On and Off Campus Blog: Film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice: which should you watch?

March 5, 2024

By: Caroline Dudzinski ’26

Most who know me are aware that I read far too many novels (which is in no way a danger), and
that I have a keen regard for Jane Austen’s work (as demonstrated in my sophomore research
paper). Of all Austen’s work, Pride and Prejudice is my special favorite and has inspired
numerous performed adaptations, notably the 1940 MGM film production based on a 1938 play,
the 1995 A&E and BBC miniseries, and finally the 2005 Universal film.

Between the two films, (1940 MGM and 2005 Universal), there are 65 years. Both were
extremely famous when released, so I was curious to answer the question: which adaptation is
better, and why? Does the classic noir style of the 1940 version beat the acclaimed modern 2005

I first saw the 2005 film starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen as I was reading
Pride and Prejudice, and as such, this performance helped shape my mental image of Elizabeth
and Darcy. I adored the film, because Knightley’s vibrant-yet-wittily-ironic Elizabeth verbally
sparring with Macfadyen’s emotionally-vulnerable and socially-awkward Mr. Darcy was so
beautifully done.

Since it was a film, however, it was far too short. Numerous scenes were stitched together, and
some of my favorite moments (such as the walk around Pemberley, and their conversation about
their emotions) were entirely cut. There was the second proposal scene with its breathtaking
cinematography and subtle emotion, which was beautifully done but in no way as it would have
been according to Austen’s original and ingenious work.

And of course, an enormous contention: the “American” ending to the movie, where Mr. and
Mrs. Darcy share a fabricated scene on the lake at Pemberley… Regardless, in terms of a sharp,
strong female protagonist and a becoming-emotionally-aware male protagonist, this is one of the
best adaptations.

The 1940 adaptation with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier, however, was shocking! I could
not believe it when half the movie was up and the Netherfield ball (or should I say, picnic in May
and archery party?!) was not even concluded! Austen’s brilliant lines were destroyed in almost
every which way, and I could only hear a precious few sentences remaining. All the Bennet girls
become silly and diverted in this adaptation, even wise Elizabeth! Over half the story is removed,
including vital moments such as Elizabeth and Darcy’s first meeting, their first dance,
Elizabeth’s trip to the Peak District and Pemberly, Elizabeth meeting Georgiana, and an entire
host of other issues.

Details that were of deep importance to the real story such as Wickham’s destitute life, Lydia’s
leaving the safety of her family for Brighton, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s hatred of
Elizabeth were simply forgotten. I had not finished the majority of the movie when I could say it
was Pride and Prejudice in name only because storyline was so distorted I could barely
recognize or understand it. To her credit, Garson performed well; it was not her fault the script
was so butchered from Austen’s genius.

Then it is a simple answer: obviously the 2005 version is better. But the best adaptation is not
even a film but the television A&E BBC 1995 miniseries. Everything was nearly perfect: casting,
location, script! Jennifer Ehle perfectly captures Elizabeth’s vivacious yet knowledgeable spirit
(especially with her eyes) and Colin Firth beautifully portrays the taciturn but aware Mr. Darcy.
Almost all of the original dialogue from the novel is preserved (with just a few liberties taken to
streamline the show). And nearly the entire novel is performed, totaling to nearly six hours of
film, but of course some scenes that I loved (such as Elizabeth and Darcy talking about their
feelings) were still removed. Yet, the longer time allowed their relationship to truly and
reasonably blossom.

If you could watch just one adaptation, this would be the one, with the 2005 film in close second,
and the 1940 version only if you are terribly curious and for scholarly purposes
But of course, the best course of action is to obviously read Pride and Prejudice, because as
excellent as the 1995 and 2005 adaptations are, nothing will ever surpass Jane Austen’s 1813

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