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Archive for the ‘Pride & Prejudice 1995’ Category

I used to regard A&E as one of the premier cable channels in the U.S. Known then as the Arts and Entertainment Network, it ran such prestigious shows as the 6-hr 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Inspector Morse, Midsommer Murders, and Biography. (These days this once admirable network features rubbish like Storage Wars, Duck Dynasty, Dog, the Bounty Hunter, Flipping Las Vegas, and Donny Loves Jenny.)  Regardless of the transformation, I shall always be grateful to A&E for showcasing P&P in the fall of 1995. For six weeks we were treated to this marvelous adaptation of Jane Austen’s most famous novel. The mini-series held me spellbound (and my then husband as well). I wanted to be Lizzy to Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy. What romantic-minded lady didn’t?

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet

Rewatching the first minutes of the first episode, I was reminded of how compact and economical those opening scenes were – and how they crucially fed our expectations for the rest of the series. In interviews over the years, Andrew Davies, the screenwriter, said that he wanted to emphasize the lives of Regency men as well, and so the film opens with Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy racing through the fields on their steeds to view Netherfield Park, which was available to let. The relationship between Darcy and Bingley is immediately established – Bingley the eager puppy wanting his friend’s approval, and Darcy’s slightly caustic reply as a supportive older friend, cautioning him that he’ll find the society something savage.

As the two friends gallop away, the camera pans to Elizabeth, who pauses during her country walk to watch the men disappear. We follow the tomboyish Lizzy as she skips home over a dirt path, past a field with horses, and to the Bennet family home, Longbourn. Lizzy gazes through the window into her father’s study, while in the background we hear loud bickering between two young women. Mr. Bennet, holding a book in his right hand, rolls his eyes as Lizzy smiles in acknowledgment. This brief exchange demonstrates their close relationship in an instant.

We are then treated to a raucous scene in the parlor with Kitty, Lydia, and Mrs. Bennet in all their argumentative glory. Only Mary sits quietly, reading a book amid the mayhem. A calm, beautiful Jane greets Lizzy, who has just entered the hallway. Both respond to their mother’s shrill cries with half smiles and serene expressions. These scenes, in which the viewer meets quite a few of the principal characters, took all of 3 minutes.

We next see the Bennets at church in their Sunday best. The costumes are sumptuous; the locations are authentic – not the staged sets that were so prevalent in BBC dramas of the 70’s and 80’s. I recall the excitement I felt when I saw the care that the director and producers had taken to give us an “authentic” English Regency experience. Cameras followed the actors as they moved through the rooms of real houses and the lanes and paths of actual locations. The stilted production techniques inside studio interiors that used two or three fixed camera angles belonged to the past. The BBC and PBS had finally caught up with commercial television in shooting and producing drama that seemed realistic.

The church scene provides us with two of Jane Austen’s most famous lines. Mrs. Bennet runs after Mr. Bennet screeching, “Mr. Bennet, wonderful news. Netherfield Park is let at last!” We are then treated to the brilliant witty dialogue that Jane Austen crafted for Mr Bennet as he replies to his wife’s many suppositions and inanities.

Andrew Davies gives Lizzy the honor of speaking the novel’s famous opening line, “For a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” How apropos. Only 4:20 minutes have elapsed at this point. Even my ex, who had not read any of Jane’s novels, understood the plot for the full 6 episodes – two bachelors, five single girls, a silly mother, a sarcastic father, and romance and social history galore. We settled in for six hours of satisfying viewing time.

I could continue, but at this rate it would take me over 400 pages just to describe the first episode. Suffice it to say that I love Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and prefer Jennifer Ehle as Lizzy (horrid wig and all) over Keira Knightley as Lizzy 2005. Some critics with modern sensibilities found Ehle too old and zaftig for the part of Lizzy Bennet. Jennifer was 25 when she took on the role, only 5 years older than Lizzy. (Twenty-five year old Julia Sawalha, who played 15 year old Lydia, was ten years older! And let’s not argue about 30-something Greer Garson playing Lizzy Bennet in 1940 P&P. Awful.)

Mary Anne Clarke by Adam Buck, 1809. View more images here.

Mary Anne Clarke by Adam Buck, 1809. View more images here.

As for Jennifer Ehle being too heavy for the part of a 20 year old Regency girl, those critics need only to examine images of that era to see that Jennifer was the perfect size to play Lizzy. Keira Knightley possesses the thin fashionable looks that suit our 21st century tastes, but not those that depict early 19th century beauties. Feel free to disagree.

The 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice also benefited from the immensely satisfying performances of Benjamin Whitrow as Mr Bennet, Alison Steadman as Mrs. Bennet, David Bamber as the incredibly silly Mr. Collins, and Barbara Leigh-Hunt as insufferable Lady Catherine de Bourgh. I found very little fault with the supporting actors, who played their roles to perfection. I can’t say how often I’ve seen this version of P&P – 12, 15 times? I’ve lost count. Be assured that I’ll enjoy many more viewings.

