Monday, July 8, 2013

Pride and Prejudice Watch-a-thon: Pride and Prejudice (1940)

You had to know something like this was coming right? Right! I've decided to make a series of posts documenting and reviewing the different adaptions of Pride and Prejudice. As a general rule, when I find a new classic that I fall in love with, I obsessively watch all the movie adaptions I can. I'm always curious to see how the books I've envisioned in my head turn out in movie format and the minute I finished P&P I started watching them.

Every post will be dedicated to one adaption, which I recently rewatched so the opinions are all fresh and detailed. I will be pointing out both the good and the bad of each adaption and it goes without saying that I will in fact spoil the movie. So if you haven't seen it yet and don't want to be influenced by my opinion then you should probably skip the post. I also wish to warn you that I might get passionate and rant quite a bit so there is that.

The adaptions that I'm reviewing I've seen at least twice and I'll admit I'm not perfect, so I might end up missing an adaption or two that has fallen below my radar. In any case, at the end of this delightful journey I will list the adaptions worst to best and point out which actor had the best portrayal of each character. ONTO THE REVIEW!!

Pride and Prejudice (1940)
Laurence Olivier as Mr. Darcy and Greer Garson as Elizabeth Bennet
Here is a link to the IMDB page for a full cast listing:

As a classic movie lover the minute I heard about this adaption and the fact that the amazingly talented Olivier stared in it I flipped out and watched it. At just a touch under two hours I was naturally expecting a ton of cuts and there were. Despite the cuts and edits to the story, I found that it was the actors' portrayals of the characters that really won me over. As a whole I found this adaption to be incredibly well done and plan on buying the DVD and watching it until it's ruined.

 Lizzie and Mr. Darcy
Let's start with the Cons first and get them out of the way.
  • Mr. Wickham: The Wickham storyline and the character himself are extremely weak in this version. The actor who portrays him is entirely forgetful, which is really a shame because he is an important character in P&P. In this particular version, Mr. Wickham is introduced early on in what I assume is a time saving measure to keep the movie under two hours. The real problem that I seem to have is the fact that this movie never develops the relationship that exists between Wickham and Lizzie in the book. In the book he sort of charms her and helps along her prejudice against Mr. Darcy, while presenting this fa├žade of friendship. In this adaption, Wickham sees Lizzie, declares her beautiful, and then for no apparent reason at all confides to her his tragic story about how Darcy robbed him of his inheritance. His total screen time in this movie can't be more that 10 or 15 minutes. As a result of the lack of dynamic character his scandalous involvement with Lydia just doesn't have enough impact.
  • Charlotte: Yet again another pretty significant secondary character is not done enough justice in this adaption and this is at the fault of the screenwriters and the actress herself, rather than a time crunch. I feel like the person who wrote her character really didn't grasp Charlotte's situation well enough. Charlotte is important to Austen's society commentary. P&P is not meant to be read as a lighthearted period romance, but a commentary on society and women's condition in it. Charlotte is used to point out that women only gained advantageous marriages if they were beautiful, young, and from wealthy and titled families. She sadly chooses to tie herself to Mr. Collins, a ridiculous man with no real title because she knows that she is no longer young or beautiful enough to make an advantageous marriage that would keep her from spinsterhood. In this version, Charlotte happily snaps up Mr. Collins after Lizzie rejects him and goes along her merry way. Lizzie barely has anything to say on the subject nor is Charlotte's social condition ever addressed.
  •  Title in the movie script: This is one of my hugest pet peeves. I absolutely hate it when a book or a movie has a character that word for word references the title. It's tacky and should never ever be done. Let the audience determine how the title relates to the book or movie.
Now onto the biggest con of this movie
  • Cutting and addition of scenes: Some significant scenes are cut out and you do notice a difference without them. The first is that Lizzie does not visit Pemberly and she never meets Georgiana, in fact Georgiana is just a name referenced from time to time in this movie. I feel like the lack of the Pemberly scene makes Lizzie's change of heart about Mr. Darcy a little less believable. and more rushed. One minute Darcy gives his first proposal and then the next Lizzie is bemoaning how she shouldn't have turned him down. Darcy also doesn't write a letter explaining himself in this version and instead directly addresses Lizzie's complaints. Darcy also willingly offers his services when Lydia runs away with Wickham, which is just wrong.  As for an addition, the Bennets in this version are preparing to move away from Longbourn to escape the scandal. Correct me if I'm wrong, but this does not happen in the book.
  • The Ending- Ok. So this is really a con, but I can't completely dismiss it. In this version Lady Catherine confronts Lizzie about Mr. Darcy because he asks her to. Darcy wants to know if Lizzie's feelings have changed and apparently it seemed logical to involve an aunt who was originally determined to have you marry her daughter. Lady Catherine comes out and tells Darcy that Lizzie loves him. He runs in and takes her to the garden where he proposes to her, at the same time as Bingley is proposing to Jane. Instead of focusing on them, it randomly switched to Mr. and Mrs. Bennet who are peeping through the window at them and talking about how fortunate it is to have two daughters engaged to rich men. Then they focus on Mary and Kitty. This ending hit me at my weakest point and that is I have always held the belief that Mary gets royally shafted. Out of all the Bennet sisters she is the most intelligent and accomplished and gets rejected at every turn. In this adaption, the ending scene shows Kitty flirting with an officer and Mary playing the piano with a man accompanying her on what I assume is a flute. Bout time Mary stopped getting rejected and belittled. Then it flashes to Mr. and Mrs. again and they cheerfully proclaim that soon all their daughters will be married.
   Now get comfortable because despite these cons, there are many pros to this adaption that make it worthy of consideration and admiration. Most of these pros are the result of great acting on the part of the primary characters.
  • Olivier as Mr. Darcy: There was a reason Olivier won so many awards and was knighted and you can honestly see in this film how amazing he is. Olivier is actually my second favorite Darcy of all the adaptions. He perfectly manages to capture Darcy's snobbish and upper-class pride and then easily makes the transition to adoration when he realizes he loves Lizzie. Not only does he give his lines impeccably, but he also has great body language. For example, in the scene where Darcy and Lizzie are talking at the Netherfield Ball, his body language makes it inherently clear that he has noticed Mary's lackluster public singing, Mrs. Bennet's ridiculous gossiping, the bumbling Collins, and how drunk Lydia and Kitty are. Immediately his friendly demeanor changes and Olivier and the film itself get across how damning a bad family can be during that time period. It shows that ultimately Jane and Lizzie lack advantageous marriages, despite their beauty, because of the ridiculousness of their family.

