Pride and Prejudice: 1980 (or 1985) Adaptation

So this adaptation has the distinct oddity of having two release dates. It was first aired in the UK in 1980, but wasn’t aired in the US until 1985. Which makes it vastly confusing when you are trying to find out more information about it because the DVD copy I own (part of the Jane Austen Collection that I have mentioned before) lists it as being made in 1985 and I was under the impression that this is when it was first seen. So, why the confusion? I believe in this case since the DVD collection is geared towards the US market, it changed the year on this particular adaptation (and this is the only one in the set to have been aired in a different year than it’s UK airing) to jog the memories of audiences in the US. Though I wish they had not done so as it made it incredibly difficult on my end to find out any particulars.

This version is the fifth BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel. The first four were done in 1938, 1952, 1958, and 1967. All I could find out was the 1958 and 1967 versions were highly praised, and a cast list as well as the episodes listing is all that remains. Unfortunately, both of these versions are considered lost and there isn’t any verifiable cast pictures to inform us of what the sets and costumes look like.

Elizabeth Garvie as Elizabeth Bennet

There are many reasons why this adaptation is still held in great esteem even with the much praised and beloved 1995 version. Simply phrased, this one is superbly charming and well acted. Charlotte Lucas is plain, but not unpretty in her own way. Lizzie is vibrant, bubbly, and everything you imagine her to be from the pages of the novel. Darcy is arrogant, proud, and a bit of a pretty boy (perhaps a tad vain). Mrs. Bennet is shrill land annoying while Mr. Bennet is bored and uncaring. The adaptation was done by Fay Weldon (an award winning novelist) and one can tell she spent time in crafting this version to be accurate, but also understanding it needed to be paced for television (she did work for ITV and BBC prior to this adaptation). That effort shows and unlike the 1940 version (which is fun, but not wholly accurate), this one maintains the charm of the 1813 novel.

Sabina Franklyn as Jane Bennet

The Assembly Ball

One scene that stands out is the Assembly Ball. Not only is it our first introduction to Darcy and Bingley, but also how the Bennet girls behave in public. I liked that there were soldiers present in Militia uniforms, though they did appear slightly more gaudy than what I was expecting (very bright and bold colors). But I do see this as a sign of the times (this was filmed in 1979 afterall) and the lighting that was used. Still, it is good to see the men in uniforms. There was also a table laden with food and I had to pause and rewatch it a few times (yes, because it was for research) to be surprised to see the food was period correct. I don’t know if any or all of it was edible, but I did see a plethora of fruits stacked neatly, jellies of all sorts, cold meats, and sweets. Perhaps a little over the top (some recent criticism has not enjoyed it stating the foods are too colorful), but they are fun, colorful, and something that is period correct. Food was usually served at these events and the Assembly Ball was local, small, and would have had such a display as a way to inform the Officers that this was an area worth being in.

Irene Richard as Charlotte Lucas with Lizzie

While I believe the script to be of an excellent quality, the costumes are very much a product of their times. One modern complaint is that they are very pastel Easter Egg looking and yes, I can understand why this may be a reason not many people have enjoyed this version. We have in our minds that all young ladies wore white because of more recent adaptations of any Austen novel. Yes, white was a preferred color for young girls making their debut into Society and no doubt for the first year or two, many of their evening dresses would have been white. For example, considering that Jane, Lizzie, and Mary have probably been “out” for more than two years, I would not expect them to wear white. They can, if they choose to because it was popular for decades and practical. Practical in that one’s white gown from two or three Seasons ago could be updated with trimmings or embroidery or lace and still worn. Lydia, Kitty, and even Maria Lucas on the other hand, I would fully expect to be only wearing white since they are so very young and I suspect Lydia has only been “out” for a few months in terms of the novel. AS to the Easter Egg pastels, yes they are not period correct. There were some pastels that did exist, but these tended to be blues and greens (with light grays thrown in for good measure). Most colors were medium to dark in color. If one wanted them to appear lighter, then a layering of lace on top usually did the trick. Now, I may be wrong in the pastel coloration. Fashion plates at the time do show more pastel colors, but keep in mind colors may have faded over time and fashion plates were colored in with watercolours, which are opaque to begin with. I have looked at so many dresses from this era in my 20 years of research that I truly cannot recall if I have seen any in these more modern Easter Egg pastel colors. This doesn’t mean that somewhere, out there, there might be a few in existence.  But I feel it’s best to err on the side of judgment and state that I don’t believe they existed.

British 7th Royal Fusiliers Officer's Uniform, circa 1795, front view.

British 7th Royal Fusiliers Officer’s Uniform, circa 1795, front view (Courtesy of Military Heritage website); chosen to show what a period correct Military Uniform would look like in terms of the colors and decorations.

A set of Coatees and Infantry officer's hat as used by the 96th Regiment. From left to right they date from 1796-1816, a short-...