In case you wondered how Mr. and Mrs. Darcy would look after 15 years of marriage, here’s a lovely image.

If you wonder how our favorite couple would have aged, here's an image of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth 15 years later.

Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth 15 years later. Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in 2010 after the King’s Speech premiere.

Additional bits of information about P&P 1995:

Left to right; Anna Chancellor, Jane Austen, Rev. George Austen. Bottom: Francis (l) and Charles (r) Austen.

Left to right; Anna Chancellor, Jane Austen, Rev. George Austen. Bottom: Francis (l) and Charles (r) Austen.

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Alicia Silverstone as Cher in Clueless, a modern adaptation of Emma

Alicia Silverstone as Cher in Clueless, a modern adaptation of Emma. This film still leaves me laughing, and I suspect JA would have approved of its modern Beverley Hills setting.

Do you have an account with Netflix for instant videos? How about an Amazon prime account, which offers amazing discounts as well as free postage and handling for all your prime purchases? At less than $80 per year, Prime has proven to be my best investment in entertainment.

Here are a few Jane Austen film titles that have become available for instant streaming. These keep changing every six months or so, and I am always on the look out. In the instance of From Prada to Nada, which is a nada good send off of Sense and Sensibility, I cannot tell you how lucky I felt that I watched the film for free.

Netflix Streaming Video – instantly available with your instant video membership

  • Pride and Prejudice 1980
  • From Prada to Nada
  • Aisha
  • Clueless
  • Emma 1996
  • Mansfield Park 1983
The 1995 film adaptation of Persuasion with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds is incomparable.

The 1995 film adaptation of Persuasion with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds is incomparable.

Amazon Prime, Instant videos free, for rent, or for purchase

  • Persuasion 1995 (free with Prime)
  • Pride and Prejudice 1940 (free with Prime)
  • Pride and Prejudice 1980 (free with Prime)
  • Emma 2009 (free with Prime)
  • Other Jane Austen film adaptations are available for rent or purchase at Amazon.
I find the 1940 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice excreble. While the actors are fabulous, this story has been changed and Hollywoodized to the point where the lines are laughable (Every hottentot can dance, instead of every savage can dance) and the ending is downright criminal (Lady CdeB acts as a willing instrument to get Elizabeth and Darcy together. I have a running hate-hate debate with a reader, who is apoplectic with the idea that I don't love this film. She keeps coming back to heap insults. Heap away! You cannot persuade me to like this film. Although I will honor anyone's positive opinion about it.

I find the 1940 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice execrable. While many of the supporting actors are fabulous, even brilliant in parts, this story has been changed and Hollywoodized to the point where the lines are laughable (every “hottentot can dance”, instead of “every savage can dance”), and the ending is downright criminal. I have a running almost 2-year debate with a sometime visitor to this blog who is apoplectic at the idea that I don’t love or respect this film. She keeps coming back every once in a while to inform me that I don’t know sh*t from Shinola when it comes to the fine art of 1940s  film making, and that I wouldn’t be able to discern a donkey’s ass from that of a thoroughbred’s. (My terminology, not hers, but you get the idea.) Insult away, my dear! You cannot persuade me to like this film. Although I will respect anyone’s positive opinion about P&P 1940, it simply isn’t mine.

My rant about P&P 1940 brings to mind some of the worst moments in Jane Austen film adaptations. Here they are in no particular order:

The incomparable Edna Mae Oliver as Lady CdeB, co-conspirator and romantic at heart

The stellar Edna Mae Oliver as Lady CdeB, a softie romantic at heart

1.) Pride and Prejudice 1940: Laurence Olivier (not yet a Sir) as Darcy persuades the incomparable Edna Mae Oliver as Lady CdeB to become his accomplice in winning Elizabeth Bennet over. In other words, Lady CdeB turns out to be crotchety but NICE. The writers and producers of this film should have been made to apologize to every student who watched this film to write a book report and who received an F for getting the ending so dreadfully wrong. They subverted the students’ rights to NOT read the book and opt for a C or a D by watching the movie instead. In addition, 35-year-old Greer Garson was closer to Mrs. Bennet’s age of 41 or so than Elizabeth’s age of 19. And throughout the film good old Larry O resembled a wood mannequin in posture and facial expressions. In my humble opinion, our pinch-faced Larry and his near geriatric Greer had almost no chemistry between them. Let’s not even discuss the costumes.

Billie Piper as Fanny Price as Fanny Hill

Billie Piper as Fanny Price as Fanny Hill.

2. ) Mansfield Park 2007: Billie Piper as Fannie Price. *Hahahahah*. Fanny exhibiting ample cleavage in her day gown. *Loud guffaws*. Fanny athletic and running around with wild hair. *Snorts and sniggers*. Lady Bertram rising from her couch in the last scenes and showing spirit and gumption in uniting Fanny with Edmund. *WTF!?* An energized Lady Bertram is as egregious a change in character as a nice Lady CdeB. The reviews for this film in Rotten Tomatoes are so tepid that it has yet to acquire a ratings score. One wonders why the folks at ITV bothered to adapt this very thick JA novel and compress its tale to a bare 90 minutes. Might as well read a comic book version of MP.  ‘Nuff said.

