Were the movie and book enough? Hell, no! In the past couple of weeks I watched TWO more screen adaptations of Pride & Prejudice.
The first was the five hour BBC miniseries that came out in 1995. The rapturous testimony of various friends as well the general opinion floating around AustenBlog had made it clear to me that in any RottenTomatoes style smackdown, this version would defeat the 2005 movie I enjoyed so much. Also, that Colin Firth was da bomb. I was very curious to see what I would think of it.
In the end it was… OK. Given the build up, this made it a disappointment. The costumes and settings were much more accurate for the time period, and more of the characters made it into the production. Good. But it was still almost impossible to sort out who was who at certain times (Mrs. Hurst? Mariah?), and several made-up scenes of dubious quality were added (Darcy in his bath?!). Bad. Worse, the acting by the antagonists was outstandingly hammy; rather than being intrigued and/or disturbed by them, I kept wondering why the director thought Austen wasn’t funny enough without an infusion of slapstick comedy.
But about Colin Firth (because it’s really all about him)… HOW could the legions of swooning women have fallen for him when he was hardly in the thing?! Seriously, he has about 20 minutes of screen time in this 500 minute epic, and in most of that he’s just mutely staring with eyes that declare, “I have heartburn.” Maybe it’s a testament to the Tall, Dark and Handsome principle. Or the Man of Few Words allure. Or the unexpected bathing — not once, but twice. I don’t know; I couldn’t see the charm, myself. Anyone who loves him in this series, please write in and tell me why. (Just calling him “cold and haughty” doesn’t count, Emily!)
The second adaptation was the 2004 Bollywood-style Bride & Prejudice, directed by Gurinder Chadha of Bend It Like Beckham fame. This was the first translation of the source material into a different time/milieu that I’ve seen, and I was surprised at how true to the original it ended up being. The Bennet family may be named “Bakshi”, and Charles and Caroline might be “Balraj” and “Kiran”, but the characterizations are right on in a lively, amped-up way.
Some plot elements obviously had to change. The system of inheritance that passes along the Bennet estate to Mr. Collins in the original is bizarre and untranslatable; in this version, Mr. Kholi has no particular leverage with the Bakshis, and his reason for visiting is simply to find a wife. Similarly, the Lydia equivalent, Lakhi, poses none of the dangers to her family’s reputation that the original did. Instead, they worry that she will be knocked up by an irresponsible Wickham, and she is rescued at the last minute by BOTH Lalita and Will Darcy.
This is a kinder, gentler Pride & Prejudice in most ways. That robs it of some tension, but the sense of fun that pulses through it is a great counterbalance. And it has some truly amazing dance numbers! I’ve replayed the early scene at the friends’ wedding several times now and love it more every time.
I want to take a moment now to acknowledge a difficulty that all adaptations of Pride & Prejudice must face: The Lydia Incident. I found the section of the book where Mr. Bennet, Mr. Gardiner, and Mr. Darcy are searching for Lydia and negotiating her marriage to Wickham to be eye-glazingly boring, because it is SO LONG and goes into such detail about something we, in the present day, have little concern about: the maintenance of at least the illusion of female virginity and propriety. I’m sure feckless men are still pressured into marrying women with whom they had no intention of tying the knot, but the lengths to which the characters in P&P are willing to go, and the number of words the author is willing to expend on the matter, are practically unheard of these days.
Modern-day adaptations have to decide what to do with this sequence. The 2005 movie compressed it into the space of 5 minutes, which I thought a handy solution. The 1995 mini dragged it on quite a bit longer, which made me lose interest just as I had with the book. Interestingly, the Bollywood version has some of the same problem, not strictly related to Lydia/Lakhi, but because the series of events gets somewhat mashed up at the end and the floppy, frustrating, ambiguous romance between Lizzy/Lalita and Darcy is confused even more by it all.
In the end, my favorite of all the Pride & Prejudice-related things I’ve experienced lately — including the book — is still the 2005 movie. Crazy, but… there it is.