Pride and Prejudice (a 1940 movie experience)

While in school Jane Austen was my favourite author. I’m sure I shared her with thousands of others but just like falling in love for the first time, I felt like I was the very first to truly understand and appreciate her, that I discovered her.

                      

Also unsurprisingly, my copy of Pride and Prejudice was a treasured possession. Had romance ever been more wonderful?

And then came a time when I’d read the book a few dozen times, watched the two miniseries and even tolerated the movie adaptation. I’d read gushing blogs, a hundred essays discussing the intricacies and nuances of Austen’s plotting, I’d read biographies on Austen and all the things that might have inspired her. I wasn’t a fan-girl exactly but I came close. But then I reached a saturation point and drew a line at reading Austen inspired novels or the many ‘What If…?’ books that explored Pride and Prejudice again and again and again.

I still loved the books but I was happy to leave them be for a few years.

Yesterday a friend mentioned that she and her sister had watched the first movie adaptation of P&P years ago and found it appallingly funny. That in it Lady Catherine de Bourgh actually sets Darcy and Elizabeth up! For some reason, at first, I thought that I’d seen the movie. I’d certainly seen many Laurence Olivier movies thanks to my dad, may be in my mind I mixed them up. I agreed it must have been appalling.

But it struck me that a 1940s version (the first cinematic adaptation!) was sure to be different from the rest I’d watched. I should check it out, just to be sure that I had watched it.

I hadn’t.

And the following trailer convinced me to give it a try.

So here is a review of the oldest Pride and Prejudice movie that to my jaded eyes seemed the freshest of them all.

Meet the charismatic but imperious Mr Darcy.   

And the lovely, witty and eminently likeable Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

Then imagine Pride and Prejudice set not in Regency England but a sort of Cinderella mash of the late 1700s and Victorian England.

  

I am not very familiar with period costumes but to my untrained eyes the women seemed to be wearing elaborate puffy gauzy confections far more suited to a Marie Antoinette movie while the men switched between the tailored garbs of Regency and the shorter coats of the industrial Victorian era.

  

But I loved them all. These actors, and the characters they played in black and white would have looked drab in truly faithful Austen era costumes. Their liveliness, their silliness and the beautiful sets demanded elaborate clothing which MGM provided.

  

What struck me most forcibly about this movie is that this is the first time I actually saw Elizabeth and Darcy falling in love. It didn’t happen over a handful of conversations and a few snubs (well it did, but it didn’t feel like it). They saw both the better and worse of each other. Elizabeth didn’t uniformly dislike Darcy through the first half of the movie only to

change her opinion once she learnt that Wickham had deceived her.

I understood from the book and the other movies that the moment Elizabeth truly appreciated Darcy and began to love him was when her prejudices had finally been removed from her mind. But here at least we see Elizabeth realize that Darcy has the potential to be better than he is; here, despite her dislike of him and sympathies for Wikham, she sees both his faults and the possibility of goodness.

I liked that. It gave more credence to her change of feelings in the later half of the story.

It’s a relatively short movie and they pack a lot into it. They give a few things a miss and one particular character (Georgiana) never appears except in conversations. But this is understandable. Even Aunt and Uncle Gardner never descend on them to take Elizabeth to  Pemberley though her uncle does help search for Lydia and Wickham, but even that is behind the scenes. 

I didn’t miss any of it. I suppose the reason I love the mini series, esp the 1995 one, is that the pace suits the book. Elizabeth and Darcy barely know each other really, but they do identify the uniqueness of the other by the end of the book and it takes them almost a year to do it. Here, everything happens in maybe a handful of weeks.

I sat through the two hours waiting for the movie to trip, to go so far from the book that I no longer consider it an adaptation any more. I waited and waited.

I also waited for this bizarre change in Lady Catherine’s character. She sets them up? Really? But she seems to dislike Elizabeth! Oh and she just now hinted to Darcy that he was meant for her own daughter! Surely, my friend was wrong.

But she wasn’t and by the end I didn’t mind such a small change in the fictional character’s motives. I was too much in love with the film.

I’d never watched a movie with Greer Garson in it before. She made a wonderful Elizabeth, fitting for a 1940s movie where nothing was sedate. The quiet reserve and dignity that we see in the elder Bennet girls in all other movies (even through Elizabeth’s wit and spirit) is mostly overshadowed by trembling lips and blazing eyes here. But lords, is it fun.

I wouldn’t recommend this movie to Austen purists, who love her stories for their setting and quiet observations of the ridiculous. There is nothing quiet here and though it does tell the same story I can’t say that they were perfectly faithful to the period. =)

I would recommend the movie, however, to all those lovers of Austen who grew heartily bored of the Austen brand after being exposed to it for too long. This is rejuvenating. And I love both Garson and Olivier and dare you to disagree!

Fin.

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About trojanwalls

I read, I write, I eat, I hike, I play darts and I love my bike. :) Now, don't you want to know me better? I'm really very nice. Honest.
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2 Responses to Pride and Prejudice (a 1940 movie experience)

  1. Oh, this one is my husband’s favorite version. ;) I love it for what it is, a mash up of the fun bits of P&P.

    • trojanwalls says:

      That’s the perfect way to describe it. It did have all the fun parts with only one exception – that awkward meeting at Pemberley which Colin Firth immortalized by diving into a pond. =D

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