Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Janespotting: Oh, Mr. Darcy! (P&P 1995 miniseries)

That's right, ladies, it's time to fetch your fainting couches: I'm writing about the 1995 BBC/A&E miniseries of Pride and Prejudice, starring Jennifer Ehle and (sigh!) Colin Firth. This is the version that is almost universally beloved, and for good reason. At five hours, it has the time to be completely faithful to the novel. All the characters we love are there, fully developed, and in some cases we see a little more that is in the novel.* Luckily, the writing is faithful to Austen's wit, too, and the pacing is so good that it is really difficult to stop watching once you start. Looking at where they placed the breaks for the miniseries, originally broadcast in six parts, provides a great lesson on pacing and cliffhangers:

1: Lizzy and Jane leave Netherfield; Mr. Bingley could be in love with Jane
2: Lizzy refuses the proposal of Mr. Collins, upsetting her mother
3: Lizzy refuses Mr. Darcy—she didn't even know he was in love with her!
4: Lizzy leaves Pemberley after seeing Darcy again—could he still love her?
5: Lydia's scandal is resolved, but Lizzy worries that Mr. Darcy might still think ill of her
6: Happily married, Lizzy and Mr. Darcy kiss (swoon!)

Of course, we wouldn't be sucked into the story so completely if we didn't fall in love with the characters. Brilliant perfomances abound; even the minor characters have been cast with care. Jennifer Ehle is a charming, witty Lizzy; even when she isn't speaking, her eyes sparkle. (Since Darcy's first admission to finding her interesting is in contemplating her "fine eyes," this is more important than it sounds.)

The performance that makes this the definitive Pride and Prejudice, however, is that of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. It is Darcy's character, after all, who makes the greatest journey: from arrogant indifference to thwarted lover to earnest friend. Firth makes this change evident; what is more remarkable is that he does it without very much dialogue. He doesn't say much, instead managing show Darcy's subtle changes through a pointed look, a slight smile, a raised eyebrow. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Colin Firth is totally dreamy, tall, dark, and handsome.** For many people, Firth is irrevocably connected with the character—just ask Helen Fielding, whose Bridget Jones's Diary, loosely based on Pride and Prejudice, made him the focus of Bridget's obsession. (This connection hasn't hurt his career, as he's gone on to appear and star in many big films, including The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love, Mamma Mia, and, most ironically, as Mark Darcy in the aforementioned Bridget Jones's Diary.)

For anyone who loves Austen, period drama, romance, or just plain good storytelling, you could do worse than sit down with a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates, and the DVD of this miniseries of Pride and Prejudice.

*You'll notice that while purists complain about other versions that leave out characters or subplots or change the details of the setting a little bit, you never hear someone say, "Mr. Darcy never would have dived into a lake and appeared in a wet shirt—they should have left that bit out."
**See above regarding the bathing and fencing scenes.

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