Pride and Prejudice (1940)

P&P OlivierPride and Prejudice (1940)

Starring: Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier

Director: Robert Z. Leonard

Length: Black and White, 118 minutes

After watching two mini-series, I wondered how P&P would fare as a two-hour movie. Well, there were some significant changes made to the plot, nevertheless it worked. I won’t divulge any spoilers – I’ll just say I LOVED the twist at the end with Darcy and his Aunt Catherine. After two faithful series, and three faithful fanfic books, it’s nice to be surprised.

I’d give this version 4 stars. It delivers in typical 1940s Hollywood style. The costumes were all WRONG but you forgive them. They could have been borrowed from Gone With the Wind. Then there was Colonel Fitzwilliam in full Scottish regalia, with sporran almost as large as his kilt! And the dance scenes were all WRONG, but who cares. This could so easily have been a musical. I half expected the actors to burst into song at any moment. Some nice humorous moments, too, like the talking parrot during Lady Catherine’s visit. And a bit of 1940s feminism with the archery scene.

Laurence Olivier was not really convincingly haughty. He was far too handsome and charming. Is Greer Garson a redhead? Her Elizabeth certainly was the stereotypical feisty redhead. But wouldn’t she have been in her mid-30s? About 15 years too old for the role! Oh well. Jane was sweet and lovely – definitely fit the part. Lydia was suitably silly and flirtateous. Kitty and Charlotte were quite forgettable. Mr. Collins, Wickham, and Colonel Fitzwilliam – all much too old. But so were Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, and Mrs. Lucas. So we had 30-year-old daughters, 40-year old suitors, and 60-year old parents. Oh well. I’ll be watching this again tonight.

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The Confession of Fitzwilliam Darcy

The Confession of Fitzwilliam Darcy The Confession of Fitzwilliam Darcy by Mary Street

First line: I know not how Miss Elizabeth Bennet contrived to bring herself so much to my notice throughout the course of that evening.

Time covered: Begins with the assembly at Meryton. Ends shortly after the engagement of Darcy and Elizabeth.

Told in the first person from Darcy’s point of view.

My rating: 3.75 out of 5. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but probably will never reread it.

Not as sweet in tone as Darcy’s Diary, this was much more fleshed out in its details. It was told in a rather dry manner, but I suppose the author was trying to maintain the style of Jane Austen. It did a little better at portraying Darcy’s uncertainty as to Elizabeth’s changed feelings than Darcy’s Story. It follows Miss Austen’s plot exactly, but without quoting large sections of dialogue. We really don’t learn anything new about Darcy. In some ways, this paralleled the A&E film version. I almost expected Darcy to take a dive in the lake at Pemberley. Instead, Ms. Street had our hero drenched in a sudden downpour!

Pride and Prejudice (BBC, 1980)

Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice (BBC, 1980)

Starring: Elizabeth Garvie, David Rintoul

Director: Cyril Coke

Length: 265 minutes

This was another enjoyable miniseries. I would rate it almost as highly as the A&E version, even though it is very different. This version is very faithful to the book, and includes many scenes that were left out of the A&E version. The sets are simple, rather than cinematic. It is like watching a stage play – very intimate. The costumes are wonderful. The casting is wonderful. I liked Mrs. Bennet and Mary better in this version. And I LOVED Lady Catherine and Mr. Collins. They were much closer to how they were portrayed by Jane Austen. The A&E version almost made caricatures out of all the minor characters. Where it excelled was in the portrayal of the three sets of lovers: Darcy and Elizabeth, Jane and Bingley, and Lydia and Wickham. The BBC version downplayed the stories of Jane and Lydia. This may be closer to Jane Austen’s book, but it felt lacking to me in comparison. On the other hand, the BBC version showed more of the relationships between Elizabeth and Charlotte, and Charlotte and Mr. Collins, even adding a rather nice proposal scene between Charlotte and Mr. Collins. The A&E version gave short shrift to Charlotte, and made Mr. Collins so odious, that Charlotte’s acceptance of him was difficult to fathom. The A&E version also gave us a very stripped down version of Lady Catherine.

Mr. Bennet grew on me. He is quite jolly and loveable in the A&E version – not quite the way Jane Austen portrayed him, but I liked him, and I liked the way it portrayed his relationship with Lizzy. In the BBC version, he is very stiff and cranky. But as I said, by the second viewing, this very different portrayal was growing on me. Mrs. Bennet was much better done here. Oh, she is a scream in the A&E version, and a lot of fun to watch, but the BBC portrayal is again much closer to the mark. Instead of being a comical caricature, she is a silly, rather empty-headed woman, who was once obviously very pretty. She is lively, and you can see why Mr. Bennet may once have been attracted to her. Their mismatched relationship is very well done here.