A set of Coates and Infantry officer’s hat as used by the 96th Regiment. From left to right they date from 1796-1816 (Courtesy of Clash of Steel website); also chosen to show how the style changed from 1796 to 1816, but the decorations are still not bright yellow and white.

Underdress, c.1810. This simple silk piece would've been worn beneath an overdress made from a sheer fabric, such as patterned organza or embroidered muslin.

Yellow Silk Underdress, c.1810. This would be worn underneath an overdress made from a sheer fabric, such as patterned organza, embroidered muslin, or even lace (Courtesy of the John Bright Collection UK); I chose this image to highlight the brightness of the colors that were available at this time.

muslin gown with embroidery.

Sheer Embroidered Muslin Overdress c. 1810 (Courtesy of a Russian Heritage website); This is an example of the type of overdress that would go over the bright yellow silk pictured above. While the sheer material would dull the color somewhat, the yellow would not appear pastel.

Ball Dress, 1812

Ball Dress C. 1812 (I believe Ackermann’s Repository); this is probably what we tend to have in mind for ball dresses at this time. It’s white, fairly simple yet elegant. Yet notice the fringe on the dress and petticoat and the puff detail that was popular (and would gain in popularity well into the 1820s) that we don’t see in adaptations. Note Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813 and this is from 1812.

So, why I am focused on costumes for this particular adaptation? Probably because it was the fifth version done by the BBC at this point I would expect a little more historical accuracy and effort put in. While I can forgive the errors in the 1970 versions that are out there, by this time, the BBC should have made more of an effort. Another pet peeve I have with the costumes is I can see no visible means of getting the actresses in and out of the gowns. A majority of the extant gowns that you can see on-line (which I do love how Museums have taken photographs to make these things available to us), show us two main back closures-buttons and lacing. Lacing, of course, indicated one was wealthy and could afford an Abigail (a maid devoted to your personal appearance) to dress and undress you daily. Buttons may also indicate the ability of affording a maid, but more likely an upstairs maid and not an Abigail per se. Buttons, of course, would also make is easier for female relations to assist each other in dressing. Front closures where also popular and I think wholly underused in adaptations. If one was not wealthy, then a front closure would be practical. I sometimes get frustrated at the lack of common sense research that is done for historical costuming. Also, important is because of the way the gowns sit upon the actresses, I am well aware they are not wearing period undergarments.

Ah, yes, the obligatory nightgown scene. While the use of a sleeping cap is a historical touch, the hair would have been braided.

Because I cannot find any known way for these actresses to get into these costumes, I can then only surmise they have side zippers or hidden back zippers (plackets) that are not being picked up by the camera. Whitson Judson of Chicago patented the zipper on August 29th, 1893 (it was clumsy and streamlined by engineer Gideon Sundbach in 1913 after which is became widely used). Basically, I am saying that if any designer is using a zipper pre-1913, they will get the WTActualFrog reaction from me (Theatre Productions are the exception because of quick changes).

Priscilla Morgan as Mrs. Bennet

Judy Parfitt as Lady Catherine de Bourgh

Now that I’ve had my rant about the costumes, there are some unusual changes made to the script from the novel that should be addressed. Maria Lucas is not seen and I do believe she is not even mentioned, so I am fairly certain Maria was removed from the adaptation.The Hursts, likewise, have mysteriously vanished. Aunt Phillips is shown and portrayed by Shirley Cain as a woman who is genteel, but of the middle working class background. I’ve never liked version who portray her as being silly and uncouth-she is written as being genteel in the novel and genteel is how she should be portrayed. Lady Catherine is much younger than she is usually portrayed and cast. And I have to admit that I like having Lady Catherine not so old as she is generally made to be. She is meant to be a little older than Darcy’s own mother, so I do question why she is often cast as being in her dotage when in reality, she could be much younger. If Lady Catherine’s daughter Anne is of a similar age to Darcy (30) and Lady Catherine was married by the time she was 17 or 18, then she may only be around 50 instead of the 70 she is usually seen as. Anne, I should note, is not made to look overly sickly and ill, but more delicate and frail looking, which I do feel works. We only take it for granted that Elizabeth’s description of Anne looking sickly is the truth. We must recall that Elizabeth is wishing everything that is cruel and hateful upon Mr. Darcy because of her loyalty to Wickham. Showing us an Anne who isn’t so sickly informs us, the audience, how Elizabeth is blinded by Wickham’s lies.

Malcolm Rennie as Mr. Collins

Now, let’s talk about hair. Hair, like costumes, is vastly important and often overlooked. And I have to say that for this version, hair was done fairly decently. I don’t mind Mr. Collins’ quasi-curled locks. It shows that he has some vanity, but at the same time, isn’t so fashion forward as he thinks he is, which is pure Collins. His sideburns are also not bad and not overly long.

