Pride and Prejudice: A Comparison

Not too long ago, I wrote about my enjoyment of the movie Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. This was during my trip to the UK and I soon realized that I had not really seen or read its source material, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I owned the movie version, a new addition to my DVD collection, but had not watched it yet. I then convinced myself it would be better to read the original book first and watch not only the movie but also the six part mini-series. Others had mentioned to me their fondness of the series and I was pleased to find it available on Amazon Prime Video. During a random trip to Barnes and Noble a couple months ago, I picked up a hardcover version of Pride and Prejudice and set about my task.

I finished the novel, after hardly being able to put the book down. I was enthralled, immediately drawn into the story and loving the book more and more with every sentence. It was different than any of the books I had read of late and the language had an enjoyable and refreshing complexity of a bygone era. I don’t know if it is as well known as I believe it to be, but I am a bit of a history buff. Studying historical events and time periods is something I enjoy very much. History was always a favorite subject in school and I even sought out a course in college. Regardless of whether it was the Pyramids of Giza and Ancient Eygpt or the mighty rule of the Roman Empire, all the way to the Renaissance Age and America’s Revolutionary War–I love it all. I have a personal connection with World War II, growing up hearing stories about and from my Grandfather, so it is also a time period I am fascinated with even though it is much more recent than the ancient civilizations and the birth of America.

So to read a period novel such as this, written in the English of the time by a young woman at the onset of her 20s living in a world where Louis XVI had just been executed and England was at war with France, was a real treat. The novel itself is of course also set in that time, at the turn of the nineteenth century(1790s). It was exciting to get a glimpse into that era through the words of someone who would later become one of the most famous and celebrated female authors of her time–of all time. It is no surprise that her novels continue to be read by people around the world and have been made into a variety of TV series and movies. I was unsure of what to expect when I began, having received positive feedback from friends but never really having shown much interest myself until now. I was determined to see what all the fuss was about. I aimed to discover for myself the appeal of Jane Austen and her novels–I was not disappointed, far from it. If all of her books are even half as good as Pride and Prejudice, I will proudly identify as a complete Jane Austen fan. I will strive to own all of the novels and to watch all of the literary adaptations to film that I can possibly find.

But I digress…This will be a comparison piece, meant to compare not only the novel but the popular series from 1995 and the 2005 movie adaptation. A comparison will be made between the novel and the 1995 series, the novel and the 2005 film, and lastly the two film adaptations to each other. I noticed many similarities and differences between all, and more than just the obvious. I have my heart set on which were my favorites and will explain why.

Firstly, I will compare the novel and the 1995 TV series. But before I do, I wanted to address an aspect of the language of this time period that I found interesting. The novel revolves around a country gentleman’s family and the wealthy noble class that they fall just short of, despite being well off enough to have their own housekeeper and staff. The order of the social classes was an established part of British society, and as such it was proper to known one’s place within that society. One word kept striking out at me as I read, and the context in which it was used. Condescension, and varying forms of the word. This is a word known for having a negative meaning. To be looked on with condescension, is to be held in a state that is beneath someone else. In fact the simple definition of condescension is: the attitude or behavior of people who believe they are more intelligent or better than other people.

Yet, a specific character would practically rave about how pleasing it was to receive the condescending remarks of his patroness. Therein lies the source of my fascination and another aspect of the word’s definition. Patronizing and condescending are synonymous of one another. But in British society, it was the responsibility of a patron to support someone of a lesser class and guide them in the ways of being a productive member of society. While also ensuring they remain actively aware of their place in a social ring severely below their own. The patroness in this book does just that and the aforementioned character is more than happy to receive the condescending patronage bestowed upon him. To have a wealthy patron/patroness meant to enjoy a social connection that afforded you more in life than others within your social rank. It wouldn’t matter how you were treated or looked down upon, because you were still better off than those without such a connection.

This was something that Jane Austen felt necessary to include in her work. It shows her sarcastic view of the world she lived in and demonstrates the importance of non-conformity and independence that are the basis for her love story. A love story between the fortune-less daughter of a gentleman and the nobleman of wealth and privilege, whose pairing is thought on to be a social disgrace. So let’s see how this story compares between the novel and the popular TV series.The 1995 six part series starred Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet. This was the most faithful interpretation of the novel. So much so, I watched the entire six part series twice, in one weekend. In my defense, the second viewing was for my mother, she had started to watch the series with me but had only made it through the first episode. So when she suggested to finish watching it, I was happy to oblige–it was only right that I made myself available for questions–and I was already in the living room. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!

Being a staunch representation of the book, the Firth/Ehle version had little in the way of differences. This was in large part due to the fact that the six part series was six hours worth of storytelling. More than your average movie but much shorter than your average television series, the six part adaptation lent itself perfectly to do justice to this classic tale. The biggest differences don’t even exist in the novel at all and revolve around the series’ leading male, Colin Firth. Despite never having seen the series, I had heard of the “pond” scene. I was surprised to not find it in the novel, since a similar scene had also been included in the zombie version. At the time, I thought it was paying homage to the novel, when in fact it was paying homage to Firth’s “dip” in the pond in his white shirt and beige breeches. But with a handsome leading man such as Colin Firth, it is no surprise that they wished to strip away a couple layers of gentleman’s dress by way of a relaxing swim. Long before the pond, there was a bare-chested bathing scene. Because why not? The damp tussled hair and sideburns are a good look for him…a very good look…ahem…where was I?

