Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Pride & Prejudice (2005) vs Pride & Prejudice (1995): A comparative review

Ever since its release in 2005, there has been fierce discourse about Joe Wright’s “Pride & Prejudice,” particularly regarding its quality compared to the 1995 miniseries directed by Simon Langton. As a long-time fan of the original book and both adaptations, my aim here is not to settle this debate; instead, I want to establish the pros and cons of both versions and help you determine which one you should watch (spoiler alert: it might be both). 

The movie, which stars Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfayden, is acclaimed for its cinematography and compelling performances. And yes, the cinematography is beautiful — the portrayal of all the houses, gardens and beautiful dawns and dusks is quite defensibly superior to the alternative version. While rewatching the movie, I was struck by a shot where Lizzie sits on a swing, slowly spinning around and taking in the view of her family’s property. She is approached by Charlotte Lucas on the matter of Ms. Lucas’s engagement to her cousin Mr. Collins. Lizzie’s swinging around again after this conversation is symbolically powerful, as it allows the viewer to realize that her worldview is changed by this conservation with her friend and a new understanding of their different situations. 

While Knightley and Macfayden give wonderful performances and have incredible chemistry, one has to wonder if those performances are entirely faithful as adaptations. One moment often discussed is the “rain scene,” where Mr. Darcy makes his awkward, bumbling and insulting first proposal. Except he doesn’t. While Macfayden starts out awkward, his delivery becomes increasingly passionate as he goes, only accentuated by the dramatic setting and rain, and when Knightley rejects him, a moment of physical tension follows, the entire audience holding their breath. I want to say that I don’t think there is anything wrong with casting hot people. In fact, it’s a fairly logical choice. However, my critique of this moment is more that it mischaracterizes where both these individuals should be at this point in the story. Darcy should still be incredibly awkward and preoccupied by social convention. And this moment should be where Lizzie is most overcome with hatred for Darcy, for ruining both her sister’s relationships and her own with Mr. Wickham. 

And unfortunately, it is not just this one moment. Throughout the movie, many characters are either misrepresented or portrayed extremely obviously.  For instance, the villain, Mr. Wickham. In the movie, his nature is initially portrayed as suspicious, and he has a slimy sort of character to him. Not only that, but the movie fails to convey his interest in Lizzie and the extended period of time they spent together. Additionally, Mr. Bennet is less sympathetic and easily dismissive of his daughters — including Lizzie. Mr. Collins is too bumbling, with his vindictive side near-erased, and Lydia is still insufferable, but her conception of herself as superior to her sisters due to her marriage is never shown. In short, my belief is that there is simply not enough time in a movie to convey the complexities of character presented by Jane Austen in many of her works. All this would be almost irrelevant for me were it not for the nail in the coffin: that awful, terribly written, cringe-inciting bit of dialogue at the end of the movie. If you’re adapting a novel (somewhat faithfully) that has been popular for the better part of 200 years, how can you find the confidence to rewrite the perfect ending? And how can you mess it up so atrociously? I am, of course, referring to the little scene at the end of the movie including the line “and when shall I call you ‘Mrs. Darcy?’” (to which the answer is, “only when you’re perfectly and incandescently happy,” or whatever). For me, this scene is so clearly different from the dialogue that otherwise is fairly consistent and takes after the original book that it ruins the immersive experience entirely. 

In contrast, the 1995 miniseries, starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, is a masterclass in adaptation. And just to address the obvious first — yes, it’s a six-hour commitment. No, you shouldn’t really break it up (especially not over multiple days). Yes, that’s incredibly inconvenient. And yes — it’s entirely worth it. A lot of it might depend on your motive for wanting to watch an adaptation of the story — if you want to watch the movie because you’ve heard it’s good and you think one or both of the lead actors is pretty, fair enough. If you want to watch an adaptation of the story because you love the story, because you love Austen’s wit  and the worlds she creates — there is quite literally no contest. I have watched this series once a year for the last seven years or so, and every time, I’m struck by something new. 

In this miniseries, the initial proposal from Mr. Dacy is laden with the opposite of the sexual tension in the film. Colin Firth is so incredibly awkward. He more or less just stands there, stuttering through his feelings with a largely even tone, and showing only the slightest hint of upset at Lizzie’s rejection, staying in control of his emotions. Moreover, she is (rightly) angered, shocked by the absurdity of the proposal. Instead of immediately realizing her feelings for him, it comes on slowly, and only after his letter explaining and apologizing for his wrongs against her. And the way it appears is thrilling — the last couple of episodes are interspersed with this almost-camp overlay of Firth’s face saying parts of his proposal on any window or mirror Lizzie looks at. It is not incredibly high-quality cinematography, but it’s incredibly fun cinematography. 

Additionally, rewatching this series always confirms my belief that there is a simple need for more time when representing the complexities of Austen’s characters and subplots. The evolution, for instance, of Wickham’s character in this series is much more convincing — at first appearance, he seems earnest, able to sweep the viewers away just as he sweeps Lizzie away. Not only do they spend time together, but her family members — including her father and her sister Lydia — make frequent comments about Lizzie’s feelings for the man, and their belief in his reciprocation, making the shock of his elopement with Lydia all the more powerful. Characters such as Mr. Bennet are also played a lot more likably in this version, seeming tired and bumbling more than dismissive and uninterested. Mr. Collins is the subject of more laughter through the extension of the trip to Kent and his thinly-veiled showdown with Lizzie when he visits to express condolences about Lydia’s situation, and remarks that they would be better off if she was dead. 

Finally, the proposal at the end and confession of feelings between Darcy and Lizzie is much more believable and rewarding after  six hours of build-up. The viewer, as well as Lizzie, has more time to adjust to her realizing her feelings. There is additionally more time focused on Darcy’s redemption, and the lengths he goes to to help her family. While many may find the time commitment daunting, the miniseries maintains a steady pace, and the slower experience of the story is significantly more enjoyable and more in line with the experience of reading the novel.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *