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.

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I Am the Doctor

After reading Elisabeth Sladen’s autobiography, I was curious to hear what Jon Pertwee had to say about his time with the show.  Jon Pertwee wrote two autobiographies, both of which are currently out of print.  The first was Moon Boots and Dinner Suits, published in the mid 80’s, which covered his life up to his involvement with Doctor Who.  The second, I Am the Doctor, covered his time on the show and his subsequent career; it was cowritten by David J. Howe.  Jon Pertwee died before the book was published, and, although he supposedly finished the memoir just days before his death, it felt kind of unfinished to me.

The book begins with an introduction by Doctor Who producer Barry Letts and brief outline of Jon Pertwee’s life and career that was covered in his first memoir.  This background information was written by Howe, before getting into the autobiographic writing of Pertwee.  Pertwee’s account begins with a bit of information about his time on the radio in The Navy Lark and contains brief sections about his work on the film The House That Dripped Blood and bringing Worzel Gummidge to television, but the rest of the memoir deals with his time on Doctor Who.

Jon Pertwee covers his time on Doctor Who chronologically, covering each story in order.  He does have interesting stories and his voice comes through quite clearly at times, but I felt that it was nowhere near as strong as Elisabeth Sladen’s autobiography.  When reading her autobiography, I felt that her voice came through clearly, at all times.  This book felt more scattered to me, as if it didn’t quite fit together into one cohesive story.  I guess that’s what I meant when I stated earlier that it felt as if it wasn’t quite finished.  It felt a bit like a rough draft at times, not quite polished.

However, this does not mean that I didn’t enjoy it.  It was particularly interesting to compare Jon’s version of events with Lis Sladen’s.  For instance, Lis’ version of Jon’s departure from the series is quite different from his.  She claimed that he felt that he deserved a raise and when he was told he couldn’t have one, he rather impetuously decided to leave the show (and regretted it later). Jon’s account was much different.  He claimed that he felt it was time to leave, especially since the production team was leaving.  He even lined up another job, in the play The Bedwinner before he told anyone of his decision.  He eventually told Barry Letts that he felt it was time to leave, and received a call from someone higher up the ladder, asking him to stay.  He offered to stay if they could give him a twenty percent raise, but the money wasn’t in the budget, so they agreed that he would leave.  After reading about Jon Pertwee, I have to admit I lean a bit more towards Lis Sladen’s version of events because he did seem to be rather emotional.

It was interesting to read what Jon Pertwee thought of his companions, as well.  He seemed to get along with Caroline John, who played Liz Shaw, but he did not care for her character.  He felt that she was too capable and intelligent; in his mind the Doctor’s companion should be the perpetual damsel in distress.  He definitely got what he wanted in Katy Manning’s Jo Grant, his favorite companion.  You can tell from the way he writes about her exit from the show in his memoir that she was his favorite of the actresses that played his companions as well.  Perhaps they bonded over a love of wild 70’s fashions!  He obviously did not feel the same bond with Lis Sladen, although he doesn’t actually have anything bad to say about her.  In fact, he doesn’t seem to have too much to say about Lis at all, which is probably a bit telling in itself.

He also covers his time doing “The Five Doctors,” as well as the conventions and other Doctor Who related experiences in the years after leaving the show.  An interesting story from the later years involves Patrick Troughton.  According to Jon, it was he who got Patrick Troughton involved in Doctor Who appearances and conventions.  Apparently, Patrick was rather shy and had never gotten involved in making appearances as the Doctor.  Jon took him with to one of his schedules appearances, and he found that he had a good time.  But what sold him on the experience?  Being given gifts!

Overall, I would say that the book was a worthwhile read.  In the interests of full disclosure, however, I must confess that Jon Pertwee is my favorite Doctor, so I love learning about his time on the show.  It’s more of a coffee table book, in that it is filled with pictures and insets written by Jon Pertwee’s costars.  Still, it does give some idea of what when on behind the scenes during Jon Pertwee’s run, which was interesting to read.  If you’re a fan of Jon Pertwee’s era, then you will definitely find something of interest in this book and it does provide a glimpse of Pertwee’s personality, even if it’s not as detailed as I might have hoped.

