I’m going to start with the Jane Austen novel that is the most famous and the most loved. It’s so commonly known (and its plot is so often copied in today’s romcom movies) that I will forego the story synopsis and get right down to talking about the characters.
Pride and Prejudice was the reason I bought the complete Jane Austen novel collection; I had seen the Wishbone episode on “P&P” (as we Austenites affectionately call it) and wanted to read it myself. Some of my fondest reading memories are of lying on the carpet behind our couch, head propped up on my wrists over the tiny lettering.
It was from P&P I learned what “amiable” meant. (Jane Austen loves the word “amiable.” Just read all her stuff and you’ll see I’m right.) It is also from P&P that my mom and sister and I gleaned the phrase “her lace slipped” as a euphemism for a low-cut blouse.
Unlike most Austenites, I don’t really care for Mr. Darcy, at least in comparison with other literary gentlemen. And I don’t even see what’s so particularly spectacular about our heroine, Elizabeth. But put them in a room together, and sparks fly. The fact is, this novel has two flawed, normal characters who share the same shortcomings (pride and prejudice) as well as the same virtues (discretion, honor, common sense). Austen wrote with a wit that makes this book easily read as a romantic comedy, but make no mistake: there is real heart underneath the humor.
Now to deal with the whole “what adaptation should I watch?” issue. Of course the most recent version is the two-hour-long Keira Knightley centerpiece. While I like Matthew McFadyen’s Mr. Darcy (Darcy’s initial rudeness is given the excuse that he’s really shy, which is better than most adaptations), I always feel like Keira Knightley is wrong for heroines of period dramas. She has too “modern” a beauty.
But the main problem with this version is the time: as I said, it’s two hours long, and so instead of the massive plot-editing which would have been necessary to squeeze P&P into that time slot, they just had the actors talk really REALLY fast.
...and yet they waste time filming Elizabeth twirling on a swing.
Then there’s the “Colin Firth Version,” made in 1995 by A&E. Among almost everyone I’ve discussed the adaptations with, this is the winner for favorite. It’s pretty good.
Colin Firth does a good job as Mr. Darcy, but again I just can’t reconcile Jennifer Ehle with how I pictured Elizabeth Bennett when I read the book.
This miniseries is eight hours long, enough time to reread the book instead, but I recommend it to any fans of the novel.
Want a more humor-centered adaptation? Then you MUST try the Greer Garson one. If I didn’t know any better, I’d have thought that this was a parody of the novel. But knowing old movies and their disdain for historical accuracy, this was a serious attempt at an adaptation, 1940’s-style. Watch! As Elizabeth goes around in Gone with the Wind garb. She was so fashion-forward. About 50 years forward, to be specific. Wonder! As it turns out that Lady Catherine de Bourgh is not a villain, but actually Cupid in disguise! Snicker! As Laurence Olivier is kind of an emo Mr. Darcy, the likes of which we will not see until the infamous “dawn proposal” scene in the Keira Knightley version.
And finally, my personal favorite Pride and Prejudice is the 1980 BBC version. Half the actors are stiff, the sets look like sets, and Mr. Darcy is pretty much a statue. Why is it my favorite, then? Because the other half of the characters are perfect. Most importantly, Elizabeth. Elizabeth Garvie has the eyes for it.
Recommended Reading Age: 13+, depending on the reading level. I will say that Jane Austen will do wonders for the vocabulary.
Parental Notes: Just make sure your kids don’t take Wickham or Lydia as a role model and you should be fine.
Availability: Oh so much. Since they’re one of my favorite hardcover bindings, for this series of reviews I’m going to be recommending the Penguin Classics editions.
Adaptations: See above.Other Works: TONS. Everything from mystery novels to time-travelling fangirls to modern updates to zombies. I haven’t read any of them. Enter the realm of “fanfiction” at your own risk.