Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Miniseries Review - Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice
Based on the book by Jane Austen
Release Date: September 24th- October 29th, 1995
Starring: Colin Firth, Crispin Bonham-Carter, Jennifer Ehle, Susannah Harker, Julia Sawalha, Polly Maberly, Lucy Briers, Benjamin Whitrow, Alison Steadman, Marlene Sidaway, Anna Chancellor, Lucy Robinson, Rupert Vansittart, Lynn Farleigh, Joanna David, Tim Wylton, David Bamber, Lucy Scott, Lucy Davis, Christopher Benjamin, Norma Streader, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Nadia Chambers, Harriet Eastcott, Anthony Calf, David Bark-Jones, Roger Barclay, Christopher Staines, Tom Ward, Paul Moriarty, Victoria Hamilton, Alexandra Howerd, Adrian Lukis, Bridget Turner, and Emilia Fox
Rating: ★★★★★
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As Mrs. Bennet screeches to her family that "Netherfield Park is let at last" little does she know that this one event will so significantly alter the fate of her five daughters. Of course she had planned that the eligible young man who had rented the estate, Mr. Bingley, would marry one of her daughters, though she didn't think that in the end she'd have three of her five daughters married within a year of each other. While the eldest daughter Jane falls instantly and irrevocably in love with Mr. Bingley, her sister Lizzy's path is far murkier. Mr. Darcy is at first nothing but pride and hauteur, refusing to even dance with Lizzy at the local assembly. Soon after her fine eyes catch his attention, but could his previous snub spell doom of ever getting Lizzy? The path of true love never runs smooth and as Mr. Bennet states, "a girl likes to be crossed a little in love now and then." And when a ghost from Mr. Darcy's past reappears in his present and quickly wins over Lizzy and all her confidantes it appears she might have finally found the man to lose her heart over. But no one and nothing is as it seems and sometimes life has other plans in store. In a time when marrying for love might not be in the cards, marrying for money is a necessity, more so for the five Bennet girls as their estate is entailed away on their cousin, the odious Mr. Collins. But can love still find a way? Can that which before was unwilling to bend learn to? Can character flaws be fixed? Can love, the marriage of true minds, with a tidy fortune for felicity be obtained? Or are they doomed to heartache and unhappily ever afters?

There are only a handful of films, television shows, and miniseries that are touchstones in my life. From The Princess Bride to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to The Inheritance these are part of my DNA. The 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is one of them. Every time I have watched it is a special and cherished memory to me. From my first watching it on a blazing July day in the summer of 1996 with all the shades drawn to weathering an ice storm trapped at the house of my friend Sara's parents while she was visiting from graduate school to "P P and P" (Pride and Prejudice and Pizza) last celebrated in Cambridge on an early summer night wherein they got our pizza order at the wrong location and it resulted in us only getting to watch the first episode that night. Each of these moments is special to me and I can easily transport myself to that moment in my life in an instant. I wore out the VHS set that had pride of place on top of my dresser and was my prized 18th birthday present. I have more DVD copies then I can count, always wanting to upgrade to the newest edition. I even have the tie-in edition of the book, just so I can look at the lovely Colin Firth forevermore. This was the miniseries that made me a miniseries addict. Prior to this I was all about movies, but I realized that miniseries and later TV shows with strong mythology appealed to me more because they weren't restricted to two hours, they expanded and had a life of their own. A scale, a scope that was able to capture all that was needed for the story to be told with no omissions, no ellipses. Pride and Prejudice, you might not know it, but you changed my life, and not just because of a wet shirt.

Yet that wet shirt is what this miniseries is known for. I remember seeing an interview that summed up the phenomenon that was Colin Firth in this miniseries in that his emerging from that lake forever changed the world. And I don't think anyone can deny it. After all there was that atrocious statue to mark Pride and Prejudice's bicentenary of Colin Firth in the Serpentine. But the shirt scene isn't the be all end all, yet it's indicative of why this adaptation is so successful, and that's because it's brimming with life, it's vivacious. I'm not just talking outdoor pursuits or horseback riding or Mr. Darcy fencing and then taking a dip or Lizzy running through the country side, I'm talking about the life in the Bennet family. They are a real family! They are talking over each other, they are laughing, they are rolling their eyes, they are experts at the side-eye and arched brow, they are living their life fully and enjoying themselves. The smile always playing about Lizzy's lips, THIS is the Lizzy Austen envisioned in her book and that Jennifer Ehle perfectly brought to life. The book can be a little staid for those who aren't into clever wordplay and character studies. Yet the key is this timeless book is alive! These characters live and this adaptation brings this home to the audience. The background of each scene is peopled with life, surrounding the characters with life. Animals, drunks, people talking, dancing, everything about this adaptation is just alive. Over twenty years later and I'm still in love with this miniseries and seeing new things each time. I mean Lydia and Kitty actually had red cloaks to match the officers!?! Priceless and yet, so human.

