In this guest article by a lifelong Austen fan and recent visitor to the Jane Austen Centre, Maya Mehrara shares her opinions on the numerous TV and film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that all true Austen-heads are obsessed with the most beautifully written love story of all time – Jane Austen’s one and only Pride and Prejudice. Don’t get me wrong – her other novels are all lovely in their own right. However, for me, Pride and Prejudice has a special place in my heart. I remember the first time I read it like it was yesterday. I was ten years old, and the day that I first leapt into Lizzie Bennet’s fantastical story, my life changed forever. This sounds dramatic, but it’s true. I can honestly say that we were soul sisters from the start, and since that snowy December day in 2009, Lizzie Bennet and I have been best friends (even if it is only in my imagination). I like to believe that we are both witty, adventurous, and headstrong (to a fault). We fight hard, but we love harder. Every time I re-read her story; I feel like I am visiting an old friend that I have known forever. I will be eternally grateful to my nanny who first brought Lizzie Bennet into my world so many years ago. I will never tire of reading Pride and Prejudice, for it has brought me pure joy even in my darkest days.
Whenever I chat about Austen’s works with fellow Austen lovers, it becomes apparent to me that there seems to be absolutely no one who dislikes Pride and Prejudice. More specifically, there is no one who loves Austen who dislikes the book version of Pride and Prejudice. However, the real debate begins when I talk to fellow bookworms about the numerous film and TV adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. Most Austen-heads (including myself) have very strong opinions regarding the subject. From what I have gathered, most people either seem to love the BBC 1995 television version of Pride and Prejudice (in which Colin Firth famously portrays our iconic Mr. Darcy), or they love the 2005 Keira Knightley film version of our favourite novel.
I would like to finally settle this highly controversial debate on which version is better. I’m just going to say it – I truly believe that the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice is the best adapted version of the classic novel ever made. I feel that Keira Knightley is the only actress who has ever truly captured the essence of our beloved Lizzie Bennet on screen. To be completely honest, I never really loved the BBC version, and don’t even get me started on the absolute disaster that is the 1940 Laurence Olivier version of Pride and Prejudice… I promise that I am not all opinion and no substance on this subject. Therefore, I will explain the reasons why I feel that the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice takes the crown.
Keira Knightley portrays all of Lizzie’s characteristics effortlessly – she is witty, kind, playful, and yet serious when she needs to be. She emphasizes the deep love Lizzie has for her family and her unique relationship with Charlotte. Keira Knightley depicts how Lizzie is quite stubborn and often misjudges people without realizing it (like someone else we know), but she also emphasizes how Lizzie can recognize her faults. Overall, Keira Knightley’s interpretation of Lizzie is how I have always pictured her, need I say more?
In the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, the portrayal of a character that bothered me the most was (you guessed it) Jennifer Ehle’s version of Lizzie Bennet. First of all, I feel that Ehle’s portrayal of Lizzie was way too serious and stoic! I didn’t see any of Lizzie’s wit and playfulness being depicted at all! Unlike Keira Knightley, her performance lacks character depth and variety. I found her portrayal of Lizzie made her seem somewhat arrogant and empty.
Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy— I truly believe that was one of the best casting decisions ever made. I feel that he played Mr. Darcy to a T! When I see other actors play Mr. Darcy, I often see them fall into the trap of playing him as a heartless, arrogant jerk who hates people and does not display his true feelings for Lizzie until the last five minutes of the movie. However, because Matthew Macfadyen is an extraordinary actor, he did the exact opposite of this. He managed to portray Mr. Darcy as a man who seems arrogant and distant but is actually quite loving and somewhat shy (when it comes to talking about what’s in his heart). I believe that Matthew Macfadyen accurately portrays all sides of Mr. Darcy in his performance, and I think that no other actor could have played Mr. Darcy better.
I know that many people will be offended by this, but I’m just going to say it. Colin Firth just looked constipated as Mr. Darcy for six episodes straight. I know many Austen-heads love him and have cardboard cut-outs of him, but can you really say I’m completely wrong in my observation?
The cinematography alone is unmatched, incredible, and awe-inspiring. The score for the film does not get nearly enough credit; Jean-Yves Thibaudet’s music is simply heavenly, and perfectly aids in telling the story of Pride and Prejudice.
Need I go on? For all these reasons listed, the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice is my favourite adaptation of Jane Austen’s renowned novel. However, as much as I love this movie, I am a true bookworm at heart. I can say with complete confidence that there is nothing I love more than curling up underneath a huge weeping willow tree on a sunny day and leaping into the world of early 19th century England. Experiencing Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy’s love story over and over again is truly magical.