The gorgeous Frances O'Conner as retiring and shyly pretty FP.

Tall, gorgeous, statuesque Frances O’Connor as Fanny Price.

3.) Mansfield Park 1999: In this adaptation, Frances O’Connor as Fanny is more beautiful and intriguing than Embeth Davidtz as Mary Crawford. In fact, one begins to wonder why Edmund is so drawn to Mary when the lovely, worshiping and nubile Fanny is his for the taking. I won’t go into detail about director and writer Patricia Rozema’s social stance on slavery and British empire exploitation in this film, since my observations in this post are meant to be tongue in cheek and light-hearted. Let’s just say that 1999 audiences were surprised to learn that somehow our dear departed Jane had quite clearly expressed her strong feelings on the topic to Patricia.

Gasping for breath and suffering a headache from that severe, unflattering updo, poor Anne hies after her man.

Gasping for breath and suffering a headache from that severe, unflattering updo, Annie goes after her man.

4.) Persuasion 2007: (Set to the theme of Rocky.) How I pitied poor Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot. I hope that she only had to run through Bath for a few takes. Imagine if the director hadn’t been  pleased with her stride, or if a jet’s drone ruined the scene, or if … whatever. It could not have been easy for her to race over stone sidewalks and streets in those delicate slipper and in full Regency regalia, with her hair pulled back so tightly that her ears and cheeks practically met in the back of her head. Jane Austen’s Anne Elliot would NEVER have run through town like a hoyden and debased herself for a man, not even the delectable Captain W. To quote Jeremy Northam in 1996s Emma when she made a joke at poor Miss Bates’s expense, “badly done.” Badly done, indeed.

Barefoot Lizzie swinging above the muck

Barefoot Lizzie swinging above the muck

5.) Pride and Prejudice 2005: Or the muddy hem edition. Good old Joe Wright wanted to put a different spin on P&P, so he set Longbourn House in the middle of a mud field, surrounded by a moat, and overrun by pigs, geese, and all manner of dirty, smelly farm animals. Then there’s Mr. Bennet (played by 70-something Donald Sutherland) rutting after Mrs. Bennet even though his respect for her intellect is less than zero. And who can forget the film’s breathy, candle lit American ending? – “Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Darcy, Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Darcy.” I don’t know which altered ending was worse – the one in which the co-conspirator in happiness and harmony is  Lady CdeB, or all that post-coital face licking at the end of this adaptation. This film should have been titled: Pride and Prejudice: back to nature.

P Firth is no Colin.

P Firth is no Colin.

6.) Northanger Abbey 1986: Visually, this JA adaptation is quite lovely and interesting. But the music…Gawdalmity! It is so awful that this film should be seen with the sound muted. During the 70s and 80s, the male actor flavor du jour was Peter Firth. He played Angel in Tess and Henry Tilney in NA. Why? Just because he was good in Equus and for two milliseconds, when very young, looked somewhat leading mannish? I found him so off putting as Angel and Henry that P Firth single-handedly ruined those films for me. He could have played a Mr. Collins, Mr. Elton, or John Thorpe quite excellently. As he aged, P Firth began to portray villains, which is how I always saw him. But what I can least forgive this film for are those horrid gothic scenes (which the 2007 NA adaptation picked up.) I read NA and reread it, but, other than telling us about Catherine’s lively imagination and penchant for reading Gothic novels, JA included none of those scenes. To this day, I am still waiting for a decent Northanger Abbey (and Mansfield Park) film adaptation.

Can you recall scenes in JA films that made you cringe? Do share. As always, feel free to disagree with my humble opinions, but politely, please.

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Inquiring Readers: This is the second of four posts to Pride and Prejudice Without Zombies, Austenprose’s main event for June/July – or an in-depth reading of Pride and Prejudice. My first post discussed Dressing for the Netherfield Ball. This post discusses the dances and etiquette of balls in Jane Austen’s era. Warning: the film adaptations get many dance details wrong.

Dancers, Rowlandson, 1790's

So, he enquired who she was, and got introduced, and asked her for the two next. Then, the two third he danced with Miss King, and the two fourth with Maria Lucas, and the two fifth with Jane again, and the two sixth with Lizzy, and the Boulanger …” Mrs Bennet about Mr. Bingley at The Netherfield Ball.

The English ballroom and assembly room was the courting field upon which gentlemen and ladies on the marriage mart could finally touch one another and spend some time conversing during their long sets or ogle each other without seeming to be too forward or brash. Dancing was such an important social event during the Georgian and Regency eras that girls and boys practiced complicated dance steps with dancing masters and learned to memorize the rules of ballroom etiquette.