David Rintoul as Fitzwilliam Darcy

Darcy’s hair is curly (and sometimes it looks very curly), but it also looks like the hairstyle Darcy would pick. It informs you he is a man who can afford trips to get his hair shampooed, cut, layered, and overall maintained to have that tousled look. Yes, shampoo did exist (thanks to an Indian who came to Ireland in the 1790s named S. D Mahomed and his steam baths that he started in 1806 in London, then moved to Brighton in 1814, adding champu to the regiment, though I’m fairly certain he was probably messing about with the concept in 1806; and yes, people of colour did live in England prior to the Victorian Era even though Mark Gatiss doesn’t believe it :::insert eyeroll:::). Even if Darcy wasn’t using champu, Pears soap did exist and is gentle enough to wash one’s locks with (because I have actually done this).

Tessa Peake-Jones as Mary Bennet

Now, I have always had an issue with how Mary Bennet is treated in every single adaptation. In the 1940 version, while she had glasses and was somewhat silly at times, her hair was still well done and pretty. that has been the only time Mary Bennet had ever been given anything fashionable in any version of Pride and Prejudice since and I hate it. No where in Austen is Mary described as being ugly, overly plain, and not well dressed. No where and I have tried to find any evidence to the contrary. In fact, I can find no evidence that Austen mentions Mary wears spectacles. to me, it seems someone decided that since Mary loves to read, and tends to be serious, then glasses must surely indicate her unsuitability to be seen as attractive. Notice that wearing spectacles never affects the suitability of any man’s lack of attractive qualities. This is where as a person who wears glasses I have never fully enjoyed Pride and Prejudice adaptations because of this stereotype. I am a studious person, well read, and yes I wear spectacles. In the world of Austen Adaptations, this makes me wholly unattractive simply because of the wearing of glasses. My wit, my charms, my overall pleasant manner can never overcome a pair of spectacles. This is wrong. This is a disservice to women as well. Austen writes heroines who are loved for their wit, their charms, their inner beauty. Making Mary Bennet perpetually ugly for no reason is an affront to Austen. There are other ways to make Mary seem ridiculous. Her lines alone do that well enough. Her inability to carry a note does this as well. People who wish to adapt this in the future, do better.

Michael Lees (Mr. Gardiner) and Barbara Shelley (Mrs. Gardiner)

Some other weird changes from the novel, to which I do not comprehend why it was done, was the change in the amount both Bingley and Darcy have per year. In the novel, Bingley as 5,000 pounds a year and Darcy 10,000. In this version, Mrs. Bennet states Bingley will have 5 to 6,000 a year, while Darcy will only have 8,000. I don’t understand why such a change was done. Also, when Lizzie goes to visit Charlotte at Rosings Park, Darcy is all ready in attendance with his cousin,, Colonel Fitzwilliam, arriving later. Both gentleman arrive after Lizzie in the novel. Likewise, when Lizzie receives the letter from Jane regarding Lydia’s elopement, she runs all the way to Pemberly from Lambton (which I believe was supposed to be a few miles off) because her uncle is fishing there and the aunt is mysteriously missing. I don’t understand the reasoning behind that at all. Unless they wanted to mimic her going to see Jane at Netherfield (in an earlier scene) with a similar scene at the end. I also believe the Gardiners are not given any children in this version as well, which is weird.

Lizzie & Mrs. Gardiner touring Pemberly

Lastly, they drink water. Water was not drunk at this time unless it was in the form of tea or barley water. The reason for this was, of course, of outhouses and sanitation. there were such things as water treatment plants available back then. Water came from streams, wells, ponds, etc, and there were farms everywhere. Yes, that’s a gross thought. Tea was safe because it was boiled first as was barley water. But can you imagine the uproar kitchen staff would have over someone requesting water to drink? It would require water to be boiled then filtered (yes, filtered) through a series of natural filters such as various rocks, sand, clay, etc, before being declared safe to drink. Water was boiled for tea, for washing clothing, and for baths (which occurred once a week if you were wealthy-most spot cleaned with a washcloth daily). Hair was most likely washed once a week to one a month. It was a dirty, smelly time. Yet we romanticize it.

Marsha Fitzalan as Caroline Bingley

So, do I recommend this version? Honestly, I do. Disregarding the issues with costuming and some weird script choices, this is a very good version of Austen’s novel. The sets are much better than what we were seeing in the 1970s and the outdoor scenes are very lovely. Improvement in filming meant there wasn’t this harsh transition from indoor to outdoor scenes. Lighting was much improved by this time and you can tell that a great amount of detail was spent on trying to use natural light whenever possible, which is a very good choice. Jewelry and makeup is used and used well. I don’t understand this more recent trend to not using makeup or jewelry for Austen adaptations because both existed and were used. Makeup especially considering the heavy use of it during the Georgian Era would not magically disappear with the French Revolution. It continued to be used, but the trend was for more natural looks (much like today we women are told to look natural, but if we wear no makeup, we are chastised for it; I suspect a similar attitude was prevalent back in Austen’s day). Much like the 1940 version, this ends with the Bennets being very happy to know that they will soon have two more daughters wed.

Lizzie & Darcy