NB. This is copied from the Google cache of Eras of Elegance, itself probably copied from the A&E site.
BEHIND THE SCENES OF "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE" (1995)
We invite you to learn more about the making of "Pride and Prejudice" (1995).
FROM NOVEL TO SCREENPLAY
The 1995 version of "Pride and Prejudice" is the fourth film adaptation of Jane Austen's most beloved novel. Its predecessors were released in 1940, 1967, and 1979.
Producer Sue Birtwistle had read Pride and Prejudice "at least one hundred and fifty times" from the age of fifteen when she decided to pursue a film adaptation: "I am still finding things in [the novel]. I admire Austen so much more now that I see there is not a word wasted [in her novels]." 1
Birtwistle first met screenwriter Andrew Davies at Coventry College in England. Davies was Birtwistle's English tutor during her freshman year, and the two discussed making Pride and Prejudice into a film adaptation. Davies remarks: "I well recall Sue's entrepreneurial flair. Even in those days she was already very much a producer... We had similar ideas about how Pride and Predjudice should be approached when we talked about it -- it's just that we seem to have taken a bit of time getting round to it! It was always my ambition when I was a lecturer that my pupils would eventually get powerful positions and be able to employ me in my old age. But Sue seems to have been the only one that's managed to do it!" 2
On the birth of their idea to create a film adapation, Birtwistle recalls: "[Andrew and I] were watching a version of Northanger Abbey and after the credits had rolled and the lights went up, I said to Andrew, ‘We simply have to make Pride and Prejudice...and we shook hands on it there and then. That was seven years [before our film finally came out]. We both knew that it was the other's favorite book." 3
On writing the screenplay, Davies remarks: "Adapting Pride and Predjudice was certainly no chore for me. I wouldn't have done it were that the case. No, it [was a] sheer pleasure. Even when one knows that this is one of the greatest classics in the English language, and that it is a well-known and much-loved book to hundreds of thousands of fans. Inevitably there are favorites as well, and there can be few opening lines ('It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of good a fortune, must be in want of a wife') of a novel that are known so well, and quoted so often." 4
As a freelance television producer, Birtwistle needed the support of the British Broadcasting Company (BBE) and the Arts and Entertainment Network (A&E) to make her dream of producing a $6 million dollar "Pride and Prejudice" into a reality: "Every single character in Austen's book is introduced by a phrase about how much they are worth. And everybody's money is discussed by everybody else... Personally, I am rather feckless about money, I'm afraid, though incredibly responsible as a producer." 5 Birtwistle's responsible nature allowed her to stay within her budget and make a modest profit from the film.
Before the BBC signed on, Birtwistle and Davies had to peddle their idea to several television executives. In meeting with one executive, Birtwistle recalls pitching the story of five young women seeking husbands and their pushy mother: "We made it sound very modern, very contemporary. [The executive] was beside himself and asked if we'd secure the rights to the book! We assured him that we had -- and he was totally taken aback when we told him that it was Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice that we'd been talking about!" 6
After commissioning three scripts, the company that first signed on with Birtwistle and Davies decided to scrap the project, thinking that it was too soon after BBC's 1979 version for another version. Birtwistle and Davies then approached BBC, whose executives surprisingly leapt at the idea.
Director Simon Langton envisioned a Mr. Darcy that was slightly different from his predecessors: "Our Darcy is warm-blooded and passionate. Yes, he's aloof and arrogant at times, but Colin [Firth] shows what's attractive about him underneath." 7
AUDITIONS AND CASTING
Producer Sue Birtwistle had previously worked with actor Colin Firth in a 1985 British film about a group of English schoolboys. Firth had never read Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice when Birtwistle called to offer him the lead role as Mr. Darcy. Birtwistle recalls: "He told me he was not interested because 'it's girlie stuff' -- but later, when he had read five pages of [screenwriter Andrew] Davies' script, he was hooked." 8
Firth admits: "I didn't have the slightest clue on earth [who] Darcy was. I hadn't read any Jane Austen at all, chiefly because when her novels were offered as potential coursework at school, I thought they'd be rather, well, sissy. And I certainly never dreamed of lifting an Austen off the library shelves or at a bookstall... I had this prejudice that [the novel] would probably be girls' stuff. I had never realized that Darcy was such a famous figure in literature. [But whenever I mentioned the script,] everyone would tell me how they were devoted to this book, how at school they had been in love with Darcy." 9
On receiving the script for the first time, Firth recalls: "When Pride and Prejudice was offered I just thought, without even having read it, 'Oh, that old warhorse' and I unwrapped the huge envelope with great trepidation. Another reason for that hesitation was that I really didn’t want to take part in a ‘classic serial’ type of costume drama. Purely because my memories of them were all from the seventies. All rather formal, rather stiff, and with stilted scripts. When I opened up the package that Sue Birtwistle sent across to me, I saw that I couldn’t have been more completely wrong. Andrew Davies adaptation just leaps off the page at you..." 10
