On the 200th Anniversary of Pride and Prejudice

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Pride and Prejudice is a timeless classic of literature. Since we have reached the 200th anniversary of its publication (January 28, 1813), I wanted to acknowledge the occasion. I love Pride and Prejudice, so I thought I’d take a tour through some of its various filmed incarnations over the years.

Pride and Prejudice book cover

First, however, a few words about the novel itself, written by Jane Austen.  In case you’re unfamiliar with the novel, it tells the story of Elizabeth Bennet, who comes from a family of five daughters. The Bennet family’s estate is entailed away from them upon the death of their father, but, for the time being, they are a fairly prominent family in a small town in Hertfordshire.  Elizabeth’s sister Jane is beautiful and kind, but the rest of her sisters and her mother are all very silly women.  I’ve always thought that perhaps their father took more of an interest in the first two girls than the others, leaving his ridiculous wife to raise the other girls without any involvement from him. The main focus of the plot is the relationship between Elizabeth and the incredibly rich (and eligible) Mr. Darcy. It starts out an antagonistic one, but gradually develops throughout the novel as they learn more about one another.

I know that Jane Austen has been adopted by the chick lit genre, where there is a similar focus on finding “Mr. Right” (who always happens to be rich and handsome and will love the independent heroines without wanting to change them), but I think there’s so much more to Jane Austen. She is a very witty writer who works a lot of social commentary into her novels.  Jane Austen was a keen observer of people and all of her characters seem to have a life beyond the page (even the minor ones).  She has a rather sarcastic voice at times, which peppers her novels (and especially Pride and Prejudice) with clever, perceptive quotes.  One of my favorite lines from Pride and Prejudice has always been, “There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well.” Very true for Elizabeth, who speaks it, and probably true of most people, they’ve just never come up with such a clear way of expressing it.

The first film adaptation was made in 1940, starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier. It was based on the stage adaptation by Helen Jerome, instead of the novel, so some plot points and characters are quite different.  Most noticeably the character of Lady Catherine is quite altered for her final confrontation with Elizabeth, there is no visit to Pemberly, and, thanks to the costumes, the period setting is later than the original regency setting. There are also many supporting character who are missing from the story, such as the Gardiners and Darcy’s sister Georgiana (of course, they were all connected with the visit to Pemberly, so it’s not surprising). However, I still enjoy this film.  I love Greer Garson’s Elizabeth (even if she really was too old for the part).  She does a great job of showing Elizabeth’s intelligence and wit, while also showcasing her vivacious and lively personality.  You really can’t help but understand why Olivier’s rather stuffy Darcy would be drawn to her.  The comedy is played up to the expense of the social commentary and the more serious aspects of the plot, but it all makes for a lighthearted romp through the novel. However, if you’re looking for fidelity to the novel, this is not for you.

Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier in the 1940 film version of Pride and Prejudice

Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier in the 1940 film version of Pride and Prejudice

The 1995 BBC miniseries starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle is, in my opinion, the best adaptation of Pride and Prejudice ever.  The two leads have a great chemistry, that really is required to understand how two people who are at odds could still be drawn to each other.  You can’t help but notice that Colin Firth really perfected the art of impassioned brooding in this, since Darcy is often off on the sidelines watching Elizabeth. The supporting cast is all excellent too, especially Benjamin Whitrow and Allison Steadman as Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. This adaptation is 5 hours long, so it has the time to do justice to all of Austen’s secondary characters.  The extra time also allows time for Elizabeth and Darcy to very gradually warm to each other, making the ending much more satisfying.  It is very faithful to the novel, so this movie has a lot of the carefully observed details about life in the regency period, as well as the underlying social commentary.  Jane Austen’s witty tone remains intact, but the comedy is a part of the story, not the dominant feature of the story.

Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth in the 1995 miniseries

Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth in the 1995 miniseries

I think the only version of Pride and Prejudice that I did not enjoy was the 2005 version starring Keira Knightly and Matthew Macfayden. I know many people love this version, but I found little to enjoy.  I felt that in an attempt to make the characters appeal to younger viewers, the filmakers emphasized the youth of the characters too much. They acted as if they were giggling schoolgirls, which is not how a woman of 21 would act; to be a teenager then was not the same as being a teenager now.  The characters of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet were also changed from the biting wit of Austen’s original characterization. Instead of Mr. Bennet being a man who married a beauty only to discover she was an idiot, they are now a couple who may have their differences, but are a loving couple. This was typical of the movie.  I felt like much of Austen’s tone and rich characterizations were lost in this teen romance.  The setting was also moved to an earlier period (the late 18th century), because the filmmakers did not want the glamour of the regency period and they wanted a different visual style from the other adaptations. Overall, I felt like I couldn’t recognize the characters that I knew and loved in this version.