  • Greer Garson as Lizzie: I may change my mind about this when I rewatch Jennifer Ehle's performance, but I think Garson is in fact my favorite Lizzie. Her timing is impeccable and she delivers her lines so well. She captures the spirit of Lizzie perfectly. Garson character is mindful of propriety, but when she is displeased about something her dialogue is laced with little barbs of wit. Lizzie is never meant to be crude or outright insulting, as some adaptions would have her to be. Have a watch and see what I mean:

"There is no one as dignified as a mummy" :D

  • Frieda Inescort as Caroline Bingley: Now how can we not talk about her after watching that amazing clip. What I love about her version of Caroline over the others is the fact that she oozes upper-class haughtiness. Her voice reflects it as well as the snide way that she insults everyone she comes into contact with who isn't Darcy or Bingley. Some versions endeavor to turn Caroline into the villain of the film for some reason and I find that incredibly inaccurate. Caroline is exactly as she is portrayed in this version, a slightly snobbish upper-class woman who thinks she would be the perfect match for Mr. Darcy and can't entertain the thought of her brother marrying into such a ridiculous family. She never sets out to make the lives of everyone around her miserable. 

  • Comedic moments: Despite the fact that this adaption adds and subtracts scenes to its detriment, it does manage to add a few scenes that are so hilarious that you can almost overlook the fact that they were never from the book. One of the first of these scenes that the audience is introduced to is when both Mrs. Bennet and Lady Lucas discover Mr. Bingley has let Netherfield Hall. The both of them engage in a madcap carriage race back home in order to have their husbands be the first to introduce themselves and their daughters to the rich and single Bingley. The second has to be the archery scene between Lizzie and Darcy. Acting all manly and self important, Darcy suggests that he and Lizzie play some archery. He manages to hit the target (but not the bullseye mind you) and then shows her how to properly hold the bow. Lizzie subsequently hits the bullseye three times and Darcy is embarrassed. I love that scene every time I watch it.
So there you have it. All the pros and cons in my opinion have been laid out. While not the best adaption, I still had a great time watching it and I genuinely think you will as well. Sadly, the worst adaption is yet to come, so be prepared for that post. Happy Watching!