Despite his misgivings, Firth was sold on the project: "I think I was only about five pages in [the script] when I was hooked. It was remarkable. I don't think any script has fired me up quite as much, just in the most basic, romantic-story terms... I knew I had to listen to the voice inside me which said 'You enjoyed this. It's the only script you've been able to read for long time'. I had to take that seriously... I knew that I wanted to be involved. I realized in the end that if anyone else played the part, I’d be extremely envious of them. And the way the story moves you’re kept guessing at what might happen to Darcy and Elizabeth until the very last episode. I’m the man who didn’t know how it finished off at all and when I first met Sue to discuss the project, I hadn’t got around to reading the final part - and I confess that I was more than slightly surprised when Sue let slip that the pair of them actually get married!" 11
Although Birtwistle seemed to want Firth as her Mr. Darcy, Firth admits that he was "absolutely terrified" when he arrived for his first casting audition: "I was so wound up that I went into the gents toilet to have a fit of nerves. Well there I was, surrounded by about fifty actors, only one or two of whom I knew, and required to put flesh and bones on Darcy. In a situation like that you're asked to get the measure of the man purely by using your voice. And it became immediately apparent to me that what Darcy doesn't say at times is far more important, or a least equally so, than what he does. He's rather inscrutable, very taciturn. He's used to keeping his emotions in check. He certainly never really lets on to others what his innermost thoughts are. So the immediate thought I had as the day progressed was... 'I'm rather dull,' especially when you remember that this is Austen's wittiest novel, and all the rest of my colleagues were making everyone laugh with their characterizations." 12
Firth almost did not accept the role of Mr. Darcy for fear that he would not be able to live up the expectations for his character. Firth admits that he usually chooses lesser known projects and often "gravitate[s] towards things that are doomed." When Birtwistle offered him the part, Firth was apprehensive: "I looked in the mirror and I didn't see Darcy. I started to think... '[Lawrence] Olivier was fantastic [as Darcy in an earlier film version] and no one else could ever play the part.' ... I didn't feel I was right for Darcy. I didn't feel I would be able to make him what he should be. He seemed too big a figure somehow." In addition, Firth's aunt begged him to turn down the role of Darcy so that he wouldn't ruin her schoolgirl ideals for the romantic hero. Despite his insecurities, Firth read through Andrew Davies' script and became attached to the character of Darcy: "I realized that I had begun to appropriate the character and I now owned [him]. The thought of anyone else doing [Darcy] made me feel rather jealous." 13
Actor Crispin Bonham-Carter (third cousin to actress Helena Bonham-Carter) had not expected to audition or to be cast as the amiable Mr. Bingley: "Funnily enough, when the project first came up, I actually auditioned for the part of Wickham, the baddie. But after a short while the producer and director thought I'd be far better playing Bingley, and I was delighted to accept." 14
When actress Susannah Harker won the role of Jane Bennet, she wasn't the first in her family to play the gentle-mannered sister. Harker's mother, Polly Adams, played Jane in an earlier TV adaptation of the novel! Harker remarks: "That's an amazing coincidence, don't you think? Of course, we talked about it, and she told me how she played Jane all those years back in the sixties. But I didn't dig out any archive tape or film or anything. I wanted to play it for myself." In accepting the role of Jane, Harker sought to dedicate her performance to her grandmother, whose favorite book was Pride and Prejudice: "She helped bring me up, and I owe a lot of what I am to her. In a sense, I did this role for her, in her memory." 15
Actor Adrian Lukis won the role of Wickham after a screen test on the set of another film, as he recalls: “I was given a coat that was too small, huge side whiskers and a ruffled shirt, and away I went. One of the crew ended up playing Elizabeth. It was wonderful to get the role. I’d been doing theater for two years and it was a good way back into television." Lukis had just finished reading the novel before he landed the role: “I’d read Pride and Prejudice for [school], but I enjoyed it more when I read it again before I got the role. It’s a phenomenal book, beautifully written, with gentle humor." 16
When Alison Steadman was offered the role of Mrs. Bennet, she was "just absolutely delighted because I didn’t honestly think that I'd be the actress that a director, producer or writer would instantly think of to play someone like her. I was really quite pleased when, after one of the first read-throughs, Andrew Davies said 'Alison, we knew you'd bring something to Mrs. Bennet, but we didn't know what! It's great!'" Steadman adds: "When people learned that I was going to play her, a lot of them said ‘Oh, but we always thought she was quite old. Aren’t you a bit too young for it?' But then I said 'No, because if you work it out, she married at eighteen, she's got a daughter of fifteen as her youngest child, so that would put her at the forty or early forties mark. She's still quite a young woman herself!" 17
Steadman was excited to be part of a period film: "You see, it really was an acting challenge. Just one of the reasons is because the language is structured completely differently to the way we talk now. We had to be very careful to get everything precisely right. Now normally when I'd do a television piece, I find that it's okay for me to learn the lines the night before shooting, and then polish them on the way to the studio or the location in the taxi. But not with this. It was far more like working for the stage--learning a lot in advance. It’s been a very good discipline for me, and a challenge--which I enjoy. I haven't done a great deal of costume drama [before]...” 18
Actress Julia Sawalha (Lydia Bennet) was filming another BBS period miniseries, she began reading the scripts for both “Pride and Prejudice” and yet another period miniseries. Sawalha decided to accept both roles: "I was initially slightly concerned about doing two classic series almost back-to-back, but I realized that they would be shown about a year apart, and then, of course, when they’re both prestige productions, you don’t sit down and ask too many questions. You grab the opportunities when they come along." 19
Joanna David, mother of Emilia Fox, who played Georgiana Darcy, was cast alongside her daughter as Mrs. Gardiner.
