As I researched material for yesterday’s post about Pride and Prejudice 2005, I ran across several articles that listed the actresses who played Elizabeth Bennet during the 20th century. These lists (click here and here) are excellent, but because they concentrate on films, they largely miss the contribution of one important actress, Celia Johnson, a British stage actress who played Lizzy in 1936. Online references to that play are so obscure that Celia’s performance is generally overlooked.
Celia played Elizabeth Bennet opposite Hugh Williams as Mr. Darcy at the St. James’s Theatre in London. Helen Jerome adapted this successful dramatization, titled Pride and Prejudice: A Sentimental Comedy in Three Acts, which continues to be performed today. As an interesting aside, Helen Jerome contributed to the screenplay of the 1940 film version of Pride and Prejudice, and it was said that Celia, who was born just four years after Greer Garson, was not particularly fond of her rival. The reasons were not given.
According to this detailed biographical account by Ian (?) Lloyd, Celia usually played ordinary women in normal settings, but she “was a huge success as Elizabeth Bennet in the hit Pride and Prejudice, in which she played the romantic heroine for once, and not the downtrodden or wronged woman.”
To British audiences of another generation, Celia was a well-known and highly regarded stage actress during the 1940’s and 50’s. She also made a few films shortly after World War II. Film aficionados might recall her turn as Trevor Howard’s love interest in Brief Encounter (see image above), and as a supporting actress in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, her last film. People in the UK can still listen to her narration of Pride and Prejudice by ordering the audio cassette. To learn more about Celia, click on the following links:
- Pride and Prejudice: A Sentimental Comedy in Three Acts, Helen Jerome
- View the lovely cover of the theatre programme of the 1936 production of Pride and Prejudice, and read more about Helen Jerome at Austenprose; view a larger image of the programme cover here.