Pride in Performance
In honor of my re-reading of Pride and Prejudice (my favorite novel of all time) this month, and given the fact that I am a huge film buff, I am eager at the moment to discuss a bit about that work onscreen. In addition, the venerated 1995 BBC miniseries version of the novel starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle received a brand-new remastered DVD edition near the end of April, so this is the adaptation that naturally draws my attention now.
Upon it’s airing in 1995, this production caused a stir with it’s infamous “wet shirt” scene, in which Firth’s Mr. Darcy dives into a small lake on his estate, Pemberley, as a means of temporary relief from his ardent feelings for Ehle’s Elizabeth Bennet. The scene polarized the Austen fan community--some loved the evidence this gives of Darcy‘s feelings, while others thought it inappropriate. (Pardon the recap, all you Janeites--I’m aware that you all already know this!) For me, this touch is indicative of what is the central and best characteristic of this version: it is thorough. Thorough to the point of tangibly representing the effect that Darcy’s feelings for Elizabeth have on him, which works in tandem with Austen’s words to demonstrate how dynamic a character he is.
Romance abounds in this adaptation, of course, but this is achieved through more than just Austen’s love story. The staging and performances throughout constantly emphasize the couple’s developing attraction, and one brief moment in particular just sends this into the stratosphere. During the scene in the second half in which Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle visit Pemberley for dinner, the close-up on Firth’s face as Ehle plays the piano is simply referred to by fans as “The Look”; if you’re a woman watching that scene and you DON’T want to be looked at that way, you need to check if you have a pulse. Seriously.
Of course, as Austen-philes, we want an adaptation to be thorough BECAUSE the story is romantic, as well as funny. Two people trading barbs to cover up attraction is too classic and entertaining a storyline not to enjoy, and many examples continue to be provided to audiences. Ron and Hermione in the Harry Potter series is another favorite of mine, while just recently, the new film Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time has it’s lead couple bicker. And there are many more to choose from. Pride and Prejudice certainly has other versions onscreen to get lost in, but after re-reading my favorite novel of all time this month, I think I will watch the 1995 BBC miniseries all over again.