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  • Writer's pictureE. G. Runyan

The Battle of the Mr. Darcy's: The '95 VS the '05 Pride and Prejudice



Which of the famous Jane Austen Pride & Prejudice adaptations is better? Ah, the age-old question (dating all the way back from the ancient days of 2005) is still being asked today. 


Unfortunately the question certainly isn’t going to be settled for good in this post, but as an avid Jane Austen fan who once watched three different Emma adaptations in the span of a week, I’ve long wanted to throw in my two cents concerning the highly controversial ‘95 and ‘05 films.


I'm excited to say that this post will be the first of a blog series on different Austen adaptations where we will discuss subjects such as plot, characters, soundtracks, cinematography and much, much more. So without further ado, let’s dive in!


My history with P&P 




I read Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in its entirety when I was ten years old and loved it, but it wasn’t until I was twelve that my mother watched the 1995 Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth miniseries with me. Just last year I finally decided to give Keira Knightley a chance and watched the 2005 version with two of my brothers (they had never watched a Jane Austen movie and added quite colorful commentary; it was great). 


I’m a big fan of film adaptations of my favorite books, but let me get it clear that I’m not a “film/book perfectionist”. I don’t care about minor plot changes in films because I believe that the film industry is a very different one than the writing industry; for movies to work and work well, they often have to diverge from the book. I believe the most important aspect of a film adaptation is that they stay true to the spirit of the original work; the purpose and message the author intended. What I want to see in a film adaptation is an author and their characters represented well rather than following the book exactly.


The Directors and Screenwriters


1995



Directed by Simon Langton and screenwritten by Andrew Davies, 1995 P&P is a six-episode BBC miniseries. The producers, director, and screenwriter’s goal was to create a film that respected Austen’s narrative but that also followed the stories of “real people”. 












2005



Directed by Joe Wright and written for the screen by Deborah Moggach, the 2005 Pride & Prejudice was set in the late 18th century rather than the early 19th century for fear of being overshadowed by the ‘95 miniseries. While the script was simplified from the original book for the benefit of modern audiences, Deborah Moggach thought it very important to stay as true to Austen’s story as possible. She wrote as many as ten drafts before presenting the final version ready for the screen. 








The Characters


Feel free to throw things at me in the comments.


Elizabeth Bennet


In Jane Austen’s novel, Elizabeth Bennet is the second daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and, while not the prettiest (Jane Bennet), the most rambunctious (Mary and Lydia Bennet), or the academic (Mary Bennet), she is by far the cleverest. Elizabeth knows how to make strong, thoughtful points using sweet surface-level words and she easily sees through the follies of society. However, sometimes this supposed foresight can make her prejudiced, and she is quick to make assumptions.


1995




Jennifer Ehle plays Elizabeth Bennet to perfection. Sweet, ladylike, yet undeniably clever, she illustrates Austen’s character very well. I personally have no complaints with her performance/portrayal as Lizzie. My rating? 10/10.






2005




Keira Knightley has what I would call “spunk”. A fiercer Lizzie, she acts rather less ladylike than Jennifer Ehle. In a few scenes she could even be called “silly”, something Elizabeth Bennet from Austen’s novel certainly would not have approved of, as Knightley giggles frequently and sometimes quite awkwardly in inappropriate settings. Keira Knightley definitely makes Lizzie come off younger and more immature than she is. However, her performance for the most part is very good; her character development throughout the course of the story is done well. My rating? 7/10.





Mr. Darcy


Oh boy, and now we come down to it…one of the greatest controversies of our time. Mr. Darcy is the rich owner of Pemberly and the best friend of Mr. Charles Bingley. Though in social settings he is cold, unfeeling, and borderline rude, his unwelcoming exterior hides a thoughtful and moral heart.


1995




Colin Firth is a good Mr. Darcy who plays his part extremely well. He brilliantly masters the silent and cold Mr. Darcy, but I do wish we’d been able to see more of Darcy’s warm and thoughtful side. While we do get a glimpse of it in certain scenes, he still comes off as a very unfeeling character for most of the movie. We only see him smile a handful of times. My rating: 8/10



2005



Matthew Macfadyen is also a good Mr. Darcy who, like Firth, masters the cold Darcy exterior. Unlike Colin Firth, we do get to see his warmer side; he smiles more, and, by the end of the movie, it’s easy to imagine him and the spunky Lizzie as perfectly happy together. My rating: 8/10









Jane Bennet


Jane is the eldest of the Bennet sisters, and by far the prettiest and the best-tempered. Her grace and willingness to see the best in people sometimes leads her to misjudge their character; and her shyness often leads others to misjudge her.


