Much celebration is surrounding the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice, observed January 28 — and rightly so. But not enough is being made about the production of films and mini-series which bring her novels to life in the most brilliant ways.
The only thing that would improve Andrew Davies’ 1995 adaption of Pride and Prejudice is if it didn’t have an end. A reader of P&P will find virtually no disparities between the mini-series and the book, putting one in conceivable danger of not needing to read the print version. Such is not the case with the abomination that is the 2005 Hollywood version starring Keira Knightly, however, the worth of which amounts to a mocking diversion worthy of a Mystery Science Theater feature.
Davies’ Pride and Prejudice truly has it all. In the course of one (six-hour) viewing, an audience encounters every type of human character and experiences every type of emotion. Elements both of tragedy and comedy are mixed irresistibly with rich romance, and captured throughout is the delightfully uncomfortable kind of awkwardness that makes the viewer squirm sympathetically.
It is rare to find any screen representation as good as the book, but this comes close. It is a truth universally acknowledged that any attempt to improve upon Davies’ production will forever fall short. It’s aesthetically beautiful and cast to a T. The themes of love and marriage, duty, honor, society, and class are timeless. This being said, it would be criminal not to read the book which inspired this cinematical treasure. Some phrases, invaluable to everyday life, would be missed:
“I am excessively diverted.”
“It’s been many years since I had such an exemplary vegetable.”
“What are men to rocks and mountains?”
“I have not the pleasure of understanding you.”
“Is not general incivility the very essence of love?”
“Mary wished to say something very sensible, but knew not how.”
Another Austen rendering, Sense and Sensibility, came out in 1995, starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. It’s no Pride and Prejudice, but it’s very good, and Hugh Grant takes graceless bumbling to remarkable new heights. Gwynth Paltrow also plays an excellent Miss Woodehouse in the 1996 production of Emma, but as it is neither of these novel’s 200th birthday, I will put off expounding, as Mr. Collins would say, my “excellent judgment in all matters within the scope of [my] understanding.”