2013 is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice. I planned to reread this most famous of books early in the year but there was so much hype about the anniversary that I put the book aside, knowing that the right moment would present itself sometime during the year.
That moment proved to be last week when I watched the 1980 BBC TV series of Pride and Prejudice for the first time probably since it was first broadcast. The overwhelming success of the 1995 version with Jennifer Ehle & Colin Firth has eclipsed this series & the BBC only seem to keep one version of their classic series available on DVD at any one time. I hadn’t seen the 1980 series with Elizabeth Garvie & David Rintoul since it was repeated on television in the early 1980s. Remember, these were the dark ages, before VHS or DVD. You watched it on TV at the time it was shown or you missed out entirely. So, I was very pleased to discover that the 1980 series was available from Amazon UK in this Dutch packaged version. I’ve bought a couple of other series in this European packaging & as long as you remember to turn off the subtitles, it’s fine.
I’m not going to tell you the plot of Pride and Prejudice. If you haven’t read the book, I’d be surprised if you haven’t seen one of the many film & television adaptations or read the sequels & clones that fill the romance section of any bookshop. The love story of proud Mr Darcy & prejudiced Miss Bennet is well-known. I thought I’d just quote some of my favourite lines & tell you about the 1980 series which was scripted by Fay Weldon.
I was intrigued by this version because Susannah Fullerton, President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia, & author of a lovely book about Pride and Prejudice called Happily Ever After, considers it one of the best adaptations. I have to agree with her. It’s in five episodes rather than the six of the 1995 version. Most of that extra episode was taken up with Andrew Davies’ extra scenes for Mr Darcy. We see Darcy writing, fencing, searching London for Wickham & Lydia, surprising the eloping couple at Ramsgate &, most famously, emerging from that lake at Pemberley. In the 1980 version, Mr Darcy more prosaically appears around a hedge to confront Elizabeth, preceded by his dog. The 1995 version also has several scenes of Darcy & Bingley talking while playing billiards etc which never appear in the novel because, famously, Jane Austen never has a scene with only two men talking together.
The script is very close to the novel & there are only a few changes that I picked up. When Lydia’s elopement is revealed to Lizzie in a letter from Jane, she is at the inn at Lambton where Darcy finds her in great distress. In this version, Lizzie runs to Pemberley, bursting into the drawing room in search of her uncle Gardiner. I thought that was ridiculous & not an improvement on the scene as written. The final scene is the second proposal & it fell rather flat. We also miss out on the scenes of astonishment when the Bennets hear that Lizzie is to marry Darcy who she has openly disliked for much of the novel. There certainly isn’t the same chemistry between Garvie & Rintoul as there was between Ehle & Firth but I think they’re both very good in their roles. I think I prefer Garvie as Elizabeth. She has all the vivacity & liveliness of Lizzie & there are several scenes where Garvie is heard in voiceover reflecting Lizzie’s thoughts as we read them in the book. Darcy is a difficult role because he spends more than half the novel stalking around looking proud & disagreeable. It’s not until he meets Lizzie & the Gardiners at Pemberley that we see him at ease. David Rintoul was very good in the first proposal scene & I much preferred the portrait of him at Pemberley to the one of Colin Firth in the 1995 series.
The rest of the cast are also very good. I loved Priscilla Morgan’s Mrs Bennet & Irene Richard, who was Elinor Dashwood in an early Sense and Sensibility, was plain & sensible as Charlotte Lucas. Mr Collins was played by Malcolm Rennie in a beautifully smiling, fat, unctuous manner. Judy Parfitt was very aristocratic as Lady Catherine. She didn’t even bother to acknowledge Mrs Bennet when she arrives at Longbourn to confront Lizzie about her intentions towards Darcy. This is an excellent adaptation & I think I prefer it now to the 1995 version. The production values may have been higher in the later version but there were fewer heaving bosoms & overt sex appeal in the earlier series & I think I prefer that.
So, my favourite scenes from the novel. There are so many witty lines that make me laugh out loud but here are a few scenes that give me a quieter pleasure.
When Lizzie goes to Netherfield to look after Jane who is ill, she has to contend with Miss Bingley’s snide comments & her attempts to ingratiate herself with Mr Darcy.
‘Mr Darcy is not to be laughed at!’ cried Elizabeth. ‘That is an uncommon advantage, and uncommon I hope it will continue, for it would be a great loss to me to have many such acquaintance. I dearly love a laugh.’
‘Miss Bingley,’ said he, ‘has given me credit for more than can be. The wisest and the best of men, nay, the wisest and best of their actions, may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose first object is a joke.’
‘Certainly,’ replied Elizabeth – ‘there are such people, but I hope I am not one of them. I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own and I laugh at them whenever I can. – But these, I suppose, are precisely what you are without.’
When Darcy & Elizabeth meet at Rosings, he tries to explain away his rudeness at the Assembly Ball by saying that he didn’t dance because he knew nobody outside his own party of friends & lacked practice in recommending himself to strangers. Lizzie doesn’t allow him to get away with this, comparing his lack of social grace with her skill at the piano,
‘My fingers,” said Elizabeth, ‘do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I have seen so many women’s do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault – because I would not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman’s of superior execution.’
Darcy smiled and said, ‘You are perfectly right. You have employed your timer much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you, can think anything wanting. We neither of us perform to strangers.’
Then, at the end of the novel, we have another of Jane Austen’s proposals when we don’t hear the words spoken, only the gratifying effects,
Elizabeth, feeling all the more than common awkwardness and anxiety of his situation, now forced herself to speak; and immediately, though not very fluently, gave him to understand, that her sentiments had undergone so material a change, since the period to which he alluded, as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure, his present assurances. The happiness which this reply produced, was such as he had probably never felt before; and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do. Had Elizabeth been able to encounter his eye, she might have seen how well the expression of heartfelt delight, diffused over his face, became him; but, though she could not look, she could listen, and he told her of feelings, which, in proving of what importance she was to him, made his affection every moment more valuable.