by Allan Fish
(UK 1995 301m) DVD1/2
p Sue Birtwistle d Simon Langton w Andrew Davies novel Jane Austen ph John Kenway ed Peter Coulson m Carl Davis (including “Voi Che Sapéte” from “The Marriage of Figaro” by W.A.Mozart) art Gerry Scott, Marjorie Pratt, Mark Kebby, John Collins cos Dinah Collin
Jennifer Ehle (Elizabeth Bennet), Colin Firth (Fitzwilliam Darcy), Alison Steadman (Mrs Fanny Bennet), Benjamin Whitrow (Mr Bennet), David Bamber (William Collins), Barbara Leigh-Hunt (Lady Catherine de Bourgh), Susannah Harker (Jane Bennet), Crispin Bonham Carter (Charles Bingley), Anna Chancellor (Caroline Bingley), Lucy Scott (Charlotte Lucas), Adrian Lukis (George Wickham), Julia Sawalha (Lydia Bennet), Lucy Briers (Mary Bennet), Polly Maberly (Kitty Bennet), Christopher Benjamin (Sir William Lucas), Joanna David (Mrs Gardiner), Tim Wylton (Edward Gardiner), Anthony Calf (Col.Fitzwilliam), Nadia Chambers (Anne de Bourgh), Emilia Fox (Georgiana Darcy), Lucy Robinson (Mrs Louisa Hurst), Rupert Vansittart (Mr Hurst), Lynn Farleigh (Mrs Phillips), Lucy Davis (Maria Lucas), Paul Moriarty (Col.Forster), Harriet Eastcott (Mrs Jenkinson), Tom Ward (Lt.Chamberlayne), Sarah Legg (Hannah),
In the mid-nineties, Jane Austen was plat du jour. The BBC had made Persuasion for TV and the need for such refined fare was so great it was released in the cinema in the States. Ang Lee and Emma Thompson combined to bring us a richly entertaining version of Sense and Sensibility which cemented the stardom of Kate Winslet and gave Hugh Laurie one of the great vignettes of modern times. Gwyneth Paltrow showed her comfort with everything Anglofied by perfectly capturing Austen’s most popular heroine, Emma. (I also mirthfully recall a titbit quoted by Sarah Michelle Gellar in Empire magazine about how someone she knew remarked how Emma had been a complete rip-off of Amy Heckerling’s Clueless; I completely share her horror.) Pride of place, however, if you forgive the pun, must go to the Andrew Davies scripted six-part version of Pride and Prejudice screened in the autumn of 1995.
It was hardly the first version of Austen’s sublime romantic/class comedy; many people still adore the 1940 Hollywood version with Greer Garson (too old) and Laurence Olivier (too bored) generally upstaged by Melville Cooper and Edmund Gwenn’s sideshows. To me, though entertaining, it was not only anachronistic but a travesty of the original text. Other BBC versions had also come and gone, including one with Peter Cushing as Darcy that some stuff-shirts still clinged to as the best, but to these eyes it is the one that co captivated a nation just over a decade ago that stands tallest. That might have had something to do with the somewhat unbelievable sequence where Firth’s Mr Darcy goes for an impromptu swim and returns to his ancestral pad looking rather wet and dishevelled, which left women up and down the land swooning in their armchairs. I prefer to think of it as the best for its sheer narrative control (after Bleak House, Davies’ finest adaptation achievement), perfect casting and general feel of the period. Carl Davis’ jaunty music sets the scene from the first instant, while visually the production was without fault. Amongst the cast, Benjamin Whitrow and David Bamber deserved special praise for at least matching the seemingly matchless aforementioned duo, Gwenn and Cooper, each a vignette to treasure, while Steadman is as horrendous and abominable as Austen clearly intended her to be. At its centre, meanwhile, an imperious Ehle as Elizabeth, relishing each and every insult received and parried, while Firth’s Darcy is simply immaculately starchy. He may have been as baffled by the subsequent attention as anyone, but he obviously took it in good grace in accepting the in-joke of playing basically the same part, even in name, in Bridget Jones’s Diary. Ten years on, another movie version came along. Keira Knightley was fine, but in truth it was very much the short attention span version, ideal for this generation, but as forgettable and disposable as an old razor. Better by far to check out the real thing.