Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pride and Prejudice (1940)

They had this film on TCM last night, and I tuned in thinking, "Maybe it's not as bad as I remember."

I was right.

Time had softened my memory of its manifold faults, and it was, in fact, worse than I remembered.

Fans of the novel have been disparaging the 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice since it first came out, and I can't really add anything to their well-appointed criticism of this movie, so I'll try to keep my comments as brief as possible. The problem with the movie is simple: the script is horrible. It's not just that it it cuts out a lot of material from the novel - for there are many fine adaptations of long novels that still succeed in capturing the essence their original works while necessarily truncating things for time's sake. Rather the problem lies in the fact that it alters the material it chooses to include almost beyond recognition.

Some of the more glaring inaccuracies include Mr. Darcy coming off as too likable and overt in his feelings for Elizabeth, the elimination of the trip to Pemberley, the Bennets planning to leave Hertfordshire because of Lydia's disgrace, and Lady Catherine turning noble in the end. Add to this the fact that the costumes are Victorian instead of Regency, and it makes the production truly unbearable to a purist like myself. As much as I love Laurence Olivier, moreover, this is certainly not his best performance, mostly because he wanted his then-wife Vivien Leigh to play Elizabeth, and when she was turned down for the role, he went on with the film only under great duress. Still, his phoned-in performance, even with a bad screenplay, is better than most actors could manage. But he just doesn't feel like Darcy to me in about half the scenes.

Now that I've given some vent to my spleen, however. I'm going to be generous and say that the film has some good points. Greer Garson certainly does better than Kiera Knightley did as Elizabeth, and many of the minor characters are also quite well done, notably Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins. And despite the script's departure from the novel, Dame Edna May Oliver is good as Lady Catherine - but then again, she made her living playing those imperious British aristocrats.

 I'm going to hold my nose and give this movie a 5.6 out of 10 mostly because of my respect for Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier for their other film roles. It's not their faults they were handed such a bad script.

Simply put, though, if you love the book don't watch this movie because it's sure to engender homicidal thoughts!!!!!

Buy it from Amazon:

Pride and Prejudice

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