One of the principal locations for "Pride and Prejudice" was Lacock, in Wiltshire, England. In order to transform the town into a Regency period village, set designers paid special attention to detail and had to ask residents and storeowners for permission to change the paint, doors, windows, and doorknobs of their homes and shops.
On her first Regency film, costume designer Dinah Collin sought to create dresses that were authentic. With a camera and sketchbook in hand, Collin searched costume shops and museums from Bath to Bradford, from Winchester to Worthing, and from Manchester to Rome in pursuit of Regency style examples. Collin also read everything she could about the period.
The scene in which Mr. Darcy indulges an impetuous fancy and dives into a lake was more complicated than expected. First, screenwriter Andrew Davies intended Darcy to dive in completely undressed. The British Broadcasting Company (BBC), however, wanted to preserve its reputation for family-friendly programming and suggested that Darcy wear undergarments. Unfortunately, men in the Regency period did not wear undergarments appropriate for swimming. So costume designers created knee-length pantaloons, hoping to fake the Regency period style. Actor Colin Firth was fitted for the counterfeit undergarments but looked so uncomfortable in them that everyone decided that Darcy should dive in fully clothed instead!
Firth recalls: "Originally I was supposed to take all my clothes off and jump into the pool naked. The moment where the man... is a man, instead of a stuffed shirt. He's riding on a sweaty horse, and then he's at one with the elements. But the BBC wasn't going to allow nudity, so an alternative had to be found." The alternative was that Darcy would dive in "via underpants, which, actually, were not historical. He would never have worn underpants. They would have looked ridiculous anyway." In the end, the inevitable decision was reached: "If you can't take them all off, just jump in." 20
In addition, the underwater sequence was filmed in a large tank. Firth slammed his nose on a steel girder in the tank during the first take. Firth's nose was so bloody and swollen that the crew had to shut down filming for a day. Firth was not allowed to jump into the pond because, "there's a thing called Wiles disease, which means you can't be insured to jump into a pond, because you can get sick from rat's [urine]. So we got a stuntman to do the actual dive. Everything is me, except there's a very, very brief shot of the stuntman in midair. Everything else is me." 21
As Elizabeth Bennet, actress Jennifer Ehle especially enjoyed donning the Regency costumes. Ehle remarks that the costumes for the Bennet girls, who were supposed to be of modest means, were quite simple and comfortable: "Anna Chancellor (Miss Bingley) [had] some marvelously rich things to wear, but I didn't envy her having to put all those things on in the heat of the midsummer, when we did most of the filming. The wardrobe people were wonderful to me, and gave me a wide-ranging selection of dresses to choose from... You don't often get the chance to have a choice like that, and I was very grateful. They were also very comfortable to wear. Often in costume drama you're really constricted and pulled in. But the dresses were light, and the corsets not tight at all. My daily mix-and-match became part of the pleasure of making the series." 22
Susannah Harker, who played Jane Bennet, also loved wearing the Regency dresses: "I loved all the costumes. Doing a series like this is always wonderful because you get to dress up, which is what every actor really wants to do!" 23
Actress Julia Sawalha (Lydia Bennet) adds: "Of course all those wonderful costumes helped. As I said, I’d just [another BBC miniseries], where the period is about thirty years after ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ and the women’s costumes in early Victorian times were very constricting--corsets, tight dresses, bonnet right to the side of the head, impairing vision. In Jane Austen’s day, there was a totally opposite fashion movement. The dresses were flowing, very free.” 24
Actor Benjamin Whitrow (Mr. Bennet) enjoyed the locations of the film: "One of the delights of making a series like ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is that you get out to some absolutely breathtaking locations. Luckington Court, the ‘home’ of the Bennets, for example is a completely unspoilt gem...the lady who has lived there for some forty or more years has preserved it like the treasure it is." 25
Whitrow recalls a particular day of shooting which wasn’t quite as pleasant: “I remember one sequence, which was a sort of party scene, with a lot of food on the table. It may have looked pretty wonderful, but under the lights, when we finished shooting on the third day, no-one wanted to go near the stuff, it was getting pretty high!" 26
Actor Crispin Bonham-Carter cherished his experiences filming "Pride and Prejudice": " 'Pride and Prejudice' [was] the first major television I've done, and I really don't think I could have enjoyed myself more. It was such a wonderful group of people to be around... ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is, after all, very much a quality production, with amazingly high standards and values to it. But it is also interesting and accessible. And a lot of fun.” 27