The Five Positions of Dancing, Wilson, 1811

Balls were regarded as social experiences, and gentlemen were tasked to dance with as many ladies as they could. This is one reason why Mr. Darcy’s behavior was considered rude at the Meryton Ball- there were several ladies, as Elizabeth pointed out to him and Colonel Fitzwilliam at Rosings, who had to sit out the dance.

“He danced only four dances, though gentlemen were scarce; and, to my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner.”

Mr. Bingley, on the other hand, danced every dance and thus behaved as a gentleman should.

Ladies had to wait passively for a partner to approach them and when they were, they were then obliged to accept the invitation. One reason why Elizabeth was so vexed when Mr. Collins, who had solicited her for the first two dances at the Netherfield Ball, was that she’d intended to reserve them for Mr. Wickham. Had she refused Mr. Collins, she would have been considered not only rude, but she would have forced to sit out the dances for the rest of the evening.

A Broad Hint of Not Meaning to Dance, Gillray, 1804

The only acceptable excuse in refusing a dance was when a lady had already promised the next set to another, or if she had grown tired and was sitting out the dance. Elizabeth could offer neither excuses at the start of the ball, and thus was forced to partner with Mr. Collins.

At a ball, a lady’s dress and deportment were designed to exhibit her best qualities:

As dancing is the accomplishment most calculated to display a fine form, elegant taste, and graceful carriage to advantage, so towards it our regards must be particularly turned: and we shall find that when Beauty in all her power is to be set forth, she cannot choose a more effective exhibition – The Mirror of Graces, 1811

Real Life in London

It was also extremely important for a gentleman to dance well, for such a talent reflected upon his character and abilities. Lizzie’s dances with Mr. Collins were causes of mortification and distress.

Mr. Collins slightly out of step

“Mr. Collins, awkward and solemn, apologising instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of it, gave her all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give. The moment of her release from him was exstacy.”

A gentleman could not ask a lady to dance if they had not been introduced. This point was well made in Northanger Abbey, when Catherine Morland had to sit out the dances in the Upper Rooms in Bath, for Mrs. Allen and she did not know a single soul. Mrs Allen kept sighing throughout the evening, “I wish you could dance, my dear, — I wish you could get a partner.” Mr. Tilney was introduced by Mr. King, the Master of Ceremonies in the Lower Rooms, to Catherine, who could then dance with him. At Rosings, when Mr. Darcy explained to Lizzie that he danced only four dances at the Meryton Assembly ball because he knew only the ladies in his own party, she scoffed and retorted: “True; and nobody can ever be introduced in a ball room.”

Because a ball was considered a social experience, a couple could (at the most) dance only two sets (each set consisted of two dances), which generally lasted from 20-30 minutes per dance. Thus, a couple in love had an opportunity of spending as much as an hour together for each set.

A gentleman, whether single or married, was expected to approach the ladies who wished to dance. Given the etiquette of the day, Mr. Elton’s refusal to dance with poor Harriet at the Crown Ball in Emma was rude in the extreme, but Mr. Knightley performed his gentlemanly duty by asking that young lady to dance (and winning her heart in the process).

A lively dance at Almack's

Regency dances were extremely lively. The dancers were young, generally from 18-30 years of age, and they did NOT slide or glide sedately, as some recent film adaptations seem to suggest. They performed agile dance steps and exerted themselves in vigorous movements which included hopping, jumping, skipping, and clapping hands.

Depending on the dance formation and steps, a gentleman was allowed to touch a lady and hold her hand (and vice versa, as shown in the example of Mansfield Park 1999 above and in the image below).

Allemande

The couple had many opportunities to converse or catch their breaths when they waited for others to finish working their way down a dance progression.  The ability to carry out a conversation was considered very important, as Lizzie pointedly reminded Mr. Darcy:

“Elizabeth … took her place in the set, amazed at the dignity to which she was arrived in being allowed to stand opposite to Mr. Darcy, and reading in her neighbours’ looks their equal amazement in beholding it. They stood for some time without speaking a word; and she began to imagine that their silence was to last through the two dances, and at first was resolved not to break it; till suddenly fancying that it would be the greater punishment to her partner to oblige him to talk, she made some slight observation on the dance. He replied, and was again silent. After a pause of some minutes, she addressed him a second time with:

“It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy.—I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples.”

He smiled, and assured her that whatever she wished him to say should be said.

“Very well.—That reply will do for the present.—Perhaps by and by I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones.—But now we may be silent.”

“Do you talk by rule then, while you are dancing?”

“Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together, and yet for the advantage of some, conversation ought to be so arranged as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as as possible.”

The dances that would have been danced at the Nethefield Ball were:

The English Country Dance

The characteristic of an English country dance is that of gay simplicity. The steps should be few and easy, and the corresponding motion of the arms and body unaffected, modest , and graceful. – The Mirror of Graces, 1811

Country dances consisted of long lines of dances in which the couples performed figures as they progressed down the line.

