Sunday, October 3, 2010

Pride and Prejudice (1940)

I tried to play something of a trick on my wife. She loves historical, romantic costume dramas like North and South and whatnot, and her absolute favorite is the 1995 BBC version of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Yes, she has the 40 DVD set with the 4,007 hours of commentary and outtakes, and she's read the book eleventy-eleven times, backwards even . So, I reasoned, I should order the 1940 version from Netflix.

Well, she saw it coming and pushed it down the queue. Eventually it came in and I made her watch it using brutal force.

What the '95 version crammed 500 pages of witty dialog and formal societal behavior into 300 minutes, the 1940 edition crammed it into 118. With that kind of compression, you are bound to have lost scenes, changed plots, and missing characters (Where are you, Tom Bombadil?) My wife braced herself. My take is: not bad.

Now, all I can compare this to is the '95 version as I'd rather take a bullet than read Austen, but I have to say, and my wife agrees, they did not cut the story. It's all there. The major characters, the most important dialog, plot points, everything. Of course when you do compress a story like that, there are some silly side effects. Events that happen months apart take place the same day.

Story synopsis time! Mister and Missus Bennet have five silly daughters. As the Bennet's have no male heirs, their humble home will go to the next male in the family, Mister Bennet's cousin, the revolting Mister Collins. Oldest and prettiest daughter Jane catches the eye of fabulously wealthy Mister Bingley. Bingley's friend, the fabulously MORE wealthy Mister Darcy, is grumpy and dismissive. Protagonist second daughter Elizabeth is not amused by him, and they proceed to jab at each other in a very Sam and Diane season one sort of way. Bingley ditches Jane, who is heartbroken, and it turns out Darcy is to blame. Lizzy considers the horizontal mambo with Darcy's arch nemesis Wickham, who runs off with youngest and silliest daughter Lydia, and, well Darcy shows his honor, Elizabeth shows her appreciation, and Jane and Bingley get it on again, and everybody is happy, even Mister Collins who beds down Lizzie's best friend.

Ummm, Spoiler alert!

What was my wife's take? Add hoops to the skirts and it's Gone With the Wind. Very close to the truth, it turns out. The dresses were borrowed from Gone With the Wind and everything was styled as late Victorian rather than late Elizabethan. But it don't stop there! Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable were actually considered for the lead roles!

She thought it was ... ok, I guess. High praise indeed, as Sir Laurence can no way compare to the absolutely hunky Colin Firth. Here's a few other things I noticed. 20 year old Lizzy Bennet was played by 35 year old Greer Garson. Big sis Jane was played by 29 year old Maureen O'Sullivan.

This was a fairly big movie in it's day, but it could have been bigger. Had it been filmed in Technic(ly)color, it would have been easier to watch. I'm glad I watched it, and my wife felt the same. AMRU 3.

By the way, the 2005 version, despite Keira Knightley's hotness, totally blew.

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