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A&E Home Video presents
Pride and Prejudice: The Special Edition (1995)

"For a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife!"
- Elizabeth Bennett (Jennifer Ehle)

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: April 03, 2003

Stars: Colin Firth, Jennifer Ehle
Other Stars: David Bamber, Crispin Bonham-Carter, Anna Chancellor, Susan Harker, Julia Sawalha, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Adrian Lukis, Alison Steadman, Benjamin Whitrow
Director: Simon Langton

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing offensive)
Run Time: Approx. 300 min.
Release Date: September 25, 2001
UPC: 733961702545
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AB-B- C

DVD Review

The 1995 BBC miniseries adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was a national sensation when it first aired in England, garnering rave reviews and tremendous ratings, and turning lead actor Colin Firth into an instant celebrity and sex symbol. It is hard to imagine a period costume drama finding the same success in the US, where these days, viewers are more likely to turn out in droves for Joe Millionaire. In this case, it is clearly the Brits who have their heads on straight, as the series is a totally engrossing, high class production all the way, and a faithful adaptation of truly worthy source material.

Directed by BBC stalwart Simon Langton (who has, in his long career, directed everything from Upstairs, Downstairs, to Jeeves & Wooster, to 1989's Mother Love, which beat out the original Traffik for best drama series) and written by Andrew Davies (also of Mother Love fame), this is the fifth filmed adaptation of Jane Austen's enduring novel, and the most popular. The story of the relationship between Elizabeth Bennet (Jennifer Ehle) and Mr. Darcy (Colin Firth) is probably well known to most who would be interested in the series—author Helen Fielding even used it as a rough outline for Bridget Jones's Diary—but it continues to entertain.

Set in the 19th century English countryside, the story revolves around the Bennet family. Mrs. Bennet (Alison Steadman) is a meddling old biddy obsessed with finding proper husbands for her children as, due to an unfortunate British law, her three daughters will inherit nothing from their father's estate when he passes on. Jane (Susannah Harker) is beautiful, and Elizabeth is quick-witted and intelligent (Julia Sawalha plays the third child, Lydia, who is kind of an idiot). A wealthy heir moves into town and takes an immediate liking to Jane, but he brings with him one Mr. Darcy, even wealthier, and he catches Mrs. Bennet's eye as a perfect match for Elizabeth. Unfortunately, the two don't exactly click—rather, they loathe each other on sight. The arrogant Darcy believes Elizabeth to be beneath him, while she is put off by his haughty airs. Anyone familiar with modern-day romantic comedies knows that their friction will only lead to the production of romantic heat, but you can't blame Austen for establishing such archetypes, and you can't blame the filmmakers for being faithful to the book.

Not that you'd want to. Pride and Prejudice is successful because it is a high quality production that does closely follow the book, not only in plot but in spirit. Watching the series is just as captivating as reading Austen's memorable prose. All of the fancy production and costume design in the world won't save a poor translation (witness the lifeless Harry Potter film, which crammed in all of the book's plot and none of its wonder), but Pride and Prejudice is worthy in both respects. Obviously, the TV-level budget means that everything is kept as simple as possible, but the period costumes and locations are nevertheless entirely convincing.

The performances are top-notch all the way around, typical of a prestige BBC production. Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth share a palpable chemistry in their scenes together, but even when they are apart, Ehle remains loveable and Firth, magnetic. Firth's portrayal earned him a cult following that included one Bridget Jones—in Fielding's sequel, The Edge of Reason, Bridget obsesses about him and eventually lands an interview, during which she cannot stop asking him about the scene that required Mr. Darcy wear a wet shirt. The universe eventually warped in upon itself when Firth went on to play Mark Darcy in the filmed adaptation of Bridget Jones's Diary.

The script, performances, and direction don't have the feel of an "important" production. The performances are not stiff or tiresome, a common problem when an actor gets it into his head that he is in a period piece. Jane Austen's novels are all about the characters, and director Langton allows them to breathe, and to take on lives of their own, outside of their existence as cherished literary figures. As such, Pride and Prejudice is just as satisfying for the alliterate as it is for lifelong fans of the book.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: There is some dissent about the picture quality of the Pride and Prejudice DVDs. According to reviews at Amazon.com, the VHS edition actually featured much richer colors. To my eyes, the DVD does look a little washed out, but the look is in keeping with other BBC productions I have seen. Of course, complicating matters further is the fact that the film clips in the making-of featurette on Disc Two look quite a bit more saturated.

Complications aside, the transfer on the disc isn't all that bad, and is, by all accounts, a marked improvement over the first DVD release. For one, this is the first time the series has appeared in widescreen in the U.S. (1.78:1, not the 2.35:1 indicated on the box), and anamorphically, no less. As I've noted, colors are a little washed out in keeping with the low budget, shot-on-video look of many BBC productions. The image is also a little soft, but detail remains good. Black level is decent, and print flaws and grain are non-existent or unobtrusive. Frankly, quibbles about the color aside, this is about as good as I can imagine the source materials are going to look.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: This is your basic Dolby stereo mix, suited to the material, but certainly not impressive. The dialogue comes across fairly well, though it can sound a little muffled and "on location" at times. The score is presented plainly across the front soundstage with decent fidelity.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery
  2. Jane Austen Bio
Extras Review: Pride and Prejudice: The Special Edition is the second DVD release of the miniseries in the US. This release isn't laden with features, but it does add a few nice goodies. Disc One includes a text bio of Jane Austen that sheds a little light on her literary career, but it will be nothing new to anyone well-versed in the history of English literature. Also included are talent biographies for the cast and crew.

Disc Two includes the nice, half-hour documentary The Making of Pride and Prejudice. This piece includes some behind-the-scenes footage, and features interviews from the creative team, from the writer and producer, to the production designers and the cast. There are far too many lengthy film clips, but this is still a fairly decent piece. At least it goes more in-depth than the typical Hollywood featurette, in that it actually recognizes things like costume and set design.

The discs are houses in two amaray cases packaged in a flimsy slipcase, complete with a "collectible" 8-page booklet of cast and crew bios.

Extras Grade: C

 

Final Comments

Pride and Prejudice is an impeccable adaptation of Austen's most popular book, and the rich characters, wonderful cast, and high-quality production will entrance even those normally put off by costume dramas. It's easy to see why this enormously entertaining series captivated all of England, and A&E's special edition DVD re-release is highly recommended.

 


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