face! Much more exciting to the viewer, clearly. . .I always assume that someone in the production team was really excited about some technique for overlaying, say, an image of Darcy's face over a window

A great punchline for this would be, "And that director of photography went on to direct Twilight: Eclipse, in which Bella's conversations with floating-head Edward embodied the absolute apex of that technique." I'm not going to look it up, either, because if I don't, it can keep being true in my head

More seriously, I just devoured all of your P&P analyses and I love reading your thoughts on them. I have to admit I've never been a huge fan of Firth's Darcy -- and he's an actor I absolutely love in basically everything else (possibly particularly in Bridget Jones because I imagine a subtext of him going, "I'm still doing this? REALLY?") But it's not because I think somebody else is better/I imprinted on another performance, as that I read the book in 8th grade (ie, 1989), re-read it three or four times after that, and then saw the adaptation when it aired 7 years later when I was in college, so I already had a very distinct Darcy in my head that Firth didn't fit, and probably no actor ever will.

Then again, undergraduate me was really twitchy about novel adaptations anyway; I've gotten a little better, probably from having more experience and seeing more adaptations. Also from superhero movies and Shakespeare productions, for that matter.

Again, I've loved all your reviews, thanks for sharing!


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Barometry Jones

October 2014


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