When a dancer was too tired to do steps, she would have been considered no longer dancing at all, as with Fanny in Chapter 28 of Mansfield Park:

“Sir Thomas, having seen her walk rather than dance down the shortening set, breathless, and with her hand at her side, gave his orders for her sitting down entirely.”

Rather than everyone starting at once, dances would have called and led off by a single couple at the top; as that couple progressed down the set other couples would begin to dance, then lead off in turn as they reached the top, until all the dancers were moving. Jane Austen occasionally got to lead a dance, as she mentioned in a letter of November 20, 1800, to her sister Cassandra:

“My partners were the two St. Johns, Hooper, Holder, and very prodigious Mr. Mathew, with whom I called the last, and whom I liked the best of my little stock.”

This could lead to very long dances indeed (half an hour to an hour) if there were many couples in a set” – What Did Jane Austen Dance?

The Cotillion


The cotillion was based on the 18th-century French contradanse and was popular through the first two decades of the 19th century. It was performed in a square formation by eight dancers, who performed the figure of the dance alternately with ten changes.

The rapid changes of the cotillion are admirably calculated for the display of elegant gayety, and I hope that their animated evolvements will long continue a favourite accomplishment and amusement with our youthful fair. – The Mirror of Graces

The minuet.

The Devonshire Minuet

This dance had grown almost out of fashion by the time A Lady of Distinction wrote The Mirror of Graces, and it is conjectured that Jane Austen must have danced it in her lifetime.

Boulanger

Boulangers, or circular dances, were performed at the end of the evening, when the couples were tired. Jane Austen danced the boulanger, which she mentioned in a letter to Cassandra in 1796: “We dined at Goodnestone, and in the evening danced two country-dances and the Boulangeries.”

Quadrille

Note: the Quadrille and the waltz would not have been danced at the Netherfield Ball. Jane did mention the quadrille in a letter to Fanny Knight, which was dated 1816. And the waltz would not have been regarded an acceptable dance in 1813. It is doubted that Jane ever waltzed. The reel might have been danced at the Meryton Assembly, or at a private dance given by Colonel Foster and his wife, for instance, but it would probably not have been featured at the Netherfield Ball at the same time as a country dance.

Second Note: The movies have it all wrong. According to the author of this post on Capering and Kickery, “Real Regency Dancers Are Au Courant

Along with the peculiar notion that dance figures from the 17th century are useful for the early 19th century comes the even more peculiar notion that entire dances of that era are appropriate. Regency-era dancers were not interested in doing the dances of their great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents, any more than today’s teenagers are. Dances like “Hole in the Wall” and “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot” were written in the late 17th century. Their music is completely inappropriate for the Regency era. Their style is inappropriate. Their steps are inappropriate. There is no sense in which these dances belong in the Regency era. Loving obsessions with these dances make me want to cry at the sheer ignorance being promulgated by the people who keep putting these dances in movies.”

More on the Topic

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Inquiring Readers: I will be contributing four posts to Pride and Prejudice Without Zombies, Austenprose’s main event for June/July – or an in-depth reading of Pride and Prejudice. This post discusses the clothes that the characters would have worn in relation to the film adaptations and actual fashion plates of the time. Warning: this is a long post.

Netherfield Ball, Pride & Prejudice 2005

The Netherfield Ball. Ah! How much of Jane Austen’s plot for Pride and Prejudice was put on show in this chapter! Elizabeth Bennet – its star – enters the ball room hoping for a glimpse of a strangely absent Mr. Wickham, but is forced to dance two dances with bumblefooted Mr. Collins, whose presence she somehow can’t seem to shake. (From his actions the astute reader comes to understand that this irritating man will be proposing soon.)

Lizzie and Mr. Collins out of step, Pride & Prejudice 1980

Mr. Darcy then solicits Lizzie for a dance, and his aloofness and awkward silences during their set confirms in Lizzie’s mind that he suffers from a superiority complex.

Dancing a set with Mr. Darcy at the Netherfield Ball, Pride & Prejudice 1995

As the evening progresses her family’s behavior is so appalling (Mary hogs the pianoforte with her awful playing; Kitty and Lydia are boisterously flirtatious with the militia men; and Mrs. Bennet brazenly proclaims to all within earshot that Mr. Bingley and Jane are as good as engaged) that the only enjoyment Lizzie takes away from the event is in the knowledge that Mr. Bingley is as besotted with Jane as she is with him.

Jane and Bingley have eyes only for each other, while Lizzie cannot wait for her set with Mr. Collins to end, Pride & Prejudice 2005

In anticipation of furthering her acquaintance with Mr. Wickham, Lizzie dressed with extreme care, making sure both her dress and hair looked perfect. In the image below, Jennifer Ehle’s “wig” is adorned with silk flower accessories, and a string of pearls, which was the fashion of the time. She wears a simple garnet cross at her throat (Jane Austen owned one made of topaz) and her dress shows off her figure to perfection.

