I know most of you assume that I go in for costume dramas, but I’m not usually the first one on the couch when somebody says “6-hour Jane Austen adaptation.” But a couple things lured me into the beloved 1990s BBC adaptation: 1) I just read the Austen book and the Graham-Smith/Austen “adaptation,” 2) I like Firth a lot, and know this show propelled him to stardom in the UK, 3) Brian admired Jennifer Ehle’s performance in terms most reasonably considered gushing. So when Jenny announced, upon finishing re-reading the book last week in preparation for her book club meeting, that she would be watching the BBC adaptation, I volunteered to watch it with her.
In short, excellent. Very good stuff.
- The choice to make the story 6 hours was a strong one, as it gives the cast time to linger over the moments that make the story work. When Darcy visits Elizabeth and doesn’t know what to say, we get to sit with them awkwardly. There’s a lot of sitting awkwardly. The length of the story (months and months) works when the story draws out.
- The casting is amazing all around. I am always enamored of villains, nincompoops, and assholes in films. And the casting of the shriekingly inane Mrs. Bennet, the odious Mr. Collins, and the evil-eye wielding Lady DeBourgh (sp?) are all perfect. And Mr. Bingley’s sisters? The hatchet-nosed one harpies her way from scene to scene.
- Colin Firth’s stunning performance in the show becomes ever so much more amazing when we consider the range of facial expressions he’s allowed to use. I have it on good information that he would have forfeited his entire salary for the film if he smiled even once. And with those starchy collars, he’s not going to be doing any head bowing or nodding. And to echo Brian’s sentiment, Ehle conveys unbelievable nuance and sentiment in the slightest dance of an eyebrow or widening of an eye.
- One of the more remarkable parts of this series, for me, is the fact that the writers maintained Austen’s layered language and subtle conversations. A professor of mine from way back once credited his deep love for Henry James novels in their layered language. “Everyone is nodding and smiling to one another, murmuring pleasantries while intrigues fly just under the radar. It’s what they’re not saying that grabs you.” This adaptation maintains Austen’s similar use of dialog in Pride and Prejudice. The best example of this moment for me comes at the end, when Wickham, now married to Lydia, tries to slather on a few more lies about his childhood. Elizabeth mentions that she knows he turned down his place in the chapel, and they say nothing more about it. But the undercurrent was as clear as day: “I know everything you’ve done, you cad.”
- I enjoyed seeing a young Lucy Davis (Dawn from the British The Office) as Caroline Lucas’ younger sister.
An excellent adaptation.