What is interesting about how Andrew Davies decided to adapt the novel is that he externalizes almost all Lizzy's thoughts through conversations with Jane. In the book when Lizzy announces her engagement to Darcy to everyone it's kind of a "haha fooled you, you all thought I hated him but I LURVE him" moment. Because while the readers of the book will know her changing feelings over time her family has been kept in the dark. Yes, even Jane. This sisterly bonding goes back into the life poured into this adaptation. By them confiding in each other every night it's something the audience can relate to. Everyone has at some point in their life poured out their heart to a confidant and this therefore becomes a touchstone for the viewers. What's more it also allows greater insight into the Bennet family, the power dynamics, and why Lydia gets her way, while Mary is often ignored. It's a little time in every episode to reflect on what's happening. This is almost a built in recap without being all cheesy and annoying. Yet what I think it does most successfully is deepen the character of Jane. Yes, I know, you're all thinking I should be talking about how it allows more time to swoon over Darcy while gazing into mirrors, but while it does do that, it does more for Jane. Jane is almost too perfect. She's like a little porcelain doll. It's no wonder why Darcy didn't think she was in love with Bingley. In these conversations we not only see Jane's reserve, but we see beneath it, to her heart. You truly feel for Jane as you do for Lizzy.

Though externalizing Lizzy's thoughts has a flaw, in that they sometimes don't come out quite right. The part I'm thinking of is when she first sees Pemberley. The entire time she's walking the grounds and the house and listening to these marvelous stories about a young Darcy her feelings are in tumult. You can sense that her opinion of him is moving quickly from admiration to love. Later when she announces her engagement to Jane and jokingly dates her love as starting when she first saw his house the joke falls flat, despite their smiles and laughter. Because the joke comes across as callous. This isn't how it comes across in the book. Seeing his house did change her opinion, but it wasn't the structure, it was the people within that structure, the love and care he has for his staff and all those connected to him. By putting an emphasis on this joke and reinforcing it with lines about how she could have been mistress of "all this" makes her appear the basest fortune hunter which she dreaded Darcy to think her. This one line delivered in this way, without any of her internal admiration, diminishes their love story. Darcy and Elizabeth is a love story for the ages. Literally one of the greatest literary love stories ever, and Davies ever so slightly knocks it down a peg. Davies has always had interesting takes on the books he adapts, and I love the hear his reasons for changes, but I don't think there is any reasoning that could make me OK with this.

What I find most amusing in this adaptation is that Davies is SO shipping Mary and Mr. Collins. The truth is I don't think anyone who has read the book hasn't thought, well, if only Mr. Collins had set his sights on Mary all would have turned out alright. But they never really go deeper into the fact that Mr. Collins would never accept Mary. He is an ambitious man, Lizzy satisfies his ideas of what a wife should be, without knowing her, and Mrs. Bennet is glad to get her least favorite daughter out of the house. He would never lower his sights to Mary. He would never condescend to even consider her. Therefore you do feel bad for Mary, but at the same time, her character got a bit of a boost by being next to the whole reason for Pride and Prejudice, and that's Mr. Collins. See, I think most people, even Austen herself, were so caught up in the love story of Lizzy and Darcy that they never realized that Mr. Collins with his pretensions and rhapsodizing about Rosings Park was stealing the show. Thankfully David Bamber knew he was the star and seriously, gives a star performance. Every second he is on scene is a delight to behold, while at the same time you're cringing. Just little things like how he waves to Charlotte when Lizzy and Maria are departing the parsonage, priceless. I mean, despite how sometimes Andrew Davies annoys me, he knew the necessity of bringing back Mr. Collins after Lydia's elopement, so, just for that one scene, any issues I have with this adaptation, which are few, are forgiven. My issues with he adaptation of Wives and Daughters though...


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