Elisabeth Sladen: An Autobiography

I recently was able to read the autobiography that Lis Sladen finished shortly before she passed away last year.  I’m going to admit something here, that I know makes me a bit odd in the Doctor Who universe; I liked Sarah Jane Smith, but I’m not sure that I would pick her as my favorite companion.  Therefore, I wondered how interesting I was going to find her autobiography.  I can now say that I would highly recommend it to any fan of Doctor Who.

Lis Sladen’s voice comes through clearly and she is full of interesting stories, both about her life while on Doctor Who, and her life before and after.  I wasn’t sure how interested I would be in her life before Who, but, sure enough, I found the whole book very interesting.  It was interesting to read about the life of a regular actor in England in the late 60’s and early 70’s.  She kind of skips over a lot of her life after Who, except to write about the various Who related projects she got involved with after.

Of course, her recollections of working on Doctor Who dominate the book.  I found her recollections fascinating.  She tells of all the good and bad experiences she had while working on Doctor Who.  From the story of her audition for the show (she didn’t even realize that she was being offered the part of the new companion) to being pulled out of retirement for the Sarah Jane Adventures, she is full of interesting details that help paint a picture of what it is like to work on Doctor Who.  I also learned a great deal about the people who worked behind the scenes like producer Barry Letts and the various directors (many of whom also seemed to be somewhat difficult to work with).

Even more interesting to me was the relationship she had with both of her Doctors, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker.  It’s pretty clear in the book that she didn’t much care for Jon Pertwee, but she adored Tom Baker.  She seems to feel that Pertwee expected things to be done his way, while Baker was much more collaborative.  I would say that Baker treated her as more of an equal, while Pertwee had more of a patronizing attitude towards woman, as well as a bit of the ego that his Doctor displayed on the screen.  Of course it probably didn’t help that on her first day on location for Doctor Who, Jon mistakenly called her Katy, then burst into tears because he missed his former companion, Katy Manning.

Overall, I would say that this is a great book for any Doctor Who fans interested in the history of the show.  Lis Sladen is an entertaining writer and she offers a great deal of insight into what life was like behind the scenes.

May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor

As I’m sure most people are aware of by now, The Hunger Games will soon be arriving at a theatre near you.  As a fan of the books, I am looking forward to the film.  I just saw the extended trailer, which you can see if you click  here.

Watching the trailer made me think about how perfect I think the casting is.  Obviously, I haven’t seen the film yet, but the characters look a great deal like I pictured them when reading the book.  In particular, I think Jennifer Lawrence is the perfect choice to play Katniss Everdeen.  I was surprised to hear that some fans questioned her ability to play the role.  If you haven’t seen it already, you should check out her Academy Award nominated performance in Winter’s Bone (which is a fantastic film in its own right).  There are a lot of similarities between the character Katniss and that of Ree.

First, the two characters come from similar backgrounds.  They are both from underprivileged families, in which the father is missing/dead.  If you ignore the politics of The Hunger Games, they are even living in poverty in basically the same region, the American South.  In The Hunger Games, Katniss is from District 12; most guesses put this district in roughly the area of West Virginia.  Winter’s Bone is set in the Missouri Ozarks.

More than a similarity of situation and location, are teenagers who are responsible for taking care of their mother and younger siblings.  Both characters have taken on the burden of supporting their family, no matter what it costs them.  They put themselves at risk, rather than risk anything happening to their loved ones.  This additional responsibility that they take on prevents them from having the opportunity of acting like normal teenagers.  They are both basically living the life of an adult.

As I referenced above, Katniss and Ree are tough and share a determination and selflessness.  They are both willing to do whatever it takes to protect and provide for their families.  Ree’s resolve to save her family from eviction puts her on a dangerous path, but she never backs down.  The same goes for Katniss.  She volunteers for the games to protect her sister and it is her desire to survive and return home to the family that needs her that helps her continue.

All of these things have convinced me that Jennifer Lawrence could be a perfect Katniss.  I believe that she can bring out both Katniss’ strength and humanity, and bring to life the character that so many people have grown attached to in the novels.