Why ‘Pride and Prejudice’, the miniseries, grasps the book’s concept a lot better than the movie
“My good opinion once lost is lost forever”. This is what I thought when I saw the very popular “Pride and Prejudice” movie with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfayden. Even though this adaptation is a whirlwind of emotions with glamorous actors, it never really caught the essence of Jane Austen’s classic novel like the BBC miniseries of the same name with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle did.
Pride and Prejudice is a classic novel written by Jane Austen in 1813 that has captured the hearts of many. It is about Elizabeth Bennet, the second oldest of five daughters whose mother is desperately trying to marry all of them off to wealthy men, and Mr. Fizwilliam Darcy, a man that wears a cover of pride, judging everyone who meets his eye. Of course, these two characters meet, both too proud and prejudiced to get to know each other before judging one another. In the story, they are acquainted many times with each other, leading to a romance that hasn’t been forgotten for more than 200 years. This story has been shown so much love and passion over the years, that there have been over 15 live-action adaptations. The two that have gained the most popularity, “Pride and Prejudice” with Keira Knightley made in 2005, and the miniseries of the same name with Colin Firth made in 1995, are two very close rivals that have caused several debates between fans of the book — which one was better? Which one caught the meaning of the story better? Which one represented Mr. Darcy and Lizzie better? BBC’s miniseries adaptation did a much better job at recreating the story than the movie.
One of the many things that let the BBC version recreate the book better is the way it sticks to the storylines in different scenes. In the movie adaptation, not only do they miss some important events from the book, which can be forgiven since it doesn’t have as much running time as the miniseries, but they also change some of the major events from the story that they do include in the film.
One very good example of this would be the unforgettable moment when Lady Catherine de Bourgh goes all the way from Rosings Park to Longbourne to confront Lizzie and warm her to not accept a marriage proposal from Mr. Darcy as he is reserved for her daughter, Anne de Bourgh. In the book, this major event in which Lizzie throws an epic comeback and doesn’t allow herself to be manipulated takes place during the day, when the Bennets are in their house and they hear Lady Catherine’s carriage arriving. Then, Lizzie and Lady Catherine go on a walk around the gardens of Longbourne, whilst arguing about a possible marriage between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. “Her carriage remained at the door, and Elizabeth saw that her waiting-woman was in it. They proceeded in silence along the gravel walk that led to the copse;”
This is exactly what happens in the miniseries at this particular moment. The dialogue is also word-by-word acted out by Jennifer Ehle (Lizzie) and Barbara Leigh-Hunt (Lady Catherine de Bourgh). And still, even though they were only saying the words from the book, every detail was so significantly thought about that it felt just felt like you were diving into Jane Austen’s marvelous story.
Another thing about this scene is that even though Anne de Bourgh never speaks, she is seen in the carriage waiting for her mother, just like it says in the quote. Then, we have the movie. Here, somehow this majorly important scene has transferred into the night when everyone is in their beds. Then, the conversation we all remember as confirmation that Lizzie very much likes Mr. Darcy is shortened quite a lot and takes place in the Bennets’ living room while the whole family listens in through the door. “And will you promise me, never to enter into such an engagement?” “I will make no promise of the kind.” This has a high contrast to the book and is not as influential as the scene in the miniseries.
From a mere 2 and a half minutes to a full 8 minutes, this scene is much better constructed in the BBC adaptation. Starting out with the music that they use in every appropriate moment, for example, the moment when the carriage arrives and Kitty runs out to see who it is — the music is so intimidating, even though the viewer doesn’t know who is coming. This prepares the audience for something big. Then, we have the word-by-word dialogue, the setting, and all the small details that make a big difference.
“The engagement between them is of a peculiar kind. From their infancy, they have been intended for each other. It was the favorite wish of his mother, as well as of her’s.” This quote is very important to the development of the argument. Here, Lady Catherine confesses that this isn’t what Mr. Darcy wants, it’s a wish of his mother’s. The quote is provided in the miniseries but isn’t in the movie, which is a key to a better scene.
The early 19th-century style was not as well enunciated in the film like in the miniseries. As “Pride and Prejudice” was written in 1813, it falls under the category of the early 19th-century. This means that the movie should have done a better job of reconstructing the dresses that women wore, the suits men wore, the hairstyles that they had, etc.
As you can see, the dress Lizzie is wearing and the dresses the rest of the attendees are wearing are very similar to the painting of the girl wearing the dress. The length is the same ankle length, the bust is low and the sleeves are t-shirt length and puffy. The one thing that was the same for all dresses in the earlier 19th-century was the extremely high waistline. This is very specific for the 1810s, and the BBC miniseries does a very good job at keeping up with all the small details.
I’m using a photo of Lizzie’s ball gown in Pride and Prejudice since it has to be a fair comparison. Here, Lizzie is wearing a white ball gown, just like Jennifer Ehle’s Lizzie. However, as you can see, the sleeves aren’t puffed, and the waistline is a lot lower than on the dress in the example of the early 19th-century dress. The BBC version was a lot more accurate in recreating the overall clothing.
The 19th century also had a very specific taste in hairstyles. This was also very well thought about during the miniseries.
Jennifer Ehle’s hair is almost always like this throughout the miniseries, except when she’s getting ready for bed. This was a very common way for women to style their hair. They would tie it in the back in a ponytail or bun, and curl the front side bangs on the side of their face to frame their faces. This is also very specific for the 1810s since after that styles started to change more drastically.
As you can see here, Keira Knightley’s hair is kind of messy and has forehead bangs. This was very uncommon in the early 19th-Century. While this hairstyle is very pretty, it is too modern. The way there are loose hairs around her ears was also very uncommon because, at that time, hairstyles were very organized and brushed back. According to whizzpast.com, “Women in the 1830s usually rocked a clean middle part with their hair tied back in a neat bun, braids, or twist. Occasionally they curled the sides, but bangs weren’t in fashion.”. This shows that BBC’s miniseries was more historically accurate than the movie with Keira Knightley.
The BBC miniseries stuck so closely to the story, the dialogue, the actions, the style, the fashion, and the characters. Especially the fact that it is almost 6 hours long shows that it stuck as closely as possible to everything in the book. Pride and Prejudice is a book with a very long and complicated story that just doesn’t fold enough to be stuck into a regular motion picture. This is the reason BBC into a miniseries. They could have easily cramped the story into a movie since it would have taken less time, money, and effort, but they chose to make it into a miniseries because they knew that this way they would be able to capture every important detail. The movie is a huge success and is greatly enjoyable, however, it just isn’t the real “Pride and Prejudice” — it’s not captured right. It should have been longer and more detailed.
The BBC version is 327 minutes long, which is equal to 5.45 hours. According to readinglength.com, the average reader would take 6 hours and 34 minutes to read this book. This is 394 minutes. The miniseries is only 68 minutes shorter than the book, which is astonishing. It is shorter only because it doesn’t have the description paragraphs or the parts where it describes what a character is doing as it is live-action. This shows how good of a job they did in trying to make the adaptation very accurate.
Everything little detail in the miniseries points to the fact that it is the better re-make of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. From the missing and fixed-up scenes to the early 19th-century style to the small details like music and setting, the miniseries just captured the story so much better. Whenever I reread this classic novel, I will always picture Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth as our favorite characters. And BBC’s masterpiece of a miniseries will always be the better representation of Pride and Prejudice.