Bonham-Carter also admits that he was swept away by the glamour and romance of the Regency period: “And an actor's dream is to put on a good period costume and some sideburns...you've got the character straight away! Seriously, when you're surrounded by such total realism in the sets and the clothes, it would be very hard indeed not to have some of the naturalism rub off on you. And that Regency period was such a time of style that you do indeed stand and move in a different way. You almost feel ashamed to climb out of it all at the end of a day and put your jeans and T-shirt back on. What Bingley would have thought of today's casual dress would be anyone's guess. I think he'd have been horrified!" 28
Sawalha remarks: “ ’Pride and Prejudice’ was a unique experience in every way, from the sets to the locations, from the casting to the locations, and the script. It was one of the most relaxed and rewarding experiences I’ve ever had, and I look back on it with great affection. I think, by the way, that I was one of the few people involved who hadn’t read the book before the script arrived!" 29
Although the actors all agreed that the atmosphere on location for "Pride and Prejudice" made for some of the happiest times of their careers, director Simon Langton often worried about the proximity of their sets to military bases: "I'm delighted that [our actors were happy] and I always believe that you get the very best from your cast and crew when everyone is relaxed. But every director will tell you that when you're working on a major project like this, every single morning you wake up and wonder what the hazards are going to be. Is it going to be rain, will the sun shine for you? Has anyone got a cold or the flu? And when we were making Pride and Prejudice, were the RAF going to do a close formation exercise bombing raid right over the top of us just as Elizabeth Bennet has something important to say to Darcy? The locations we used were absolutely stunning, but fate decreed that the main ones were almost invariably near the RAF or NATO base, and we had to do a bit of persuading of the various commanders that they wouldn't overfly at certain times and places. When we explained the situation they were consideration itself." 30
RELATIONSHIPS ON AND OFF THE SET
Actress Julia Sawalha (Lydia Bennet) remarks: "Looking back, I think the nicest thing about ‘Pride and Prejudice’ was that, as the Bennet Family, we really did feel like a family. We all got on really well together, and ate out together in the local restaurants after a day’s work was finished. That’s not always the case. There are times when you definitely DON’T want to see someone you’ve been working with!" 31
Benjamin Whitrow (Mr. Bennet) agrees: “One of the chief pleasures of doing ‘Pride and Prejudice’ was the wonderful actors the BBC assembled. It genuinely was like having your own family around you on the set.” 32
While Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet courted on screen, actors Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle also began dating early during the filming. By the time the actors performed the final wedding kiss, however, Firth and Ehle had parted amicably after one year together. Firth admits that having a relationship with Ehle during the filming made the acting process a greater challenge: "I actually find that if you're involved with an actress that you're having to tell a love story with, it's more difficult. I don't find it easy to draw on it. Your relationship, your feelings aren't the same as those of the characters. She's not that person. And you're not telling your own story. So I think you have to put all your own stuff aside completely and reconceive your relationship as other people. So I think it stands in the way, to be honest." 33
In addition, the media's interest in Firth and Ehle's relationship proved to be a headache, as the actor recalls: "They only discovered it after it was over... They get your number and phone up, pretending to be BT, then ask, 'Are you and your leading lady in love?' You let them write about it, and all this invented stuff comes out. It's astounding, breathtaking, what gets invented." 34
Producer Sue Birtwistle was extremely fond of Firth: "[In Firth,] we have the definitive Darcy. He's just perfect in every regard." 35
THE ACTORS ON THEIR ROLES
All in all, Firth thinks that "Pride and Prejudice" was "an intoxicating story. The language is wonderful. I think it's very romantic, beautifully structured, and the actors do a good job." 36
In spite of the unexpected fame that Mr. Darcy brought to actor Colin Firth, he sheepishly admits that he doesn’t share much in common with the proper Regency gentleman: "There's this other person called Mr. Darcy who I have very little to do with. He's like a bizarre doppelganger that I've spawned who walks around doing things without me. I've not really allowed myself to get hung up about it. Life has gone on perfectly satisfactorily. It hasn't held me back. It dominates what gets written about me, but it doesn't affect me any closer than that... It's not going to bring anyone any closer to Mr. Darcy to find out more about me." 37
