“Your alliance would be a disgrace”
This six-part adaptation of Pride and Prejudice has gone down in history as one of the most iconic TV programmes ever, its cultural breakthrough into the mainstream taking everyone by surprise and spearheading something of a revival in period dramas. For me though, my abiding memory remains watching a documentary some years later and hearing adaptor Andrew Davies saying that the stage direction he wrote for Colin Firth, for when Darcy meets Elizabeth after she has rushed over to see her ailing sister, was “Darcy is surprised to get an erection”.
Smut aside, it is a strikingly well done piece of work though, Luxuriating over 6 hour-long instalments, it allows for the slow-burn of the central relationship which makes this version of the story really work, Firth and Jennifer Ehle so incredibly well-matched that their every interaction is scintillatingly drawn as mutual antipathy turns to mutual admiration amidst the various family dramas of the Bennetts, Wickhams, Collins et al. His brooding looks and engagingly smooth voice and her keenly intelligent eyes with her delightful pragmatism are utterly engaging.
As with all major BBC adaptations, the ensemble cast is also a thing of wonder. Alison Steadman’s fussing Mrs Bennett, Benjamin Whitrow’s highly compassionate Mr Bennett, Susannah Harker’s shiningly decent Jane, Lucy Briers’ severe Mary, Julia Sawalha’s impetuous Lydia – the Bennett household is always great fun to watch. And with Anna Chancellor’s Miss Bingley and Lucy Robinson’s Mrs Hurst sneering from the side, the class division is clearly drawn.
There’s strength too in the depiction of the male characters, more fleshed out here than Austen would ever allow (she demurred from writing men-only scenes) and so the rivalry between Darcy and Adrian Lukis’ handsome Wickham becomes more potent, David Bamber’s toadish Mr Collins feels more of a real person than usual and Anthony Calf makes a small but impactful contribution as Colonel Fitzwilliam (and for my money, by far the handsomest man in this cast!) I loved watching this again and a measure of its quality is that it doesn’t feel dated at all.