The sisters: Jane had no appeal for me in this version. I didn’t sense any spark at all between Jane and Bingley. She was just a bland character. Mary was quite adorable, for all her misguided efforts to be learned and accomplished. You could see her as a real person instead of a caricature. Kitty was just silly. The actress seemed too old for the part to me. Lydia was much like her mother, but I confess I liked the more flamboyantly reckless portrayal in the A&E version better.

Elizabeth Garvie is an adorable Elizabeth Bennet. David Rintoul is a truly haughty, but handsome Darcy. Again, his portrayal was probably closer to Jane Austen’s, and he also grew on me the second viewing. But comparing him to Colin Firth is like comparing apples and oranges. I didn’t feel the spark or the tension between Darcy and Elizabeth that Colin and Jennifer portrayed. Jennifer’s Elizabeth is a little more refined, and I can easily envision her as the future lady of a great estate.

So all in all, there was much to like in the BBC version, but for sheer romance and for cinematography give me the A&E version!

Darcy’s Story

Darcy's Story Darcy’s Story by Janet Aylmer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Here’s the next of the Darcy “during-quels” that I’ve just finished. This one also starts just before Georgiana’s escapade with Wickham and ends just after the wedding of Elizabeth and Darcy. It extensively quotes the dialog of Jane Austen, and is written from a third person point of view, but telling Darcy’s side of events. Even so, it did not really give me much insight into Darcy’s thoughts and feelings. What there was, was very repetitive. It made him almost self-deprecatory in a way that doesn’t fit his character in my mind. It was also lacking the suspense that Jane Austen created by keeping Darcy somewhat an enigma. If you want the story simply retold from Darcy’s point of view, then great, but there is no elaboration at all, or development of character, which I think makes it rather dull. It certainly didn’t offer any original insights or scenes.

Still, I gave it three stars. There was nothing objectionable or too out of character, time, or place. I did note some inconsistency in the use of the word inquiry / enquiry. Over all, I thought the author did a pretty good job of staying in the style of Jane Austen. But it’s not a book I would reread.

Bertie, Interrupted

I’ve been listening in the car lately to The World According to Bertie by Alexander McCall Smith. Last night I was headed into the Twin Cities (35 miles) so I reached over to the seat beside me to plug in my portable CD player. I was quite shocked to realize it wasn’t there! I stopped the car and proceeded to search front and back seats and even underneath them. No CD player. The CD case was there (with all but one CD), but no player.

Then I recalled a day last week at the library. A couple of teenaged boys came in and asked if we had a coat hanger. They said the keys were locked in their car. I suggested they ask for help next door with the sheriff. A few minutes later a patron came up to tell me that some boys were trying to get into a car with a stick through the window. I blithely said “Oh yes. They were just in here. They locked their keys in the car.” I should have gone to see exactly what they were doing.

Stupid, stupid, stupid! I am such an honest and naive person, it didn’t even occur to me that it could be anything other than what they told me. And I had left the CD player unplugged in the front seat (with cords attached), and left the windows cracked open (less than an inch) because of the heat (my car has no air conditioning.) When I left that evening, I noticed the visor screen was bent down on the passenger side. And it seemed like the window was open a lot more than I had left it. But it is only in retrospect that I thought anything of it. Yes, I’m an idiot.

I don’t mind the loss of the old CD player so much. In fact, I went and bought a new one today. It wasn’t expensive. But I DO mind the loss of the CD! It was borrowed from the library, and I suppose I’ll have to pay for it. In the meantime, do I continue to listen to the book from the remaining CDs, or do I look for another copy of it? Or will the CD get returned to the library? It’s possible, but I’m not holding my breath.

One way or another, I will finish listening to the book. Meanwhile, here is a description of the first two books in the series.
44 Scotland Street (44 Scotland Street, #1) 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Listened to on tape (unabridged), Sept. 2006.