Firth adds, "I felt as if I'd lost my whole personality [after 'Pride']. It's been very strange, this idea of Mr. Darcy appealing so much to women. Because obviously, as you can see, I don't carry that around with me. I'm not so Mr. Darcy every day of my life. If people expect to see a saturnine, dark, smouldering tall aristocrat, they are going to be disappointed." Firth is widely known to be "completely unassuming, friendly, and funny." 38
Firth remarks of his character: "Colin Firth of the twentieth century would not be happy in this period, but as an actor I adore exploring Jane Austen's strict social conventions... And Mr. Darcy has a few absurd aspects to him. But playing him, you can't try to be funny. Darcy himself says, 'It's been my study to avoid ridicule.' He's definitely not a man to be laughed at, which of course causes the comedy." 39
Although Firth initially wanted to play Darcy differently from his predecessors, he decided to remain faithful to the character: "I reasoned: 'To make myself different...I will have to do an awful lot.' But doing anything is the last thing that is right for playing Darcy. The only way for it to work is to be Darcy." Firth’s commitment to play Darcy as Jane Austen’s enigmatic and quiet hero was more exhausting than Firth expected: "In the first [ballroom] scene, I had to go in and be hurt, angry, intimidated, annoyed, irritated, amused, horrified, appalled and keep all these reactions within this very narrow framework of being inscrutable because nobody ever knows quite what Darcy's thinking... The physical dimention is essential. He's basically a taciturn person, and what he doesn't say is much more important than what he does a lot of the time. I've played some far more physically energetic parts, but I don't think I've ever been as physically exhausted at the end of a take as I have with Darcy." 40
Of course, Firth confesses that playing a taciturn character like Darcy was difficult also because of the vibrant cast of characters about him: “[Darcy] used to keeping his emotions in check. He certainly never really lets on to others what his innermost thoughts are. So the immediate thought I had as the [filming] progressed was... ‘I’m rather dull,’ especially when you remember that this is Austen’s wittiest novel, and all the rest of my colleagues were making everyone laugh with their characterizations." Firth admits that Darcy’s brooding nature actually made it easier at times to finish a shoot: "I've always believed, somehow, that the more 'miserable' a character you play is, the more interesting they become. I'd rather play someone like Darcy, who is very uptight and proper and controlled, and leave him at the end of the day to go 'up' to my normal self, than be relentlessly cheerful in a comedy part day after day, and have to come 'down' to normality afterwards! At least when the director shouts 'Cut!' you can return to some semblance of being yourself." 41
On understanding Darcy’s essence, Firth remarks: "I remember reading a very helpful saying: 'A man who is eligible needs to entertain no one.' For me that was a great key to understand Darcy. I thought that if he was charming as well, life would be intolerable for him. So out of both shyness and lack of necessity he remained aloof." Firth adds: “One of the key moments in the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy is when she rejects his first proposal of marriage. I don’t think that he can actually believe that someone would turn him down. He’s certainly guilty of social snobbery, and that’s something he realizes as the book ends. He makes assumptions about other people, and basically, that’s ignorance." 42
On the unfolding of Darcy’s character, Firth remarks: "Jane Austen is rather vague in her description of Darcy [when he meets Elizabeth at Pemberley], and I found myself foraging for clues about how he is supposed to come across. There are contradictions. People often ask whether Darcy changes in the course of the story or whether we find out what he is really like. I think it is a mixture of the two. His housekeeper talks affectionately of him and reveals that he has always looked after his sister and taken care of his household in a very kindly way. He hasn't suddenly turned into a good man; I think he has always been a good man underneath that stiff exterior." 43
At the same time, Firth believes that Darcy's character changes after meeting Elizabeth: "[Darcy] learns his lesson when he falls in love with one of those barbarians and realizes that she's at least his equal, if not his superior, in terms of wit, intellectual agility and sense of personal dignity. He is so profoundly challenged by her that his old prejudices cannot be upheld..... His real crime, I think, is silliness. I know that's a terribly undignified way to look at him, but I believe his failing is foolish, superficial, social snobbery, and that's the bitter lesson he has to learn. And I think in that sense he does change." 44
On the future of Darcy and Elizabeth’s marriage, Firth speculates: “[Darcy] makes a tremendous journey throughout the book. He finally comes to realize that Elizabeth is at least his equal [so] I think the marriage is going to be an interesting one. I don’t think that he’s quite learned not to take himself too seriously, although that might come with time. Whether or not he ever learns to fully tolerate Mrs. Bennet as a mother-in-law, is another question entirely!" 45