220px-Bridget_Jones's_Diary_OST_US_Cover

There are, of course, several modern versions of Pride and Prejudice.  These versions preserve the romance between Darcy and Elizabeth, but eliminate the social commentary aspect along with the regency setting. The best of the modern versions is Bridget Jones’s Diary, which was both a novel (written by Helen Fielding) and a movie (staring Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth, and Hugh Grant).  It does a good job of taking the romance of Jane Austen’s novel and putting it in modern-day England (with the Wickham role expanded to make use of Hugh Grant).  It actually is very clever in the ways that it weaves familiar characters and events through the story, all the while giving them a modern twist. It is not completely bound to the original novel, so there are many changes to the story and characters, but it all works to make an entertaining, funny film. The performances are also excellent with Renee Zelleger giving an academy award nominated performance, Colin Firth playing his second Mr. Darcy (and being just as appealing), and Hugh Grant relishing the role of the charming cad.

There are two other modern Pride and Prejudice films: Bride and Prejudice and Pride and Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy.  Bride is a Bollywood musical version of the story staring Aishwarya Rai and Martin Henderson. I thought that this was actually a good fit for the story because the Indian setting allowed for a fresh take on the story.  The second film is a Mormon, yes that’s right, a Mormon version, of the story, which is a better fit than you’d think; they were able to work in the church through Mr. Collin’s character. It’s set in modern-day Utah at Brigham Young University. I actually saw it without knowing it was a Mormon version (the “latter-day comedy” subtitle wasn’t used), and it didn’t really offer anything new or clever, but it was okay. Of course I didn’t really understand the Mormon references and jokes, but I didn’t really need to to understand the movie.

I had to amend this post, because after I finished I realized that I really should have mentioned Lost in Austen, a 2008 British miniseries in which Amanda, a modern day woman, changes places with Elizabeth Bennet.  It’s a clever look at what it would be like to actually live as Elizabeth Bennet did (something that many readers have imagined, I’m sure). The period adjustment provides some humor, as well as Amanda knowing where the story has to go and trying to keep it on track now that it’s heroine has disappeared.  My complaint was that I wished I could have seen more of Elizabeth’s life in modern England.  Instead, that’s glossed over to focus on Amanda’s time inside the world of the novel.

I believe a movie version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is eventually being made, and there is a 1980 miniseries that I didn’t talk about here as well, but that covers all the various incarnations of Pride and Prejudice on the screen.

Advertisements

Thoughts on “The Crusade”/”The Daleks’ Master Plan”

I know this is going back quite a bit into the Hartnell years, but I just recently started watching the remaining episodes from the lost stories, and was pleasantly surprised by “The Crusade.”  It was the sixth story of the second season (fourteenth overall).  Only the first and third episodes of this four part story survive, but I was able to hear the audio of the missing episodes.

This episode took place before Barbara and Ian’s departure, so William Hartnell’s Doctor is still traveling with the trio of Barbara, Ian, and Vicki.  It’s one of the many historical stories that took place during the first Doctor’s era. Basically, the travellers arrive in 12th century Palastine, right in the middle of a conflict between King Richard the Lionheart and the Saracen ruler, Saladin.  Ian ends up helping a member of King Richard’s party fight off a Saracen (Ian was always an excellent fighter!), but Barbara is kidnapped by the Saracens, along with another member of King Richard’s party.  This development forces the travelers to join with King Richard in the hopes that he can help them get Barbara back, involving them in what was the start of the Crusades. In the course of the episodes, Ian is knighted and becomes Sir Ian, Barbara pretends to be  King Richard’s sister, Joanna, Vicki pretends to be a boy, and the Doctor becomes a thief (well, he stole some stolen clothes, so he feels that it is not really stealing).

This story was a bit of a surprise to me.  I felt that they actually did a nice job of representing both sides of the conflict.  I thought perhaps the Saracen’s would be the villains and would be portrayed as more barbaric than the British, but I didn’t find that to be the case.  I felt that Saladin was portrayed as an equal to King Richard, not an inferior leader.  He treats his prisoners with respect, and he accepts Richard’s plan for piece, without being foolishly trusting and naive. Both Saldin and Richard wanted peace, it was just impossible for them to work out.  It was interesting that the Doctor promoted King Richard’s peaceful solutions, even though he knew that it would not succeed.

It was interesting to see all the references to previous adventures in this story.  Barbara mentions several past adventures briefly when she is talking to Saladin (“The Web Planet,” “The Romans,” and “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”).  Plus, I can’t help but feel that since this story followed “The Web Planet,” the fact that at one point Ian is covered in honey so that he will be eaten by ants was meant to remind viewers of the Zarbi from the previous adventure.

