Pride and Prejudice: '95 or '05? You Decide

By Friday, June 12, 2015 , ,

Dare I tread this constant debate? People get mad, as many of you probably know, when the subject is broached, because every Austen fan usually has loyalty to either the 1995 miniseries or the 2005 movie of Pride and Prejudice. But I’d like to dip into the argument, if you’ll permit me, and I hope you’ll bring at least a little bit of an open mind. Stick with me, and I hope to give good reasons and perhaps point out new things.

If your only knowledge of Pride and Prejudice comes from a screen adaptation, before you do anything else, please go straight to Amazon and purchase this book. That is all.
I must confess upfront that personally, I am partial to the 2005 film starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen. It was my first exposure to anything Jane Austen-related, so it holds a special place in my heart, and there are many other reasons I’ll explain in a bit here. But since seeing it, I’ve become familiar with all of Austen’s novels, as well as their screen adaptations. And yes, I have learned to appreciate the 1995 miniseries with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, which so many fans swear by. And recently, I’ve started thinking that both are worthy works of art and deserve credit in different ways. There are pros and cons to both, and we don’t necessarily have to “choose” just one. I think that’s the common mindset – you have to love one and sniff snootily at the other. But I don’t think that has to be the case, though the debate is rather fun.

: Obviously, what avid devotees of this five-hour miniseries usually gush about is its hard and fast faithfulness to Austen’s novel. Almost word for word, this is the Pride and Prejudice book on film. And that’s certainly an admirable feat for a screen adaptation, especially in how the writer translates Austen’s dialogue to interaction that’s entertaining to watch. What’s more, since it follows the book so religiously, you see certain relationships and characters develop more than you do in the 2005 movie. I appreciate the time it takes to show how much Elizabeth really does like Mr. Wickham before his misdeeds are exposed, and I like seeing the flashbacks to Mr. Darcy’s history with Wickham. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Colin Firth as Darcy is another plus for this version. He has the arrogant, aristocratic brooding down to a science, and his ever-stern expression makes his rare smile all the more pleasant. Probably my favorite moment of his is when he catches up to Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle before they leave Pemberley the first time, and he tells Elizabeth, “Your good opinion is rarely bestowed, therefore more worth the earning.” Sorry (except I’m not), but the smart, gentlemanly, forest green coat and boots with his ever-so-slight smile at that part do way more for me than the bewildered wet shirt scene that comes beforehand.

Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle as Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet
{Photo Source: FanPop}
Cons: While the attention to book details has its benefits, such as getting to know the characters, I must be honest: I feel like at some points during the miniseries, it’s so dadgum specific to every single line of the book that it gets a bit tedious. Yes, it’s important to honor the book you’re adapting, but at the same time, film is a completely different medium than literature, so there’s room for artistic license. Similarly, there are moments in this version that I think drag it out unnecessarily, such as excessive focus on other period-specific shots, like seeing guests arrive at a dance or walk up to a grand house for dinner. Not that those things aren’t important, but there are ways to show them while advancing the story and dialogue rather than just giving us drawn-out detail shots just to show how period-faithful they are.

2005 FILM
: This version is the winner in production quality. The scenery, costumes, music, sets…all of it is breathtaking. It’s an aesthetic treat, and though it varies from the book somewhat, I think this adaptation captures Pride and Prejudice’s heart and emotion well. For example, book aficionados criticize it for deviating from the book in certain key scenes, like setting Mr. Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth in a rainy park rather than the house at Hunsford on a quiet afternoon. Sure, it’s different from the book, but the rain reflects their emotions as they fume at each other, and it’s still a fantastically done scene (And I hate to be a Debbie-downer, but let’s remember the wet shirt routine in the miniseries isn’t in the book either). And speaking of that scene, I think it brings out the excellent chemistry that Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen have throughout. No offense to Colin Firth or Jennifer Ehle, but I think Keira and Matthew are a more convincing Lizzy and Darcy as a whole. They’re closer in age to one another and to their characters than Colin and Jennifer were, and they’re superb with all the subtle looks that help you see their struggle against liking each other at first. Every scene they have together is fraught with underlying tension and it’s positively delicious. And while we’re talking actors, I do think the cast as a whole is stronger in this version too. Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennet is one of my faves, especially in that scene at the end when Elizabeth says she loves Mr. Darcy. He pulls off the sarcasm easily, but he does the emotional side at that part brilliantly too. 

Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightley as Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet
{Photo Source:}
Cons: The shorter time limit for a movie necessitates trimming down, but the obvious disadvantage to this version is that it really does move through the story at lightning speed, so you see less of certain characters. For example, anyone can see Elizabeth and Jane are close, but their friendship gets far less screen time in this version than in the miniseries, and I miss it. Another character I decidedly miss now in this version is Colonel Fitzwilliam, as he’s only there for about two short scenes. After reading the book, he definitely became one of my favorite side characters, and you see much more of his friendship with Elizabeth in the miniseries. Elizabeth and the Gardiners’ trip to Derbyshire and Pemberley is also cut sadly short in this version, so you see less of Georgiana Darcy and Mr. Darcy’s efforts to impress Elizabeth there. Elizabeth and Darcy and their feelings are certainly the focus, which is a pro in its own way because you feel you know them well, but it also means you see less of other fun characters and of their relationships with them.

On the whole, it’s honestly sort of hard to compare these two adaptations because one is a miniseries and one is a movie – two very different film types that aren’t meant to be compared in some ways. When it comes down to it, both are well-done in different ways and can both be appreciated for their strengths. Every Jane Austen fan will have a preference, but both are certainly worthy of praise. And now I’m off to watch the 2005 movie for the 4679375738205th time because it’s Friday and because I can. Happy weekend, friends.

*I do not own the rights to the photos in this post. All photos used were retrieved from credited Internet sources*

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