Sunday, November 16, 2008

print versus screen: pride & prejudice

i've decided to have a regular feature that covers books i've read and the movies and television series that re-interpret them. i'm calling this feature print versus screen. first up i thought i'd discuss my all time favorite book pride & prejudice by jane austen.

i own three different editions of pride & prejudice. i love my first edition dearly--a paperback signet reprint from 1980. i bought this at a local bookstore called bell, book and candle in san juan, puerto rico when i was still in high school. i've read this book so often that the covers have been taped to the spine, and when reading the pages of the entire first volume fall out in your hand. this is the edition i read when i feel sick, sad, or depressed. it's like my velveteen rabbit of books. to preserve the book from completely falling to pieces, while we were still dating my husband bought me a lovely new edition from modern library classics as a gift for our first valentine's day together as a couple. i've enjoyed re-reading this edition of the novel, but nothing can top the love i have for my first edition. recently i purchased an enhanced ebook edition from penguin, this way i can carry my favorite book with me everywhere, easily.

in keeping with the idea of threes, i'm actually going to discuss three different film versions of the novel. the first up is robert z. leonard's pride and prejudice (1940) starring greer garson and laurence olivier in the title roles of elizabeth bennet and mr. fitzwilliam darcy.

olivier is an excellent darcy, he has the noble, aristocratic vein necessary to carry off darcy's arrogance. greer garson, however, is simply too old for the part of elizabeth. she's pushing 40 (ok, she was 36 when the film was released) and is older than olivier and looks it (she really did have 3 years on him). garson was an amazing actress, and she does an excellent job of embodying elizabeth's overall liveliness and sparkling wit, but watching this version of pride & prejudice has always been somewhat painful. some of my favorite movies are from the silver screen era, one renowned for its lack of realism, but this film rings particularly false to me. it's also not incredibly faithful to the book. i could forgive the differences if i felt they improved the story, but they do not improve much of anything in my opinion.

for loyalty to austen's original tale, you need not look any further than the bbc/a&e miniseries "pride and prejudice" (1995). jennifer ehle and colin firth play elizabeth and darcy in this version, though older than the characters in the book, in many ways they have embodied the spirit of austen's elizabeth and darcy more completely than any other pair of actors. the level of detail in this production is amazing, adding a few more scenes with darcy that round out the character a bit more than austen does in the book. my only real complaint with this version is that at 6 hours, it's a big time commitment. i also find some of the secondary characters unbearable, every line of dialogue alison steadman recites is actually in the book, but hearing her voice in my head is an unwelcome side effect of having watched this miniseries one too many times.

the most recent film adaptation is actually my favorite, joe wright's pride & prejudice (2005). keira knightley and matthew macfadyen assume the roles of elizabeth and darcy in this version. i think the film does a good job of adapting the novel to a run time of just over 2 hours. i think they cut or merged just what they needed to, i don't really miss those scenes from the book. i also think this film is probably the most natural and realistic of the three. in this film, more than any of the others, there are more exterior shots, rain and weather that reflect the characters' emotional states. this is the version i watch when i don't feel like reading and just want to spend the afternoon with elizabeth and darcy.

i love pride & prejudice. and i'll pretty much take it in any way i can. in fact, i think i'm going to go find my kindle and read my most recent acquisition.


  1. I can't believe you left out the 1980 edition, with David Rintoul as Darcy. Even when moving, he manages to appear breathtakingly two-dimensional. I speak of course, about his physical ability to resemble a cardboard cutout, but I suppose it also applies to his characterization. Masterful.

  2. i actually don't think i've seen that version. now i feel obligated to check it out, but forewarned is it truly as terrible as you make it sound?


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