The Battle for my Heart: Pride & Prejudice the movie vs the BBC miniseries, Pt. 1

Pride and Prejudice is my favorite book of all time. Words cannot express how much I adore this book, and it’s hard to imagine this Jane Austen masterpiece being toppled from top spot in my heart. It’s almost a given, then, that the 2005 movie based on the book is my favorite movie of all time. And I loved it, not just because it was based on P&P, but because it was an excellent adaptation. The casting was inspired, the settings were absolutely breathtaking (Chatsworth! *sigh*) and the script successfully condensed everything essential to the beloved love story into two hours.

However, I did know that there was another adaptation that was more popular, more beloved by Jane Austen fans. The 1995 BBC miniseries has long been touted as the definitive Pride & Prejudice adaptation and the release of the movie didn’t change that perception significantly. My adoration for all things Darcy and Bennet dictates that I watch the BBC version eventually, but I held off. I wanted to be objective and didn’t want my love for the film to color my opinion of the miniseries. I wanted to be objective, so waited for the initial rapture over the film to subside. Five years and more than 50 viewings later, I finally purchased my BBC miniseries DVD (at 50% discount!).

So finally, I am able to evaluate both versions and determine which adaptation (and which Mr. Darcy) deserves the ultimate place in my heart. My goal is to come to that choice as objectively as possible and take into account certain advantages a 1995 miniseries would have over a 2005 movie (longer running time) and vice versa (better technology, bigger-named actors). It’s not just a matter of “oh, Keira Knightley is prettier”. No ,this’ll be logical and objective and serious and will have a points system.

First up, the Bennet Family (with the 1995 actors first). This is as much a commentary on their performances as it is on the way their characters were written for the screen:

L to R: Lydia, Mr. Bennet, Jane, Mrs. Bennet, Kitty, Elizabeth & Mary

Alison Steadman vs Brenda Blethyn as Mrs. Bennet

It’s tough to play Mrs. Bennet, the silly, overbearing, tactless but ultimately well-intentioned matriarch of the Bennet brood, without turning her into the typical annoying-mother caricature. And this is where Brenda Blethyn ultimately succeeds and Alsion Steadman categorically fails. Both their renditions of Mrs. Bennet are silly, annoying and tactless, to be sure. However, Blethyn wins it for me because despite all her faults (and there are many), she still manages to make me love Mrs. Bennet. She may nag and embarrass her children, but you could see that it’s done out of love, out of concern for their futures. Steadman, on the other hand, just comes off as irritating and downright rude, especially to Mr. Darcy. In the scene where they pick up Jane from Netherfield, she basically attacks and yells at Mr. Darcy (complete with eye-bulging intensity), which Mrs. Bennet will never do.

Benjamin Whitrow vs Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennet

Benjamin Whitrow greatly benefits from the additional screen time afforded him by the length of a mini-series. Donald Sutherland, while more endearing, only has about five minutes on screen, which is barely enough time to appreciate the dilemmas faced by Mr. Bennet. In the miniseries, we get more insight into his regrets about not saving for his daughter’s futures and his warnings to his daughters about marrying a partner you don’t respect. If Whitrow only had more of Sutherland’s fatherly tenderness, especially towards Elizabeth (who could forget that final scene?), then this would have been a clear win for the miniseries. As it stands, it’s a draw.

From L to R: Lydia, Mr. & Mrs. B, Elizabeth, Jane, Mary and Kitty

Susannah Harker vs Rosamund Pike as Jane Bennet

While it seems shallow to award points based onhow attractive the actors are, I think it’s appropriate in this case. Jane Bennet was described in the book as the beauty of the county, an “angel” in Mr. Bingley’s words.  And while Susannah Harker is by no means unattractive, Rosamund Pike’s ethereal, delicate beauty lives up to the lofty praise of the eldest Bennet. Pike and Harker are practically even in the acting stakes, with Pike maybe with a slight edge for her delivery of the line “Yes, a thousand times yes” (plus additional points for having to deliver that line to her ex-boyfriend Simon Woods).

Lucy Briers, Julia Sawalha and Polly Maberly vs Talulah Riley, Jena Malone and Carey Mulligan as Mary, Lydia and Kitty Bennet

This one was an easy decision for me. For the life of me, I cannot begin to understand the casting decisions for the BBC miniseries. I particularly object to Lucy Briers as Mary. The third Bennet sister can be no more than 19 years old, and Briers looks at least 30 (I’m not trying to be mean, I’m just being honest). The makeup and costume department didn’t do her any favors either with the glasses and dark circles under her eyes. The BBC producers make the same mistake in casting Lydia as well, but not to same extent as with Mary. Julia Sawalha looks much older than the 15 year old girl she plays.

On the acting and character development front, the BBC Mary disappoints as well. She was written as dreary, tiresome and like she thought she was better than everybody else. I swear, I needed to suppress the urge to throw the remote at the TV whenever Mary (and Mrs. Bennet) appeared on screen. Talulah Riley’s Mary was still dull and dreary (Mary is supposed to be like that), but more because she was awkward, a little clueless and had different interests from her sisters. You feel sorry for her, as you would for a sister who is overshadowed by the beauty of the elder ones and by the rambunctiousness of the younger set. Case in point: in the scene where Mary is asked to stop playing and singing, Riley touchingly bursts into tears. As for the Kittys and the Lydias, both sets of the two youngest Bennets are appropriately giggly, boisterous and boy-crazy. It’s just more acceptable behavior in girls who actually look like teenagers. But I won’t deduct points for that twice.

Score Recap: BBC: 0; Movie: 3 (I didn’t score for draws)

So, in this round, despite my valiant endeavors at objectivity, the movie Bennets pretty much hammered the BBC Bennets. Let’s see if the BBC can overturn the deficit in the next round where I evaluate the other minor characters.

What do YOU think? Have I been too harsh on the BBC Bennets? Has my love for the movie made the miniseries suffer in comparison?

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5 thoughts on “The Battle for my Heart: Pride & Prejudice the movie vs the BBC miniseries, Pt. 1

    • I completely agree. But I thought the movie Caroline’s screen time was to short to merit an inclusion. And it wouldn’t have change the outcome anyway.

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  3. I agree with only the Mrs. Bennet comparison as Alison Steadman’s portrayal made me cringe. However, this is how the characters were written in the book. Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bennet (in the 2005 film) showed much more emotion than Jane Austin had written. The 2005 movie was very hollywoodized. You may find Rosemund more attractive however, beauty in the late 1700’s was not focused on skinny women. Susannah Harker is a classic type of beauty that during that time would be considered exquisite. Rosemund Pike, I’m afraid, would most likely have been considered too thin. This is true for Kiera Knightley as well. The 2005 film was a representation of what the public finds “beautiful” in the present time and didn’t represent what society felt at the time the novel was written.

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