Friday, October 8, 2010

"Pride and Prejudice" (1980)

**This article was contributed by the Supreme Arbitress of Taste and is the final installment of "Pride & Prejudice Week.  I imagine there will be more reviews and responses to what has been posted, so keep your eyes peeled for those.**

For sheer accuracy to the book, I still maintain that you can't beat the 1995 BBC version, but surprisingly enough there's a contingency of people that prefer an early BBC adaptation from 1980. I honestly have very mixed feelings about this version. Although they did many things correctly--there's a lot to admire--I still feel like it's not as good as it's successor.

Elizabeth Garvie looks the part of Elizabeth Bennett better than any other
actress to take the role, but she lacks the sparkling personality though she's
certainly wise and reflective enough to fit the changes Elizabeth goes through.

Still, as this film remains largely unknown, I feel compelled to give a fairly detailed review. To start with, the opening credits of this miniseries are a delight to watch because they are a scroll over cartoon renditions of scenes from the episode which cannot help but make me laugh. The cinematography is not very good, but it beats other Austen adaptations of the era substantially. The music also is unremarkable without being bad. But really there's not much of it, and thus my remarks a limited.

Now let me talk about the Lizzie in this version, played by Elizabeth Garvie. I think she certainly had the look of Elizabeth, but she lacks the animation and cynicism central to the character. Instead we get a very quiet, reflective Miss Bennett, which makes her transition to greater self-awareness and love for Mr. Darcy more plausible than I've seen in any other version. Despite this I cannot get over how much she feels like of a pale imitation of the vivacious character we know and love in the first half of the film, so the performance ultimately falls flat for me.

This, however, is nothing compared to the fault of the Darcy in this version, played by David Rintoul. His is a one-note performance: cold. Seriously I don't think this guy so much as raises an eyebrow throughout the whole performance, and his proposal scene is one of the least convincing I've ever seen. The only commendation I will give him is that he looks the part admirably: tall dark and handsome in the extreme.

Now as to the minor characters. I feel like they're much more well-rounded than they are in the '95 classic, but at the same time much of the humor is removed in this process. The Bennett girls do look closer to their actual ages in the book, which I greatly appreciate, and Mrs. Bennett feels like a real person without being absurd. My main problem with the Bennetts in this is how much they deflate Mr. Bennett into a gruff chauvinist and a tyrant. All his mirth and wit seem to be removed, and thus he loses all sympathy in the eyes of the audience.

Outside the Bennet family, I don't feel like the minor parts were characterized as well because they has so little screen time. Sir William Lucas, the Bingley sisters, Charlotte, Mr. Wickham, and Mr. Gardener all seem to be there in name only, with no very distinguishing characteristics, which is sad because they add wonderful color to the narrative in the book.

I will, however, give this version points for two minor, non-Bennett characters. Mrs. Gardener gets credit first for being portrayed much more as as a confidant to Lizzie, wise and sagacious but lacking the streak or wry humor that makes her tease Lizzie about Darcy in her letter. So I actually still prefer the Mrs. Gardener from the '95 version, but I deeply appreciated the expanded role she was given in this one. The next role that I give them credit for is the ever-difficult Mr. Collins. This Collins is, to quote Blackadder, is "As thick as clotted cream that's been left out by some clot until the clots are so clotted that they couldn't be un-clotted with an electric de-clotter," which is just what we want in the character. At the same time, however, he doesn't seem as slimy or sniveling as he was in both the '95 miniseries and to a certain extent in the '05 theatrical release. This Collins is in awe of Lady Catherine without sucking up to her, which is how I've always pictured him.

One thing I give this version a lot of credit for incorporating is some of Austen's memorable narrative voice, much of which gets put into voice-overs by Lizzie and into the mouths of other characters by way of needed plot exposition. When you're dealing with an adaptation of one of the most quotable authors in the English language, it's important to pay homage to her memorable voice. Still, however, many of the best lines of the book remain omitted, including some of the best Lizzie/Darcy banter.

Then, of course, I will have to criticize this version for cutting the ending short, but since all the adaptations do that, I can hardly blame them any more than the others. I actually will express my satisfaction that they included a scene where the Bennetts invited Bingley and Darcy over for a party, and Lizzie tries in vain all evening to speak to Mr. Darcy. That scene does an excellent job at making us feel her frustration at not being able to express her thanks to Mr. Darcy . I also give this version credit for showing Mrs. Bennett's reaction to the news of Lizzie's engagement, which no other version to my knowledge shows, and which was always a favorite of mine from the book. Still, that is the final scene of the film, and its abrupt ending leaves viewers dazed and confused at the lack of a denouement as the credits roll.

"Did you admire me for my impertinence?" Lizzie asks Mr. Darcy

So how does this adaptation fare compared to the others? Well, it's leaps and bounds above the 1940 debacle with Laurence Olivier--it breaks my heart to speak against my ultimate Hollywood crush--and Greer Garson. Although it lacks the emotional depth and humor of both the 1995 and 2005 versions, it still a very good adaptation, sticking to the book nearly as well as the 1995 masterpiece. Still, because the acting is so wooden and the characters so miscast in many cases, it is not one I can watch very often with the same pleasure as the '95. At the same time, however,  it certainly does not inspire homicidal thoughts in me the same way truly bad adaptations do. So in conclusion, it's a credible and effort but not stellar work.

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