Monday, May 08, 2006

PEERS reviews Pride and Prejudice

What's a Jennifer Ehle blog without any Pride and Prejudice references? This review brought to you by the Period Events & Entertainments Re-creation Society.

The greatest problem with screen adaptations of Austen’s novels is that the screenplay tends to concentrate on the romance and to ignore the irony and wit. But in Langton’s Pride and Prejudice much of the ironic wit of Jane Austen’s dialogue and narration survives intact - along with the most romantic "realistic" love story ever written.

Elizabeth Bennett (Jennifer Ehle ) has a wonderfully expressive face and a deliciously wicked wit; in this production she’s very much her father’s daughter, ironically leading fools and rogues on with a straight face - and watching with relish as they make fools of themselves. Her later conversations with Wickham and Mr. Collins are worthy of Mr. Bennett himself.

Colin Firth is a reserved but dangerous and sexually magnetic Darcy - quite a Byronic characterization. We see him fencing like Basil Rathbone ("I will conquer this" he murmurs to himself), intimidating Wickham with a glance, and forcing a door open that the infamous governess Mrs. Young tries to shut in his face. This is not a man to cross. And his verbal duels with Elizabeth are electric.

And, for once, almost everyone seems well-cast. Mr. Bingley (Crispin Bonham-Carter) has more charm and more backbone than one usually sees (He’s furious with Darcy when he learns of the intrigue to separate him from Jane). Jane herself (Susannah Harker) looks like a touchingly vulnerable Helen of Troy. Not inappropriately, Mr. Collins resembles Rowan Atkinson’s Blackadder in both appearance and manner. The Gardiners are very convincing as a genteel middle class couple with far more refinement than most of the gentry in the story. Masterpiece Theatre viewers will recognize former ingenue Joanna David playing a youthful Mrs. Gardener with real rapport with her favorite niece Elizabeth. The really pleasant surprise is Lydia (Julia Sawalha, better known as Saffie from Absolutely Fabulous) who, for once, is played exactly as Jane Austen wrote her - as a voluptuous teenager keenly enjoying her own seduction.

And a few interesting historical inaccuracies:
Elizabeth and Darcy look so graceful executing their pas de boureĆ© step while verbally sparring in "Easter Thursday" that one can almost forgive the inaccuracy of the choreography (In reality, in Jane Austen’s time only the first couple is active at the beginning of the dance!).

...Elizabeth and Mr. Collins should not have been first couple in the opening dance of Mr. Bingley’s ball. That honor of opening the ball belongs to the lady of highest precedence in the room who chooses to dance (In this case, probably Charlotte Lucas, the eldest daughter of a knight), and Elizabeth would never stand above her beloved elder sister Jane in an opening dance. The lovely country dance music and "incidental" party music is all period, but the bluestocking Mary would not have needed to bring her sheet music nor would the Italian songs have been sung in translation.

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