Review from AudioFile

Alexander McCall Smith modeled this book on the evergreen hit TALES OF THE CITY, by Armistead Maupin, which were published serially in the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE. Smith’s appeared in an Edinburgh daily; the title refers to an address in Edinburgh where several of the main characters live. It’s a great device, imposing specific challenges to the storyteller, working in little chunks of uniform length, all with intriguing endings. The only thing that could be more fun than reading each installment in the paper is hearing Robert Ian MacKenzie’s thoroughly droll and versatile performance. You won’t soon forget the Conservative Party’s fundraising ball, with only six in attendance, one of whom forgot to wear underpants under his kilt. MacKenzie’s touch is flawless. B.G. © AudioFile 2005, Portland, Maine– Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine

Espresso Tales (44 Scotland Street, #2) Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Listened to on tape (unabridged), Nov. 2007.
Book Description (from Amazon.com)
Alexander McCall Smith’s many fans will be pleased with this latest installment in the bestselling 44 Scotland Street series.

Back are all our favorite denizens of a Georgian townhouse in Edinburgh. Bertie the immensely talented six year old is now enrolled in kindergarten, and much to his dismay, has been clad in pink overalls for his first day of class. Bruce has lost his job as a surveyor, and between admiring glances in the mirror, is contemplating becoming a wine merchant. Pat is embarking on a new life at Edinburgh University and perhaps on a new relationship, courtesy of Domenica, her witty and worldly-wise neighbor. McCall Smith has much in store for them as the brief spell of glorious summer sunshine gives way to fall a season cursed with more traditionally Scottish weather.

Full of McCall Smith’s gentle humor and sympathy for his characters, Espresso Tales is also an affectionate portrait of a city and its people who, in the author’s own words, “make it one of the most vibrant and interesting places in the world.”

The Inscrutable Mr. Darcy

Since the A&E production of Pride and Prejudice left me wanting “more,” I decided to explore some of the large oeuvre of fan fiction based on P&P. There is a listing of some of these novels with reviews at www.pemberley.com. So where to start?

I decided I was most interested in versions that would be faithful to the original, but from a different perspective – the so-called “during-quels.” The obvious subject, therefore, is Mr. Darcy. Jane Austen writes what she knows – the woman’s point of view. The men are treated quite minimally, and we really don’t know what goes on in their minds. The great mystery of Pride and Prejudice for me is why does Darcy fall in love with Elizabeth? They don’t spend any great length of time together, and Elizabeth certainly does nothing to encourage him.

So I have picked out several books that tell the story from Darcy’s point of view. Here is the first one, finished today:

Mr. Darcy's Diary Mr. Darcy’s Diary by Amanda Grange

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Pride and Prejudice as told from Darcy’s point of view. The diary begins a few months before Bingley rents Netherfield and relates Darcy’s discovery of his sister’s attempted elopement with Wickham. It ends several months after Darcy and Elizabeth are married, giving us a glimpse into their married life.

Having just watched the A&E version of Pride and Prejudice with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, I was left wanting more. Jane Austen does not give us much insight into the mind of Mr. Darcy, since all of the action takes place through the eyes of Elizabeth Bennet. This book was just the right follow up. It includes much of the original dialogue, but is written in a much lighter style. It moves quickly, and could probably be read in one sitting.

The diary format works as a plot device, although you have to suspend belief that a gentleman would actually take the time to record long conversations in detail. I found the portrayal of Darcy’s point of view to be believable. I especially enjoyed the scene where he records his writing of “the letter” to Elizabeth – interspersed with his thoughts.

I do not think this book would stand up well on its own. But for anyone who has read Pride and Prejudice or seen the A&E production, it is a nice follow up.

Pride and Prejudice ( A&E, 1996)

Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice – The Special Edition (A&E 1996)

Starring: Jennifer Ehle, Colin Firth

Director: Simon Langton

Length: 300 minutes

There are several movie versions of P&P, but this seems to be the one everyone talks about. I got it from the library last week on 6 videocassettes. I was riveted. Watched the entire thing twice, and then went and bought the DVD. I don’t know if that makes me a Jane Austen fan, or a Colin Firth fan!

I’d say I might be in danger of going off the deep end. I now have the BBC version (1985) from the library, another one on hold ready to pick up, and the old film with Laurence Olivier on order.

I thought this version was very well done, and very faithful to the book. Whatever liberties were taken (the famous swimming scene, for example) fit into the whole. Okay, I have one quibble. Mary Bennet, who likes to show off on the piano but isn’t very good, suddenly becomes most proficient whenever she plays for the dancing. The contrast is noticeable.

I read recently that most novels in Jane Austen’s time were meant to be read aloud. The emphasis on dialogue really lends itself well to the stage. I look forward to comparing the other films.