Elizabeth (Jennifer Ehle) in full dress, Pride and Prejudice 1995

Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice between 1797 and 1813, when the novel was accepted for publication. For continuity’s sake, I will discuss the style of dresses worn from 1811-1813.

Pride and Prejudice 1995

Pride and Prejudice 1980 and 1995 stayed fairly consistent in using costumes that were based on fashions from the early 19th century. Pride and Prejudice 2005 took great liberties in several ways, and I shall point out the most egregious deviations or obvious errors as they arise.

Assembly Hall dance, Meryton, Pride & Prejudice 2005

For a private ball, Lizzie and Jane would don their best ball gowns, also known as full dress gowns. They would have worn simpler dresses for a public assembly hall dance, such as the one in Meryton when Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy made their first appearance, and where anyone in town who could afford the price of a season ticket could attend. (This is one of the reasons that the Bingley sisters and Mr. Darcy did not comingle with the hoi poloi! Imagine Mr. Darcy dancing with an apothecary’s daughter!) The  image  above shows Lizzie in a dark green cotton gown and Charlotte in a brown dress. None of the ladies are wearing hair ornaments or gloves, nor holding fans.

Jane and Lizzie, 1980 Pride & Prejudice

For a private ball, in which the guest list could be controlled by the host, the guests went all out to show off their finery. Their best gowns were retrieved from storage and were accessorized with long gloves, fancy hair ornaments, a fan, dance card,  delicate necklaces and earrings, and a beautiful Norwich or India shawl. The dresses were made of finer muslin or silk (an extremely expensive fabric worn largely by the rich). They had these qualities in common: bare necks and/or low necklines, short puffy sleeves, and long, columnar skirts embellished with lace, embroidery or ribbon. Under the dresses, the ladies wore bodiced petticoats and silk stockings and slippers. By 1813, trains on full dress gowns were beginning to go out of fashion or were reduced considerably in length, except for court gowns, which followed a different set of rules.

Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth and Jane, Pride & Prejudice 1995

Balls were generally scheduled during a full moon so that carriages traveling over dark roads were guided by lunar light. As the revelers approached the house, brightly lit lanterns dangling from trees or torches planted alongside the road would light the way; and the rooms themselves would be emblazoned from the light of hundreds of beeswax candles, which tended not to drip and would give off a steady flame (but were horrifically expensive). Candlelight made large rooms look smaller, since so many dark corners remained unlit. The resulting low light was kind to aging skin and the badly complected.

Chandelier, Upper assembly room, Bath

The hundreds of blazing candles emitted no more light than that of a few 25 watt bulbs. The light was enhanced by the crystal pendants that acted as reflectors and by mirrors, that were often placed in back of wall sconces. Candlelit rooms became hot over time and ceilings were covered in soot from the smoke. With the number of people assembled in one space and the great number of burning candles, ball rooms  required good ventilation. Most women carried fans. One can imagine how hot the men must have felt wearing long sleeved shirts and waistcoats under coats and cravats that covered the neck up to the chin. As an aside, if an overabundance of guest spilled over from room to room, the event was deemed to be a “crush,” (or a rousing success).

Cruikshank, Inconveniences of a Crowded Drawing Room shows what a "crush" looks like

One can suppose that the gathering at Netherfield was a more sedate affair than the one depicted above by Cruikshank, with only the cream of Meryton crop invited to partake in the festivities. Given the size of Netherfield Park, a crush would have looked more like this:

Crush at Netherfield, 1995 Pride & Prejudice

The golden glow emanating from chandeliers and wall sconces would alter the color of the gowns that the ladies wore. Colors that looked good in the yellow light would be chosen for greatest effect, colors that clashed would be avoided. I imagine that a blue gown could look green under yellow light, and that a strong puce could look black or that lavender would turn a sickly gray.

Mr. Darcy approaches Lizzie and Charlotte. The white dresses look beautiful in candlelight.

Young ladies of fashion preferred to wear white during the Regency era, but they would also wear soft pastel colors, as shown in the image below from P & P 1995. Notice the slight differences in the necklines and details of sashes and embellishments, but the gowns look as if they were designed for the same era.

A Lady of Distinction, author of The Mirror of Graces (1811), advised young maidens how to dress:

In the spring of youth, when all is lovely and gay, then, as the soft green, sparkling in freshness, bedecks the earth; so, light and transparent robes, of tender colours, should adorn the limbs of the young beauty…Her summer evening dress may be of a gossamer texture; but it must still preserve the same simplicity, though its gracefully-diverging folds may fall like the mantle of Juno…In this dress, her arms, and part of her neck and bosom may be unveiled: but only part. The eye of maternal decorum should draw the virgin zone to the limit where modesty would bid it rest.”


A Lady of Distinction advised married ladies like Mrs. Bennet to make more modest choices:

As the lovely of my sex advance towards the vale of years, I counsel them to assume a graver habit and a less vivacious air…At this period she lays aside the flowers of youth, and arrays herself in the majesty of sobriety, or in the grandeur of simple magnificence…Long is the reign of this commanding epoch of a woman’s age; for from thirty to fifty she may most respectably maintain her station on this throne of matron excellence.”

