For many of us, this is the one that started it all. Some of you read the book first, however many more of us were hooked by either the Colin Firth wet shirt version of 1995 or with the Keira Knightly muddy hem version of 2005 and then went on to read the amazing book. The adaptation you saw first probably says more about your age than anything and it is probably the version you prefer. One of my former work colleagues actually disliked Colin Firth as Darcy (?!?!) and preferred the old BBC version from the 1980s. It would seem that every generation needs its own Darcy.
So, with my own prejudice, I will start with my 1995 version. This one got me through a long winter with a baby and a 3 year old as I videotaped it from television and just about wore out the tapes before I could purchase the VHS videos. Yes you young ones, this was before DVDs were widely available. As a small aside, the VHS tapes had better colour (really noticeably) and were the perfect length at 1 hour each on 6 tapes. The DVD is broken up as two 3 hour discs which one is tempted to watch all at once but all too often have to abandon mid disc when real life intrudes, e.g. “Can I have a ride, Mom?” Honestly!
Well, Colin Firth was for me, the definitive Darcy. He just owned the role and scenes like “the look” over the piano at Pemberley still make me swoon. Certainly, it is not a perfect production, but there are so many perfect moments that the over all effect would make Miss Austen proud, I think. Alison Steadman as Mrs. Bennett is a little shrill, or a lot shrill depending on your tolerance level but the rest of the casting is spot on. Jennifer Ehle has the confidence and playfulness to be quite believable as Lizzy, even if she was a little older than Lizzy. I love the fact that Ehle and Firth had a fling while filming this. Even she couldn’t resist Colin’s Mr. Darcy. And I think that Benjamin Whitrow will never be equalled as Mr. Bennett. When he kisses her forehead in his study near the end, it makes me wish my Dad was still around.
At 300 minutes, the amazing Andrew Davies was able to make a script that really did justice to Jane Austen’s book without being too slavish. He added some things and changed others to the benefit of the story. However, at times such as the proposal scene at Hunsford, Miss Austen’s words are kept virtually intact and brought to life better than I could ever have imagined in my head. Colin Firth’s proposal “In vain I have struggled, it will not do. My feelings will not be repressed.” is perfection. In this production, even the minor characters like Mary Bennett, the Bingley sisters and Maria Lucas are done justice and really help us to be in the story. Only at the very end does one wish that there were more time to spend with Lizzy and her Mr. Darcy before they drive off in their carriage. There are actually some conversations between them at the end of the book which have never been dramatized. P&P 2015 perhaps?
I am surprised at how many men actually love this production. But why shouldn’t they love Jennifer Ehle’s Elizabeth as much as we love Darcy, and the sheer magnificence of the production with it’s attention to detail, gorgeous sets and impeccable acting and direction should bridge the gender gap. The music is also very in tune with the entire production and brings it to life.
I am considering purchasing this new restored edition as my DVD edition has washed out color in it. It was very surprising to me that my old VCR tapes gave better color than the DVDs. I guess that is why they restored it. If someone has this, please post and tell me if it is worth replacing my DVDs. Mine are getting pretty warped and just about to be relegated to drink coasters as it is, but if this is better (or the Blu-ray), let me know.
In any case, this one is hard to beat and is very dear to the hearts of many viewers all over the world. This is the one that really started the resurgence of Austen mania the world over.