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Series / Pride and Prejudice (1995)

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In 1995, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice was adapted into a six-episode mini-series as a co-production between The BBC and A&E.

Wealthy gentleman Charles Bingley (Crispin Bonham-Carter) buys the estate at Netherfield near the village of Meryton in Hertfordshire, to the delight of the lady of the house at nearby Longbourn, Mrs. Bennet (Alison Steadman), who has five daughters but no sons with her husband (Benjamin Whitrow). Believing in the "universally acknowledged" truth that all rich, single men are anxious to get married, Mrs. Bennet hopes that Bingley will choose one of her daughters and ensure their long-term financial stability. At a country dance, Bingley takes an immediate liking to the eldest Bennet daughter, Jane (Susannah Harker), but the haughty behaviour of his close friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy (Colin Firth), creates a much worse impression with the second Bennet daughter, Elizabeth (Jennifer Ehle).

Her opinion of Darcy sours further when the dashing George Wickham (Adrian Lukis), a Royal Army officer, is posted to the local regiment and tells Elizabeth that he was promised a living as a clergyman by Darcy's father, but Darcy revoked the promise after his father died. When Darcy blindsides her with a very backhanded marriage proposal, she rejects him with a scathing "The Reason You Suck" Speech, unwittingly setting a great deal of soul-searching in motion. However, when Wickham runs away with the youngest Bennet sister, Lydia (Julia Sawalha), Darcy's actions surprise Elizabeth and lead her to completely re-evaluate her impression of him...

