Today in my Jane Austen confessional, I admit that I love both recent modern adaptations of Pride and Prejudice–that is to say, both the 1995 BBC version, and the 2005 Keira Knightley version. Each has their strengths and weaknesses, particularly when it comes to casting. I was recently mulling over a glass of gin, watching the lime wedge twirl around inside of it and muttering about what would make the perfect adaptation if only I could breed the two versions and add my own bits. There was a lot of wild gesturing, especially when I got to the bits about the Darcy performances. And since that seemed to keep me distracted for a couple hours, I figure it’s probably time that I put fingers to keyboard and organized my thoughts on the matter, sans gin.
Just to make this fun, let us do this in true showdown fashion. Like Thunderdome, but with more ribbons and carriages.
Jennifer Ehle vs. Keira Knightley
Neither are the perfect Lizzie whom I pictured while reading the book. Ehle’s take on Lizzie is a little too sweet and coy. What is supposed to be a slightly cutting and wry wit is softened maybe just a tad too much. Whereas, Knightley goes too far in the opposite direction, making Lizzie a bit too moody and angry, and worst of all, not terribly clever. Appearance-wise, Knightley is almost entirely wrong. I do love her wardrobe immensely, but she is far, far too skinny for this role and would have been considered sickly looking for the time. In contrast, Ehle is much more fitting. It is only a shame that they did not allow her looks to be a little less formal. I wanted my Lizzie to have a just slightly feral look to her–not quite as buttoned up and pinned as her peers. Still, though I loved Knightley’s chemistry with her Darcy, this one hands down goes to Ehle!
Winner: Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet
Susannah Harker vs. Rosamund Pike
Sweet, shy Jane. This is not a terribly challenging role, I imagine, but it is nevertheless important to pull off the perfect tone. Lean the wrong way, and Jane acts like a simple fool, or worse, a simpering lump of clay. And this is where Harker treads ever so slightly. Both Janes are all sweetness and humility, but Harker fails to demonstrate even the mildest passion, even when Jane is hushed away in a bedchamber with her little sister. Too sedate. Pike, on the other hand, was able to achieve the coyness and gentleness of spirit, while still seeming ensnared by the idea of romance. That extra breath of life gives Pike the edge. Plus…you know. Come on, let’s just out with it: There were some beauty issues with Harker. Allow me to declare firmly that Susannah Harker is a true beauty. But the 1995 styling did her no favors–especially in the hair department–and her pregnancy during filming altered her delicate facial features into a more mannish appearance. Trust me, she has my utmost sympathies on this count. While I dislike neither Jane, I must choose but one, so here it is.