1995


Susannah Harker plays a good Jane; quiet and thoughtful. This is going to sound like a petty complaint, but she doesn’t seem to be quite as pretty as we are led to believe Jane is in the book. In fact, in the 1995 version Lizzie far outshines her in looks.


My rating: 9/10




2005


Rosamund Pike is, in my opinion, the perfect Jane. Gorgeous, sweet, and thoughtful, she compliments Keira Knightley’s performance and is just right for Bingley. My rating: 10/10












Mr. Bingley


Mr. Bingley becomes a local sensation when he buys Netherfield estate near Meryton. Good-hearted and kind, his enthusiasm sometimes makes him an awkward conversationalist. However, because of his good intentions (and money) nobody holds his sometimes thoughtless words against him. 


1995


Crispin Bonham-Carter originally tried out for the role of George Wickham, but was instead cast as Bingley. He plays the role incredibly well. My rating: 10/10










2005


Simon Woods also plays a great Bingley; very enthusiastic and eager to please. I also give him a 10/10. In my opinion, both Bingleys cast in the different adaptations portray the Austen character to perfection. I can’t choose which I liked more for the part.



(And can I also say that this clip is amazing? It not only helps humanize Darcy but it shows how sweet and thoughtful Bingley is. Another point to 2005).



Plot


1995


What I Liked


The plot of the 1995 Pride & Prejudice is near identical to the novel. The dialogue, characters, settings, everything is done almost word-for-word. This really brings Austen’s book alive (and makes all her fans swoon. It’s no surprise that most die-hard Austen fans go for the ‘95 version). It’s enjoyable to see the family dynamics and characters exactly how you would imagine them. 1995 is a fair, just, and faithful portrayal of Austen and her world.


What I Disliked


Because the miniseries is so close to the book, there are parts where the plot seems to drag a bit. Almost nothing is cut from the book. Some people love this, but only some people: and most of them big Austen fans.

Because so much is kept in, this makes the ‘95 seem long and dull to people who aren’t familiar with the original story or who are, but aren’t easy fans of long regency-period movies. The thing is, in this day and age 1995 is pretty much only a movie for fans. It doesn’t hold appeal to non-readers because of its length and how difficult it can be to follow. I’m not a fan of this because I want films to bring the story alive to people who haven’t read the book before. I will say though that a lot of these problems have to do with when the 1995 P&P was made and isn’t the fault of the director and screenwriter.


My rating of the overall plot: 8/10


2005


What I Liked


I love how the 2005 version brings the P&P story alive in a simpler, easier to understand way. The dialogue is more straightforward and the cutting of different book scenes and minor characters helps create a storyline that is easier to follow while also staying (decently) close to the heart of Austen’s novel. The 2005 Pride & Prejudice is definitely a modern adaptation; it’s more dramatic. A lot of die hard Austen fans hated this about the 2005 movie, and this will be highly controversial, but I actually enjoyed it. Yes, it may not be realistic for the time period. Yes, it may not be something Austen would have written. But objectively it makes for a really good film that (1. Makes sense to those who aren’t familiar with the P&P story (2. Appeals to the modern generation.


I thought some of the slight changes to the 2005 movie were especially good, especially the emphasis on family and family dynamics. The Bennet parents and younger daughters are known for their impropriety, but we get to see some amount of resolution in the 2005 film that we don’t see elsewhere. When Mr. Bennet embarrasses Kitty, he goes and finds her afterwards and comforts her. When he questions Lizzie about her love for Mr. Darcy, he tears up and says, “You really do love him, don’t you?”

It’s a really sweet father-daughter moment and makes the film really meaningful. It may not stay strictly to the book, but it makes for a really good movie.


What I Disliked


I said before that I liked the more dramatic take on P&P for a modern audience; but there are a few exceptions. 


I liked the first proposal scene and think it worked well for the movie. But the happen-chance meeting in the pouring rain made me roll my eyes a little bit. The same goes for the second proposal scene where Darcy comes up the hill to see Elizabeth half-dressed in his pajamas. A Jane Austen group I was in went as far as to christen it “the unbuttoned shirt”, a name that still makes me laugh (if any of you guys happen to be reading this, I salute you). It wasn’t in the slightest realistic for the time period.