Tropes used in the mini-series:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness:
    • The allegedly plain Charlotte is played here by the decidedly attractive Lucy Scott.
    • Colonel Fitzwilliam, described in the book as "not handsome," is played by Anthony Calf.
  • Adaptational Curves: Elizabeth is described as having a "light" figure. The mini-series has her played by the taller and curvy Jennifer Ehle.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The series shows a lot more of Darcy's side of the story, particularly in the later episodes; while in the latter half of the book Darcy drops out of focus whenever he's out of Elizabeth's presence, here he's shown coping with the anguish of being rejected, visibly deciding to try and help the Bennet family, and searching throughout London to find Wickham and Lydia.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: During the reveal of Darcy and Wickham's backstory, this version has Wickham refusing the parsonage that Darcy Senior had intended for him and instead receiving a lump sum of three thousand pounds in order to 'study the law', but it leaves out Darcy Junior's refusal to give the parsonage to Wickham when he'd wasted all his money and came begging for it. Since this means the two men are shown as rather terse but still polite towards each other before the Ramsgate incident, Darcy's belief that Wickham meant to elope with Georgiana partly to avenge himself upon her older brother comes rather out of nowhere.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Mr Bennet took delight in mocking his wife and younger daughters in the book, but he tended to do it in the privacy of their own home. Here, he stops Mary from playing the piano any longer during the ball at Netherfield; yes, it saved everyone from an awful performance and Mary was already making a spectacle out of herself, but Mr Bennet inevitably and deeply hurts his daughter's feelings and ends up looking rude and unmannered as well. Elizabeth even recalls the moment when reading Darcy's comments about the 'total want of propriety' demonstrated by most of her family.
  • "Awkward Silence" Entrance: At the ball in Meryton, the musicians stop playing and everyone goes silent and stares when the Netherfield party enters the room, who stare silently back. Everyone goes back to what they were doing after Sir William goes over to greet them.
  • Book Ends: The first time we see Darcy and Bingley, the former is essentially giving the latter his blessing to rent Netherfield. In the last episode, when Bingley finds out that Darcy kept him in the dark about Jane being in London and is understandably angry, Darcy apologises and Bingley, mollified, asks if he has his blessing (to propose to Jane). When an amused Darcy asks if he needs his blessing, Bingley calmly replies: "No. But I should like to know I have it all the same."
  • Brick Joke: The first time Elizabeth and Darcy 'meet', he snubs her; when Mrs. Bennet later says that in the future Elizabeth shouldn't dance with him even if he should ask her, her daughter says (seemingly in jest) that she can safely promise she'll never do so. Later on in the story when Darcy asks Elizabeth to dance at the Netherfield ball, she accepts out of politeness and being put on the spot, but then has a mini rant to Charlotte that she swore never to dance with him.
  • Cassandra Truth: Caroline tells Elizabeth at the Netherfield ball that Wickham treated Darcy "in an infamous manner" and that Darcy was blameless in the whole affair, but mixes it with enough disparaging comments at Wickham's descent that Elizabeth dismisses her words as snobbery. As it turns out, Caroline was right —and she's not even fully aware of how much Wickham has hurt the Darcys.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: At one point, Maria Lucas comments of Mary King, "She's not very pretty, is she?" To modern eyes the actress playing Mary is very pretty indeed, but she's red haired and freckled, two big no-nos in terms of Regency beauty.
  • Dreadful Musician: This adaptation takes the popular approach of making Mary Bennet a significantly worse musician, especially to the ears of those around her, than she believes herself to be. Her piano playing is technically solid, but she tends to play slow pieces ill-suited to the evening's merriment until one of her younger sisters browbeats her into playing something they can dance to (to which she invariably reacts with a scowl). And her singing... oh dear. Lucy Briers averts Hollywood Tone-Deaf by singing basically on key (except for the high notes, with which she very audibly struggles), but with a timbre that everyone in earshot - in and out of universe - finds grating. Even the horses and dogs outside are in agony.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The opening scenes, before the story proper even starts, tell us a fair bit about most of the main characters:
    • Darcy is rich and snobbish, but a good friend to Bingley;
    • Bingley is enthusiastic and pleasant, but easily led;
    • Elizabeth is independent, active and cheerful;
    • Mr. Bennet is sardonic and isn't that fond of his younger daughters, but clearly loves Elizabeth;
    • Lydia is self-absorbed and well used to getting her own way;
    • Kitty is emotional and never gets her own way;
    • Mrs. Bennet is 'nervous' and spoils Lydia;
    • Mary can't be having with her younger sisters and prefers reading;
    • Jane is calm and solicitous of her family.
  • Female Gaze: The miniseries treats viewers to a number of brief added scenes primarily focused on Colin Firth as Darcy in varying stages of attractive undress smoldering with unresolved sexual tension.
  • Flashback: As Darcy writes his letter to Elizabeth, a couple of flashbacks are seen, particularly one during Darcy and Wickham's childhoods and their time at Cambridge, where Darcy caught Wickham in a compromising position.
  • Foreshadowing: Mr. Bennet is clearly not taken in (or at least somewhat skeptical) of Wickham's tale of woe, and when Elizabeth defends him her father points out that Mr. Darcy may be less a scoundrel than simply a rich man used to getting his own way. This turns out to be close to the truth.
  • Funny Background Event:
    • When Mr. Collins first descends on Longbourne, Mary can been seen primping herself in the background trying to catch his eye.
    • When Mrs. Bennet descends on Netherfield, Mr. Hurst can be seen quietly slipping out of the room while she is talking.
    • On their way to visit Lady Catherine, Mr Collins points out that this will be Elizabeth's last visit to Rosings. She gives a florid reply about how she will hardly be able to bear the loss of Lady Catherine's company—and behind them, Charlotte is going Oh, Crap! because she's sure that her husband isn't that clueless. (She needn't have worried; he turns out to be as Sarcasm-Blind as ever.)
    • In episode 5 when Mr Collins is preaching at Jane, Elizabeth, and Mary about Lydia's disgrace, Kitty (who ran off to avoid him upon his arrival) peeks in the window, sees him still there talking, and takes herself off to hide again.
  • Held Gaze: At Pemberley, after Caroline Bingley thoughtlessly mentions Wickham and Elizabeth quickly moves to support and distract Georgiana before she can be further distressed by it, Elizabeth and Darcy share a long, silent look of understanding.
  • Informed Attractiveness: Modern audiences sometimes are confused that Jane Bennet is labeled as the family beauty, and prefer Elizabeth's appearance. However, Susanna Harker's fair complexion and Grecian profile were more fashionable during the Regency period.
  • Longing Look: Darcy can hardly take his eyes away from Elizabeth from the moment they first meet. Someone even edited all his longing glances together, and the video lasts nearly six minutes!
  • Meaningful Background Event: Mary can be seen trying to attract Mr. Collins's attention in various ways, including wearing a more revealing dress (for her, anyway) primping herself upon his arrival, and in general being more amiable than when she is with just her family.
  • Pet the Dog: Elizabeth isn't Mrs. Bennet's favourite daughter, but she's completely outraged on Elizabeth's behalf at being snubbed by Mr. Darcy the first time they meet, and indignantly tells her "Another time, Lizzie, I would not dance with him if he should ask you!"
  • Politically Correct History: A minor example. That Wickham attempted to elope with fifteen-year-old Georgiana Darcy is dastardly any version. However, Darcy's voiceover here indicates a disgust for the fact of Wickham going after a girl barely out of childhood. In the book, Darcy mentions her age and says "that must be her excuse". In the time the book was written, Georgiana would have borne the blame for not seeing through Wickham, so Darcy felt compelled to point out her age as justification for her lapse in judgment.
  • Rewatch Bonus:
    • Watching the miniseries repeatedly reveals a number of subtle and excellent touches from the actors, often in Facial Dialogue and Meaningful Looks.
    • When Wickham is questioning Mrs. Gardiner about her upbringing in Lambton, it seems on first watch that he is just being his usual charming self. Upon rewatch, you can see that he is trying to determine if she knows the Darcy family well enough to see through his lies.
    • Watch Wickham at the scene at Mrs Phillip's where he shares a flirty look with Elizabeth. You can just make out that Lydia is playing with his epaulettes (not a euphemism). There are lots of little hints of him and Lydia before they run off together, many of which are only seen after countless viewings.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: When Mr Collins shows up at Longbourn after Lydia's elopement, Kitty instantly declares she's not sitting with him and runs off to hide, only reappearing after Elizabeth manages to get rid of him.
  • Sexy Soaked Shirt: The iconic scene in which Mr Darcy arrives at Pemberly while Elizabeth and the Gardiners are visiting, walking up to the house half-dressed and still soaking wet from an impromptu swim in a nearby pond. By the standards of propriety of the day, this would be something akin to visiting your crush's house while he's supposed to be on vacation, only for him to step out of the bathroom fresh from the shower and dressed in nothing but a towel. The internal screaming on both sides is all but audible.
  • Shout-Out: When the courier arrives with the letter giving the first news of Lydia's elopement, Mrs Bennet's voice is heard demanding if they are all to be murdered in their beds.
  • Smart People Wear Glasses:
    • While not the smartest person in the story, Mary wears reading glasses whenever she's reading or playing the pianoforte.
    • Mr. Bennet also wears reading glasses throughout the series.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: An aversion, highlighting one of the reasons for this trope. Benjamin Whitrow (Mr Bennet) was shown tucking into gooseberry fool. The scene took two days to shoot, and he had to eat so much that he could never bear to eat it again, much to his chagrin as it had been his favorite desert before the shoot. One of the actresses, seemingly aware of the danger of this, chose to only eat a handful of grapes during the scene.

Alternative Title(s): Pride And Prejudice