Mrs. Bennet and Lady Lucas in subdued colors, Pride & Prejudice 1980

Mrs. Bennet and other matrons are shown covering their hair with feathers or caps. At their age, they were allowed to wear deeper but more somber colors. If they chose to wear white, they were advised to add a striking color through accessories, such as a richly colored shawl. The costumes in Pride and Prejudice 2005 combine the fashionable dress of 1812-1813 (women at left below) with old-fashioned 18th century gowns that had natural waists (Brenda Blethyn and woman at right). Since Regency gowns kept their “value” longer, it makes sense that matrons would wear them beyond their fashionable hey day. It would not make sense for a young lady on the marriage mart to wear anything but the most up to date gown she could afford.

In Pride and Prejudice 2005, Mrs. Bennet wears an old-fashioned gown with a natural waistline.

All five Bennet girls were “out,” much to Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s surprise, and allowed to attend balls and parties en masse. This meant that all the girls would need their own party and ball dresses in addition to their regular gowns, a quite expensive proposition for Mr. Bennet, who, one suspects, would have preferred to spend his money on books . Handmade fabrics were still very costly before the age of mass production and ladies recycled their gowns as a matter of course. It was the tradition to remake their gowns, or to hand them down to younger or smaller members of the family to be recut in the latest fashion or refurbished with new trim and accessories, which were more affordable.

The Bennet family dressed for the Netherfield Ball, Pride & Prejudice 2005

Silks were quite expensive. Mr. Bennet could probably afford to dress Jane in silks since she was the eldest daughter and her dresses could be handed down to the younger girls, but the cost would be too prohibitive for him to outfit all his daughters in such a costly fabric.

Jane and Elizabeth, Pride & Prejudice 2005. Lizzie

The Bennet girls lived less than a day’s drive from Town and received the most recent fashion magazines within days of their city counterparts, but they did not have access to the latest textiles at the fabric warehouses in London. Whenever friends or relatives visited London, they came armed with orders to purchase fabrics and clothing items at the Draper’s.

Harding & Howell Drapers, Rudolph Ackermann. Print from Georgian Index

Traveling salesmen and local shops could offer only a limited supply of fabrics to choose from, and one imagines that quite a few ladies in a small community would be forced to make dresses (or have them made up by a dressmaker) from the same bolt of cloth. Local drapers, dressmaker shops, and millinary shops would have looked much like the shop below:

In 1828 the proprietor of this milinary shop in Sutton Valence, Miss Elizabeth Hayes, "went to London to purchase Bonnetts at Ludgate Hill".

Because fashion took longer to take hold in the “provinces”, most of the women in Meryton would have worn dresses that were popular several years back (1811 or 1812). They could update their gown with lace and ribbon, or embroidery, and make minor adjustments, which is what Jane Austen often wrote about in her letter to Cassandra. In that way they updated their gowns and introduced variety.

Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst in their London finery. Pride & Prejudice 1995.

Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, on the other hand, would be decked out in the latest and most elaborate finery that London fashion had to offer. The fabrics and trims on Miss Bingley’s gown are rich and costly and is made up of a color that was quite in vogue. Mrs. Hurst’s hairdo, which evokes a Roman matron, must have taken a while to fashion. Her decolete is more obvious; not only is she better endowed than her sister, but her neckline is lower and the sleeves are puffier. She, too, wears a more elaborate necklace than the Bennet girls, but is is matched with a simple pair of pearl drop earrings. Compare Mrs. Hurst’s hairstyle to that of the ancient Roman portrait below.

Roman fresco, Pompeii, Aphrodite, after a Greek painting

Pride and Prejudice 2005 shows most of the young women wearing pretty but simple muslin ball gowns, many of which would be embroidered in whitework. The young ladies of that era were adept seamstresses, and they learned to embroider at a young age. Whitework embroidery patterns were readily available in fashion magazines.

Whitework embroidered hem

Lizzie’s hair (below) is styled becomingly with pearls, but it has a more modern, contemporary flavor than Miss Bingley’s and Mrs. Hursts hairdos in the (3rd) image above.

Caroline Bingley (below) looks like she’s dressed for a 2005 wedding. There is nothing Regency about her outfit or her hair. While actress Kelly Riley looks beautiful, I wince every time I see her in this supposed Regency costume.

Miss Bingley, Pride and Prejudice 2005

Director Joe Wright wanted to play up Lizzie’s tomboyish side, but regardless of her affinity for plein air walks she would still have followed propriety and worn gloves. Her dress, too, has a modern feel. We know that Keira Knightely has a small bosom, but a corseted petticoat would have given this gown more structure. In addition, her waist is a tad too low. Compare this image with the one above, and you get virtually no sense of place or time in Pride and Prejudice 2005 via the gowns.