Potentially the part that irks me the most is when Darcy delivers his letter to Elizabeth late at night while she’s standing in her pajamas staring into the mirror. It makes no sense. How did he get in there? Why didn’t a maid introduce him? It just arouses a lot of questions. 


I'll also say that Lady Catherine visiting in the middle of the night was pretty far-fetched; but again, I can see why they did it for the story.


I will note that not everything in a story needs to make sense. Stories make us suspend our disbelief a little; that’s one of the great aspects of a well-told tale. Overall, I think these changes made the movie good, even if an Austen fan like me easily saw a lot of things to question in them.


My rating of the overall plot: 7/10


Historical Accuracy



This one has to go to 2005. Although it is set around twenty years before Austen’s novel is supposed to take place, it is by far the most realistic. We see our characters going about daily life, interacting with farm animals etc. 


Now, there are exceptions (Mr. Darcy walking up to the Bennet's house at six in the morning, for example). But generally when it comes to life at home, 2005 rings true to actual regency era practices.


1995: 7/10

2005: 10/10

Cinematography 


Again, this one has to go to 2005. The 1995 is very pretty with elaborate sets and costumes, but it really can’t compare to the beautiful sunset and sunrise shots in the 2005. 




Score


The score to the 1995 miniseries is sweet, with powerful strings and lots of piano, and I easily give it an 8/10. 



However, Dario Marianelli’s 2005 score is gorgeous. The simple piano is iconic, and the 2005 P&P is definitely one of my favorite film scores to date; I listen to it regularly while writing. I give it a 10/10.




Finally…


Overall, I think the ‘95 and ‘05 versions are pretty evenly matched. They both have great things going for them. I believe that the ‘95 is the better representation of Austen due to its complete faithfulness to the novel, however, ‘05 is objectively a brilliant film. 


If you are a die-hard Austen fan, you will probably prefer the ‘95 version. However, if you aren’t into Austen all that much but are interested in watching one of the movies, you should probably go with the ‘05. But really; whoever you are, both are worth the watch.


My personal favorite would probably be the ‘95 because of nostalgic reasons. But ‘05 comes really, really close, and on any given day I could choose one or the other pretty equally. 


What Do You Think?


Do you agree with my takes, or disagree? Which P&P version is your personal favorite? Comment below! I’d love to hear your opinions.



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36 comentarios


Invitado
09 jul

Clears throat dramatically 2005 is not ancient! XD

I agree with a lot of what you said--especially about the cast and characters! Though I do have to disagree about the historical accuracy, lol.

-Jessica

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E. G. Runyan
E. G. Runyan
7 days ago
Contestando a

Thanks for reading!

Yeah, historical accuracy seems to be where I'm at fault.

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Cari Legere
Cari Legere
06 jul

I loved this article! I need to watch the miniseries now

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E. G. Runyan
E. G. Runyan
06 jul
Contestando a

Thanks for reading! And the miniseries is definitely worth the watch. (:

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Invitado
04 jul

Love this debate, Emma! I've only ever seen the '95 version, so I can't compare it to '05, but I do enjoy it for how they portrayed it. :D


-Hannah Smith

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E. G. Runyan
E. G. Runyan
05 jul
Contestando a

Thanks for reading, Hannah! It was fun to write. Ah yes, '95 is pretty spectacular.

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Autumn
Autumn
03 jul

I think the '95 one is by far the best...and you know why...if you read my review. lol.

I think the actress could be better picked for the 2005 version, especially Mr. Bingley (he's just too awkward for a gentleman) and Mr. Darcy who seems more sad than proud---as Firth did a good job portraying.

Whatever you say about the 2005 appealing to the new generation, I'll always be happy that there's a 1995 that appeals to me, new generation or not. (Sometimes I wonder if it's a good thing that a new version of a movie has to be made so that the next generation can it enjoy it. What's the problem with the last generation's version?) lol

Nevertheless,…

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E. G. Runyan
E. G. Runyan
03 jul
Contestando a

Haha, I didn't think this article would probably convince you otherwise. 😂 As you know, I also am a '95 fan, but I gotta say that I love '05 too.

Aw, thanks!

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Invitado
03 jul

I've always believed the 95 version to be the best one, especially with the amazing acting done by Firth and Ehle. When I tried to rewatch the 05 one, I almost cried because Mrs. Bennet's actress was so horrible compared to the 95 actress

Also agree with you on the unbuttoned shirt and the rain scenes 😂

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E. G. Runyan
E. G. Runyan
03 jul
Contestando a

LOL, Mrs. Bennet in the '95 one is pretty spectacular. 😂

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