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Pride and Prejudice (1980)
The True Spirit of Pride and Prejudice
Out of the three movie adaptations I have seen, this 1979 BBC, the 1995 AE/BBC, and the 1940 Lawrence Olivier, this production with Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul comes the closest to capturing the wit and elegance Jane Austen used to craft her novel.
Unfortunately, there are a number of complaints against it. It is true that the 1979 version was shot in a less extravagant manner than the new A&E version, but it is not distractingly limited. In fact, because one is not spending so much time distracted by the gorgeous sets and lavish costumes, the story, the characters and the vibrant emotions that radiate from them are the central concerns.
Some people claim that this version is stiff and unemotional compared to the distraught and passionate acting in the A&E version. However, the A&E production fails to observe the style of the period which is so crucial to the story. Reserved Victorian manners do not mean that the passion is not there, but rather that it is boiling just beneath the surface - to quote another user review. Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul deliver outstanding performances, each showing that they understand how to communicate the complex characters they portray in the constraints of Victorian society. In contrast, their counter parts in the A&E version deliver less "Jane Austen"ish performances. Colin Firth, though an excellent actor, is the better of the two, but his Darcy lacks dignity. Jennifer Ehle misses entirely the spirit of Lizzy. Her performance lacks the intelligence and vivacity that makes Lizzy attractive to Darcy in the first place. The only remnants of these qualities are the lines she says, but she delivers them with no regard for their meaning. Garvie, on the other hand, captures Lizzy effortlessly, and in this the chemistry between her and Rintoul is zestier and more believable.
The supporting characters are all played quite well, especially Mr. Collins. This is the authoritative movie, but I highly recommend reading the book appreciate the story fully.
Pride and Prejudice (1995)
Money and Melodrama
The 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice disappointed me greatly. After watching the first 50 minutes it was clear to me through the clumsy script and butchered sacarine stereotyped characters that this production is little more than an expensively produced melodramatic hot air balloon. The witty dialogue, poignent satire and emotional depth of the characters, qualities of the book that I loved so much, are lost here to lush production values and a screen writer who in paraphrasing Austen's dialogue has dragged down its graceful arcs.
To watch a production more in tune with the spirit of Pride and Prejudice, I recommend the 1979 BBC version directed by Cyril Coke. Better yet, I recommend reading the book!