On Elizabeth, Firth remarks: "Lizzy is a most extraordinary character. In every way. She sort of predates a whole list of very individual, free thinking ladies. She has so many different aspects and so many layers. I think she got a giddy side and a solemn side. She is pertinent and cheeky, but she is also extremely sensible and judicious. Although she clearly despises [Darcy], she also seems to be very much preoccupied with him, and very concerned with his opinion, which is not quite consistent with the feelings towards someone you despise. So one will have to make of that what one will: ascertain when her feelings towards him start to change. But I think it's their similarities that bring them to clash. I think it's the pride in both of them that does so. Also she is clearly blinded to his... to huge elements of his true nature." 46
Jennifer Ehle, who played Elizabeth Bennet, first read Pride and Prejudice when she was twelve years old, and "fell in love with it, right from the very first page." Ehle remarks: "I still love it now -- even after working intensely on the television adaptation... That really is the test of something -- that you still admire and enjoy it after being so very close to it. As soon as I get a little time to myself, I’ll be back with Jane Austen, one of my favorite authors. [Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park] are the only two I haven’t read as yet, and I’m looking forward to getting to know them." 47
Ehle always admired Elizabeth Bennet "very much indeed, she's such a likable person, I never dreamed that I'd get to play her. She has such an incredible sense of humor, it's a fundamental part of her make-up. That comes out in the book I think, and it certainly is there in Andrew Davies' marvelous screenplay." 48
On understanding Elizabeth, Ehle remarks: "I see Elizabeth as independent and very strong minded... witty with a wonderful sense of humor... great intelligence. And she thinks her integrity is perfect. She does have integrity, she's just a bit misguided on the prejudice bit." Ehle also approves of the match between Elizabeth and Darcy: "I think Elizabeth Bennet is perfectly matched with Mr. Darcy! They fit perfectly... You sort of feel that the characters are not quite whole 'till they've met... till they've come together." 49
On the story itself, Ehle remarks: "The book was originally going to be called First Impressions, I believe, and that's really what it is all about...[Elizabeth’s] first impressions of Darcy as a bit stuck-up, her first impression of Wickham as an agreeable companion instead of a bounder. Then both Elizabeth and Darcy's pride lead them to inevitable prejudices. Even though it is nearly 200 years old, it's still a very modern novel -- the emotions of today are the same, or nearly the same, as the emotions then. People don't change that much." 50
In order to prepare for her role as the headstrong Elizabeth, Ehle "re-read the book carefully, and then I read a couple of very interesting biographies of Jane Austen herself. And I also looked at a lot of pictures to get the 'feel' of the time and the way people looked. I think that's very important." 51
Crispin Bonham-Carter loved playing the affable Mr. Bingley: "It was really like a dream come true, because while [Bingley] seems to come across as a perpetual 'Mr. Nice Guy,' he really does make a journey of his own. At first, he's totally in thrall to his older friend Darcy. He's completely influenced by the older man, who he perhaps sees as a sort of social mentor. After all it’s Darcy who tells him not to marry Jane Bennet, and at first he does completely what he says. But then he does a bit of growing up, and has opinions of his own. He grows and becomes his own man. And, of course, he changes his mind, independently, about Jane." 52
On Bingley, Bonham-Carter remarks: "People tend to forget that Jane Austen had a sense of humor, and Bingley wasn't a total stuffed shirt. I loved playing him... I tried to make him natural and friendly, he’s a very genuine sort of chap... Being the 'nice guy' is so much harder than being the Mr. Nasty, so that's why I was grateful to Andrew Davies for letting Bingley make his own journey to self-fulfillment." 53
Actress Susannah Harker, who played Jane Bennet, fell in love with Jane Austen’s literature when she read Northanger Abbey as a required book in school: "Far from making me shun Austen forever, [reading Northanger Abbey] turned the key in the lock for me and opened the door to the rest of her work." 54
On playing the sweet-tempered Jane, Harker remarks: "When I found I'd been cast as Jane, I was more pleased than I can say. I think she's a charming young girl, accomplished, quiet, very dutiful -- a typical product of her time and upbringing. The difficult part was getting that over on the screen. Playing nice people is always far harder than playing the nasties. You want to make people pleasant and agreeable, without turning them into... goody-goodies. Jane is one of Austen's perfect heroines, very romantic. But there's also a lot of humor and irony in the book, and sometimes that's difficult to inject, although Andrew Davies' script and adaptation is a delight to work from. He captures the vivacity of the writing, which I always think must be the hardest task of all." 55
