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UK 1995
Directed by
Simon Langton
300 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Pride And Prejudice (1995)

Originally an acclaimed six episode BBC tele-series Simon Langton’s version of Jane Austen’s masterpiece was subsequently rendered into a two part, five hour feature film that remains the most admired of the various screen adaptations including Joe Wright’s handsome 2015 version.

Of course with an extra three hours Langton, who had directed the BBC’s hit Edwardian costume drama series Upstairs Downstairs, had the time to do justice to Austen’s much-loved story of love and marriage amongst the landed gentry at the end of the eighteenth century whereas Wright had to squeeze it all into just over two hours. With this luxury Langton and writer Andrew Davies were not only able to remain faithful to the original story and dialogue but actually to develop certain elements, notably the relationship between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy which is its true heart. The outcome is both a surprisingly modern romance, a splendidly staged costume drama and an entertaining satire of the stifling mores and manners of Regency England.

Spot-on production values which include fine costumery and some marvellous location photography aside it is the characters and the performances which enchant. Alison Steadman as the over-wrought Mrs Bennet and Benjamin Whitrow as her long-suffering husband, Barbara Leigh-Hunt as the stuffily imperious Lady Catherine de Bourg and David Bamber as the creepily obsequious Mr. Collins stand out amongst a uniformly strong cast. Only Adrian Lukis seems under-served as Mr. Wickham a character who never manages to acquire any depth beyond obvious cadishness.

Of course it is the unfolding of the prickly romance between Jennifer Ehle’s Elizabeth Bennet and Colin Firth’s Fitzwilliam Darcy that holds our attention. The film made a star of Firth and his performance  remains the benchmark for the character. Although Ehle is very pleasing to the eye, her pretty moon-shaped face flattered by the fashion for tightly ringleted hair and lacy bonnets for my money she doesn’t possess the necessary family resemblance and spends over-much time, even if this was Lizzie’s social lot, smiling sweetly as she delivers her veiled but often-acidulous ripostes. The result being that she never seems completely of the time and place depicted.

Even so this is a fine adaptation and deserves to be seen in one sitting. 




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