Elizabeth dancing with bare arms. Her hair is elaborately fashioned, but the gown's waist should be a little higher.

In the 1980 movie adaptation,  Lizzie is shown wearing a more elaborate ballgown. She is also holding a fan, a handy instrument in a crowded and hot ballroom! My biggest complaint with her gown is that her bosom is showing entirely too much, and would have earned disapprobation from A Lady of Distinction.

Lizzie and Charlotte, Pride and Prejudice 1980

Ornaments were woven through upswept hairdos. Small tight curls framed the face and tumbled in front of ears. The only ornamentation in Charlotte’s hair (image above) are thin braids that are twisted in such a way as to decorate the upswept “do.”


One note about the opera gloves used in these film adaptations. They should be worn over the elbow and they should be quite loose! In the image at right, below, the loose long gloves fall naturally below the elbow.

Up to now I’ve shown the fashions from movie adaptations. But the fashion plates from the Regency era are even more revealing. Let’s look at some sample plates from 1811 to 1813. Note that throughout these three years, the waists remained high, just under the bosom. Gown lengths seemed to vary, but the hems would creep up as the decade progressed to reveal neat ankles and lovely slippered feet. In 1811, such brazenness was frowned upon by A Lady of Distinction.

Evening dresses, Mirror of Graces, 1811

It is apparent from the above illustration that the bodice petticoat provided a “shelf” silhouette to the bosom. A Lady of Distinction found this new fashion abhorrent:

The bosom, which nature has formed with exquisite symmetry in itself … has been transformed into a shape, and transplanted to a place, which deprives it of its original beauty and harmony with the rest of the person. This hideous metamorphose has been effected by mean of invented stays or corsets…”

1812 evening gown, Ackermann

Jane Austen noted in one of her letters to Cassandra how long sleeves were becoming fashionable for evening. I imagine this dress was meant to be worn on a cold night, for such sleeves would have been stifling in summer. The sleeves are known as Mamaluke or Marie Sleeves.

1813, evening dress, Ackermann

In the illustration above, you can best see how the loose gloves bunched below the elbows. This dress comes with a short train, ribbon embellishments at the hem, and white lace ruffles around the neckline and on the sleeves. Pearls and flowers are woven throughout the hair.

Let’s not forget the gentlemen. Their attire included beautifully formed jackets and waistcoats, white pantaloons, silk stockings, leather slippers, and short gloves. Their cravats, it goes without saying, were tied with precision and made with the whitest starched linen. A cravat pin, a quizzing glass, snuff box, and fob watch completed their sartorial splendor.

Both Darcy and Lizzie are wearing gloves. Pride and Prejudice 1980

More on the topic:

  • Pride and Prejudice 1995, Lizzie and Darcy dance to Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot

This post is copyrighted. You may link to it, and use excerpts with attribution, but you may not place it wholesale on your blog. Always, always attribute this post or material derived from it to Vic at Jane Austen’s World.

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Inquiring readers,

Last year a reader wrote in to say that the Cornelia Green pattern by Mottahedeh was used as the China for the dining room scenes at Longbourn.

Jane visits Netherfield Park and gets ill.

Jane visits Netherfield Park and gets ill.

Yesterday, Katrina reported that the Royal Doulton china pattern used for the scenes at Netherfield Park early in the film is called English Rennaisance. Thank you for the information!

English Renaissance by Royal Doulton

English Renaissance by Royal Doulton

Another reader asked this question: Does anyone know the pattern of the china that was used in the scene in which Lizzy speaks to Mr. Wickham after she’s read Mr. Darcy’s letter? Please leave a comment if you can identify the china in these images:

Lizzy drinks tea after talking to Wickham.

Lizzy drinks tea after talking to Wickham.

Close up of tea cup

Close up of tea cup

Close up of China in cabinet behind Lizzy

Close up of China in cabinet behind Lizzy

Here are two close up shots of the china in question. UPDATE!! Pattern found. Thank you, Margaret!

Royal crown derby tea cup, Royal Antoinette

Royal crown derby tea cup, Royal Antoinette

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Gentle readers,

Several people wanted to know about the china pattern used in the Longbourn diningroom scenes of P&P 95.  J.A.W. visitor Marcia Larson found the Cornelia Green pattern by Mottahedeh (See comment in this post). Examining the photos of the china in the dining scene with the pattern that Marcia found – look at the butterfly – I believe she is correct.

The Bennets dining at Longbourn.

The Bennets dining at Longbourn.

Cornelia-green, Mottahedeh

Cornelia-green, Mottahedeh

Cornelia-green china plate

Cornelia-green china plate

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One of my favorite blogs on the blogosphere is ::Surroundings:: by interior designer Linda Merrill. Linda, who is a fan of the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice, has been hard at work finding scrumptious pieces of furniture and objects d’art that would fit perfectly inside Netherfield Park, Longbourn, and Pemberley. Click on the following links to view her interior shots of these fabulous houses and some of the objects you can order today.

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