Actor Adrian Lukis, who has been consistently cast as the bad guy, says of his role as Wickham: “I love playing cads. They’re more interesting and so many of them seem to have a special kind of power and aura about them... Playing Wickham was a bit daunting because Pride and Prejudice is so well-known and everyone has their own ideas about the characters. I tried to present him as appearing to be a gentle man and a good listener whom people feel they want to confide in. It would have been wrong to make Wickham too overtly caddish. It doesn’t give the audience anything to guess at and, also, Elizabeth is an extremely observant and intelligent woman who’s taken in by Wickham, so he can’t be too obvious." Lukis gives credit to his wife, a former actress, for his success as Wickham: “She’s great for bouncing ideas off. She’s got a great theatrical instinct... [but]I’m certainly not a cad, I’m a happily married man!" 56
Actress Alison Steadman (Mrs. Bennet) confesses that truly understanding her character was challenging: “I thought a great deal about her character, building up layers of her unique personality. I can certainly relate her to people I actually know now, in the way she behaves--but I'd better not tell you who I'm thinking of!" 57
On Mrs. Bennet’s behavior toward her youngest daughter, Steadman remarks: “I think one of the reasons why she’s so forgiving towards Lydia is that she can see herself doing exactly the same thing when she was younger. But she, too, is admiring of handsome men, and Lydia has not only managed to find herself a good-looking partner, she’s also married him. So that’s also a bonus--a daughter off Mrs. Bennet’s hands." 58
Of the Bennets’ marriage, Steadman remarks: “In a lot of ways, I thinks [Mrs. Bennet]’s the perfect balance for Mr. Bennet, because he’s very down-to-earth and quite serious with his books, and she’s all over the place, getting excited, forever changing her mind and having attacks of the vapors. Mr. Bennet’s one job in life is to tease and vex her, but when the chips are down, he’d defend her to the last. She may drive him wild, but then a lot of relationships are like that - it doesn’t mean that you loathe someone. I rather fancy that she was a bit anarchic and wild as a girl and Mr. Bennet fancied her because of that. And Lydia’s just like that too, so she welcomes her back with open arms.” 59
Steadman adds: “I loved playing [Mrs. Bennet], there are so many facets to her that I discovered. I don’t honestly think that she’s all that bright really...she backtracks all the time, she’s forever changing her mind and her opinions, she blows hot and cold and she goes with the wind. Look at the way she thinks Darcy is absolutely wonderful when she first sees him and then, only a short time later, she can’t stand the sight of him... Mrs. Bennet is a silly old thing, but you can’t help being fond of her." 60
Actor Benjamin Whitrow (Mr. Bennet) remarks that the chief joy of Mr. Bennet’s life "is making his wife cross! He sits there, listening to all that idle chatter from the girls, all the giggling and silliness, and he’s terrifically patient with Mrs. Bennet, who’s a bit of a daft old goose, and then he drops in a comment which throws them all...he’s a delightful character to play, and I was overjoyed to be offered the role." 61
Whitrow adds: “Secretly, I rather think [Mr. Bennet] wishes that he’d been given at least one child who was a boy, so that he could escape from that house, and go out shooting or fishing with his sons. I rather fancy he’ll be looking forward to Lizzie and Jane getting married, because then he can get off with his sons-in-law. In the meantime, he just retreats into his library with his books and his newspapers." 62
On Mrs. Bennet, Whitrow remarks: “I think she was a very... fun and attractive girl when he met her, and that she just swept him off his rather staid feet. He loves her dearly still but now he teases her just for the sheer fun of it. I think Alison Steadman has her to a tee, don’t you?" 63
Whitrow is full of praise of Andrew Davies’ adaptation: “I’ve read quite a bit of Jane Austen, and I rather like her work. But Andrew has caught the tone and nuances of it all precisely. I don’t think there’s a sentence he’s invented - it all features in the original. The dialogue is faithfully reproduced and since it’s the sort of English that we don’t speak any more, that makes it terribly hard for an actor to learn.” Whitrow adds: “The odd thing about Austen, that not many people realize, is that nowhere in her novels does she have two men alone together, talking to each other. I think the only book of Austen’s I haven’t completely read is Emma, which also has a nice strong male part in it--Mr. Woodhouse--which I could quite cheerfully play, if I were lucky enough to be asked. But the thing is, you get cast in something as good as this series, a really excellent costume drama, and you’re not asked to do anything like it again for another ten years. That’s the way this business goes." 64
APPLAUSE, AWARDS AND THE AFTERMATH
Before the series premiered, actor Benjamin Whitrow (Mr. Bennet) remarked: “Because I shall be working [on another production] in the evenings, I shall probably have to tape the series, and I’ll watch it alone later on. Why alone? Because I just hate watching myself when I’m in company!" 65
Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle both received nominations in the Best Actor and Best Actress categories for the prestigious Bafta Award (the British equivalent of an Emmy). Ehle won in her category.