I wish that all of this episode had survived.  I enjoyed the episodes that I was able to see, and wished that I could see the missing ones.  I loved the team of the Doctor with Barbara, Ian, and Vicki, and I’m glad that most of their episodes survived.  This would be higher on my list than say, “The Daleks’ Master Plan,” of which I’ve seen the three surviving episodes (episodes 2, 5, and 10).  Although I was excited to see Nicholas Courtney in his first Doctor Who appearance (and not as the Brigadier), and I was curious to see how the episodes fit into the story as a whole, I’d rather see more episodes of this story recovered.  Just to say a bit about “The Daleks’ Master Plan,” however, it was nice to see that the Daleks were being used in a different way.  The story seemed like it could have potential, I’m just not quite sure that it would really need to be 12 episodes long!

It was also interesting to see the the Monk from “The Time Meddler” was brought back.  I believe that he was only the second reoccurring villain on the show (the Daleks being the other).  He was definitely the first specific, individual villain to return. He was an interesting character in “The Time Meddler,” so I’d be interested to see more of how he was used.  He was only in episode 10 of the surviving episodes.

From what I’ve gathered this story also has the first companion death: Katarina, who had only been traveling with the Doctor since the last (lost) serial, “The Mythmakers.” This story also contained the first Christmas episode, in which William Hartnell breaks the fourth wall and wishes viewers a merry Christmas, but that episode is one of the lost episodes.

I don’t really have much else to say at this point because it’s rather difficult to form too much of an opinion about a story when you can only see a fourth of it, with no consecutive episodes surviving. Obviously, it’s easier to form an opinion about “The Crusade,” since half of the story survives and you can listen to the missing episodes.

A Few Thoughts on “The Snowmen”

I’ve fallen a bit behind on my blogging as of late, due to being out of town visiting relatives for the holidays.  I had absolutely no control over what was on the television, nor did I have internet access, so I wasn’t able to watch much Doctor Who.  Since it’s quite a bit after the fact, I though I’d just put down a few of my thoughts after finally watching “The Snowmen.”

The Snowmen

This is another episode in which the alien plot comes in second to the characters (kind of like “The Power of Three”), but I really didn’t mind it.  Richard E. Grant and Ian McKellen did a good job in their limited parts, but the episode really didn’t focus much on the Great Intelligence and his plot to take over the world using people made of ice (copied from human DNA). In some ways, I felt they were a bit wasted in this episode, but I did like the reference to the show’s past (the Great Intelligence being an alien faced by Troughton’s Doctor). The evil snowmen were suitably creepy and the threat posed was just enough to see that the Doctor ended up having to save the world once again.

The real focus of the episode, however, was the story of Clara Oswin Oswald the barmaid/governess.  So far, I’m really liking Jenna-Louise Coleman and Clara/Oswin.  She’s been very spunky and clever both times we’ve seen her,  and was spirited enough to believably induce the Doctor to come out of his exile and re-engage with the world. From the first time I saw her in “Asylum of the Daleks” I’ve been dying to know how she could become the Doctor’s next companion, and I guess I’ll have to wait some more, since “The Snowmen” adds to the mystery.  Who’d have thought Moffat could create a character even more mysterious the Amy and River.  I will admit that I was a bit disappointed to see that the Clara/Oswin who travels with the Doctor will apparently be from the present. I would love to see the Doctor with a companion from the past or future again, but I guess I’ll still have to wait for that.

Madam Vastra, Strax, and Jenny

I also loved the return of Madam Vastra and Jenny.  When they first appeared in “A Good Man Goes to War” I said that I would be happy to watch a show about their adventures in Victorian England (and, for the record, I’d still be happy to watch that show), so I was happy to see them return.  I also loved the comic relief provided by the miraculously alive Strax (how he was a. brought back to life and b. came to live with Madam Vastra and Jenny are never really explained except in a throwaway line by Matt Smith).  The scene in which the Doctor sends Strax to get the memory worm was one of my favorite parts of the episode, as silly as it was.

And, speaking of favorite scenes, I thought the one word interview scene was one of the best scenes Steven Moffat has written in a while.  It was a clever way to avoid having Clara repeat all of the things we, the audience, already knew and I loved the reactions of Madam Vastra and Jenny to her answers.

Overall, I enjoyed this episode.  I’m hoping this sets the tone for the rest of the season, with its blending of the old and new. Even the new title sequence and TARDIS interior exemplified this.  They both reference the past versions from the classic show while still being a new version.  Even though the alien plot was a bit underdeveloped, I still thought this was a good episode.  I’m very curious to see where Moffat is going with the Oswin/Clara storyline. I’m assuming that Moffat isn’t just going to turn her into the new Rory, the companion who just keeps dying. It’s going to be difficult to wait the months until the show comes back because I think the rest of the season looks promising with more Oswin/Clara, a Neil Gaiman written cyberman episode, and the return of Madam Vastra, Jenny, and Strax.