Oh yes, differences. Aside from objectifying Firth, there were a couple changes that took advantage of a visual format and it made sense. There is a particular portion of the novel, where a major reveal is made through a handwritten letter. In the series, the contents of the letter are still there but in the form of dialog where you also get to see the events unfold visually. Unlike in the 1700s when you depended upon a written account of an event you were not a witness to. In another scene, the same decision is applied. Instead of a letter written by Mr. Collins addressed to the Bennet family, he visits them to discuss his opinions with them in person.

There was also one minor difference where Elizabeth–also affectionately called Lizzy–receives a bit of news from a different party than in the novel. In the series, her younger sisters find out about Charlotte’s engagement and hurry to tell Lizzy. Whereas in the novel, it is Charlotte herself that tells Lizzy about the engagement. It is often expressed in the novel that news or gossip travels fast through the small town of Meryton and the close-knit country households of Hertfordshire. So I don’t really think its that big of deal who tells Lizzy the news, since it still leads to Lizzy discussing the engagement with Charlotte, the same outcome as in the novel.

Where did I note the most differences to the novel? The 2005 movie version. The movie starred Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy and Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet. I mentioned previously that the series did not suffer the constraints of a time limit, the movie of course does. With only 2 hours and 9 minutes to work with, the movie needed to take liberties with the source content. A prime example, and the first major difference I noticed, was the mixing of scenes. There were several instances where scenes that take place in different months were spliced together because of their similarity. This was an easier way to still get the relevant information across without using up too much of their limited time. Now of course this also changed the dynamic of some of the scenes, as well as the dialog and character interactions, but they did a good job of making it a smooth blending of scenes. If I had not just read the book and watched the series, with both so fresh in my mind, I may have noticed it a lot less.

The remaining differences were minor in nature: Lizzy goes to visit Charlotte alone instead of accompanied, a certain conversation takes place outside in the rain instead of indoors, an important letter is delivered to Lizzy at her hotel instead of outdoors, Lizzy’s visit to Pemberley is altered from the original, the reveal regarding Lydia is also altered. But the big thing for me regarding the film, was the difference in the leading lady. Where Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet was sarcastic and witty with a maturity to match her eldest sister, the movie Elizabeth was less mature and more impetuous. The Lizzy of the novel kept herself guarded, using her intelligence, wit and humor to her advantage. The movie Lizzy seemed a bit more childish, less how a woman of that age in that era would act. Now I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy Knightley’s performance. I certainly did, she’s an excellent actress. It’s just out of the two portrayals, I felt the series kept closer to the original than the movie version.

For those of you who have stuck with me this far, we’ve almost made it! Finally, the last comparison. The series versus the movie. Most of the differences between the two film adaptations are minor and revolve around artistic and preferential decisions. Most notably between the two is the difference with the Netherfield ball where Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet dance together. During the dance, Eliza attempts to coax Darcy into a conversation. In the series, Firth’s Darcy remains reticent throughout most of the dance. But Macfadyen’s Darcy is more vocal and they hold a conversation for the majority of their dance. Until of course, the entire roomful of guests disappear and they fall into silence as they stare at one another. It’s the classic trope of feeling as though you are the only ones in an otherwise crowded room, and everything melts away while distracted by the other person before you. Another difference to make note of, the movie version includes a non-British actor in a main role. Mr. Bennett is played by Canadian actor Donald Sutherland, pulling off a fairly convincing British accent.

Now, which one was my favorite? As previously stated, I love the book and can’t wait to start my Jane Austen collection. But which adaptation did I prefer? I would have to say, hands down, the 1995 series adaptation with Firth and Ehle has got to be my favorite. While the movie was fun to watch, I enjoyed the accuracy the series had with it’s source material. I also overall enjoyed the portrayals of the main characters more in the series than in the movie. They were more honest not just to the book, but to the time period. The movie gave off a more modern feel. I am a fan of Colin Firth and have been since the days of Bridget Jones’ Diary and The Importance of Being Ernest. So that may also have a small part to do with it, he is one of my favorite actors. I must have been living under a rock when Love Actually came out, having only finally seen it a couple years ago, but it has quickly become one of my favorite movies. Then of course there was The King’s Speech, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and Mama Mia–not in that order. He has done some great films during his acting career and continues to do so. I haven’t seen much of what Jennifer Ehle has done since Pride and Prejudice, but she was recently in an excellent indie film with Paul Rudd called The Fundamentals of Caring–it is available on Netflix if you care to give it a watch.

So, that’s it. The end. I think I have successfully compared the book to the series and the movie, the series and the movie with each other and even provided my final opinion on which I preferred the best. I don’t believe there is anything further to discuss. Except for maybe the fact that I just started reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. So far, it doesn’t quite have the same tone as the original novel, but it does try to stick as close to the source as possible, just with zombies thrown in. You can tell the “voice” of the new writer is more modern trying to stay in the tone of the nineteenth century. I’m enjoying it, but in a different way than the original. I don’t think I’ll be writing a review of it though, this was enough on the topic of Pride and Prejudice. I bought the movie along with it and still love it even after the third viewing. I even got mom to watch it. She approved of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. So there’s that.

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