Firth was completely surprised by the attention he received for his role as Mr. Darcy: “There's me working my socks off for ten or so years and the response is fairly modest... Then [a film in which] I hardly open my mouth gets me noticed. I have to start thinking it's to do with things other than me. I don't have Mr. Darcy's money, I don't have his castle and I don't own Derbyshire. You can't overestimate that part of his appeal for women and Jane Austen doesn't. Elizabeth [Bennet] wouldn't have married me." 66
In addition, Firth remarks that Ehle should have received the fame from the miniseries instead: "She won a Bafta for it. Darcy is the romantic destiny. She's the one you're meant to identify with." 67
Firth first heard of his sudden fame among British women in particular (which has since been called "Darcymania"), while he was filming "The English Patient." Firth recalls: "I thought my mum was having me on. She would ring me up every so often and say, '[’Pride and Prejudice’] is popular. People like it.' Then she'd ring again and say, 'Actually, they're going a bit mad about it.' Then, 'This seems to be getting out of control.' My initial reaction was, 'Yeah, right, Mum.'" 68 As it turned out, Mrs. Firth was being a little understated with her son, because more than ten million viewers tuned in every week, and the BBC video series instantly sold out.
On "Darcymania", Firth remarks: "It seems obvious that what happened with the Darcy character was very special, not just to me but to a lot of other people, and I feel that I must look at it all again, absorb it, understand this bewildering golden moment... I'm not Mr. Darcy, though I sometimes wished I were. Certain tabloid newspapers have suggested I'm sick of the image and loathed all the publicity. Nonsense, I never said that. The great thing about Darcymania was that it had no down side; it was great even though it all seemed so unreal, as if it was happening to someone else. But it wasn't really me that everyone went crazy about -- it was the character, who'd been around for a couple of centuries... And that's just a simple fact of life." 69
With the 2001 release of "Bridget Jones' Diary," a film in which Firth plays Mark Darcy, a character based upon Mr. Darcy, Firth admits that he is reluctant to keep rehashing what he refers to as "the Darcy business." He remarks: "I do feel that I am talking about something which I know nothing about. It honestly doesn't mean anything to me. I don't have anything to do with anything I did six years ago. I don't know if you remember how you spent your summer of '94, but that's how I spent my summer of '94, and that's about it... If I spent 20 years training to be an astronaut, the headlines would still say Darcy Lands On Mars!... 'Pride And Prejudice' wasn't the most rigorous or challenging thing I've done." 70
In fact, Firth is not sure that he would do the miniseries again. "I'd be bored... [Darcy] was somebody else's party. I'm still trying to think it all through." 71
Footnotes: 1. Unknown source; citation pending. 2. AandE.com on TV: Pride and Prejudice (hereinafter "AandE.com"). 3. Id. 4. Id. 5. Id. 6. Id. 7. Bart Mills, "Colin Firth Talks About 'Pride And Prejudice' in the 21st Century," TV Times. 8. Unknown source; citation pending. 9. AandE.com, supra. 10. Id. 11. Id. 12. Id. 13. Sue Birtwistle and Susie Conklin, The Making of Pride and Prejudice (Penguin Books, 1995). 14. AandE.com, supra. 15. Id. 16. Id. 17. Id. 18. Id. 19. Unknown source; citation pending. 20. The Observer (April 9, 2000). 21. Id. 22. AandE.com, supra. 23. Id. 24. Id. 25. Id. 26. Id. 27. Id. 28. Id. 29. Id. 30. Id. 31. Unknown source; citation pending. 32. Unknown source; citation pending. 33. Jasper Rees, "Interview with Colin Firth," The Independent (January 19, 1997). 34. Susie Steiner, "Twice Shy," The Guardian (March 31, 2001). 35. AandE.com, supra. 36. Carol McDaid, "There's No Escaping Mr Darcy," The Independent (June 9, 2000). 37. Elizabeth Grice, "He's back - Without the Breeches," The Telegraph (April 3, 2001). 38. William Leith, "Interview with Colin Firth," The Observer (April 9, 2000). 39. Bart Mills, "Colin Firth Talks About 'Pride And Prejudice' in the 21st Century," TV Times. 40. Rachel Kelly , "Pride and Passions: How Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy Has Become the Nation's Heart-Throb," The London Times (October 25, 1995). 41. AandE.com, supra. 42. Unknown source; citation pending. 43. Unknown source; citation pending. 44. Unknown source; citation pending. 45. Unknown source; citation pending. 46. Unknown source; citation pending. 47. AandE.com, supra. 48. Id. 49. Unknown source; citation pending. 50. AandE.com, supra. 51. Id. 52. Id. 53. Id. 54. Id. 55. Id. 56. Id. 57. Id. 58. Id. 59. Id. 60. Id. 61. Id. 62. Id. 63. Id. 64. Id. 65. Id. 66. "Interview with Colin Firth" (1999). 67. McDaid, supra. 68. John Carman, "Austen's `Pride' Glows Enchanting Evenings in A&E Series," San Francisco Chronicle (January 12, 1996). 69. Id. 70. Gabrielle Donnelly, "I'm Stuck With Mr Darcy Forever," NOW Magazine (April 25, 2001). 71. Steiner, supra.