Ah, Pride and Prejudice. The Regency era novel is a gateway drug to the rest of Jane Austen’s satirical romances and European fashion history. Take a quick look at all the fashion history channels on YouTube and you’ll see just how influential Pride and Prejudice has been in keeping the oft-ignored branch of historical study alive.
With a novel as well-loved, famous, and really frigging old as Pride and Prejudice, it’s not surprising that multiple adaptations of it have been made.
According to the Jane Austen Society of North America, Pride and Prejudice is such an institution of Regency fiction that it was the first of Austen’s novels to be adapted to the screen. Not the big screen, mind you, dear reader. But the tiny, cathode ray-powered television screens of the 1930s.
While the 1930s TV production is largely forgotten, more popular recent adaptations include Austenland (2013), The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (2012), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016), and perhaps the most popular of all, Pride and Prejudice (2005) which featured Keira Knightley in the role of our beloved Lizzie Bennet.
But as touching as the final scene of Knightley’s Pride and Prejudice was, the indisputable winner of the lot is the 1995 Pride and Prejudice adaptation.
Before you run off to Gretna Green, hear me out on this. Leave your Bridgerton corsets at the door and allow me to formally introduce you to the exquisiteness that is the 1995 Pride and Prejudice.
An Overview of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice
The 1995 Pride and Prejudice is a miniseries released by BBC featuring six episodes of verbal sparring, gorgeous costumes, and everyone’s favorite: romance. Just like the original book by Jane Austen, it starts with the trials and tribulations of the Bennet sisters as they try to snag rich husbands who can support them. Because, you know, they’re women in the Regency era and they don’t have the right to inherit their father’s estate and title. They’d end up destitute if they didn’t marry rich.
But our protagonist Elizabeth Bennet doesn’t have the good sense to understand that she had no rights or money to her name. No, what she wants to do is to marry someone she actually loves and can tolerate. Who’s a wealthy man she can’t tolerate? Mr. Darcy.
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy can’t stand her either because she’s a woman from a less wealthy family and has really tacky, embarrassing sisters and mother.
Their cat and dog tension, relayed over sarcastic jabs at each other during balls and fancy dinners, is the secret ingredient to Pride and Prejudice‘s classic charm.
But as to what makes the actual 1995 Pride and Prejudice so much better than the other adaptations is down to these factors.
What Makes the 1995 Pride and Prejudice Most Agreeable
Look, the 2005 Pride and Prejudice may have Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen being all tall, dark, and handsome but nothing beats a classic story told in a classic way. Welcome to my TED Talk on why you should hold the 1995 Pride and Prejudice in the highest esteem, far above the other versions of the story.
The 1995 Pride and Prejudice Is More Historical
The other versions may have their own charms but let’s be real: zombies and Keira Knightley’s hairstyle aren’t exactly the most historically accurate.
The 1995 Pride and Prejudice on the other hand has exquisitely correct costuming. Unlike the Mr. Darcy of the 2005 adaptation, the 1995 P&P‘s Mr. Darcy is every bit the image of a gentleman. Not once in the show do we see him looking like a mess in public, unlike the 2005 Mr. Darcy who shows up at Elizabeth Bennet’s house in a state of underdress towards the end of the movie. The one time that Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy isn’t in a suit, the miniseries appropriately shows Elizabeth Bennet’s discomfort.
Moving onto women’s fashion, the 1995 Pride and Prejudice stays true to the empire waistlines that were popular in the regency era. Jennifer Ehle’s Lizzy and all the other Bennet ladies are dressed in period-appropriate outfits. The ringlets, the waistlines, the accessories, and even the fabric used for the 1995 version are more true to the times.
Thanks to the resurgence of Greco-Roman aesthetics in the Regency period and the abundance of muslin from the freshly, ahem, discovered India, women’s outfits of the time were quite relaxed compared to eras before and after it.
That said, more relaxed outfits don’t mean a more relaxed sense of propriety. The 1995 Pride and Prejudice, fortunately, doesn’t have ladies being seen by men in their chemise the way the 2005 adaptation does in scenes like the one where Mr. Bingley enters the room and sees Jane in what is basically her underwear.
It’s Also More Subtle, As It Should Be
Another way the 1995 Pride and Prejudice outclasses the other adaptations is that it doesn’t try to be modern. Staying true to the biting and witty prose of Jane Austen, the characters of the 1995 P&P are very subtle with how they shade each other, perfectly getting across the anger and disdain of characters like Mr. Darcy and Miss Bingley in a way that doesn’t explicitly break from the kind of propriety expected of gentlemen and ladies of the time. Or at least, in public.
The 1995 Pride and Prejudice also does a better job of making Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Bennet utterly hilarious. Just check out this riot of a compilation of Mrs. Bennet being a drama queen for 7 minutes and see what I mean.
Jennifer Ehle’s Lizzie Bennet Was So Much Shadier
Do you see that expression on Jennifer Ehle’s face? It speaks for itself.
The 1995 Pride and Prejudice has an absolutely delightful rendition of our darling Elizabeth Bennet. Don’t get me wrong, Knightley’s Lizzie is amazing in her own right. But Ehle’s Lizzie? A true queen of shade.
Though the 1995 P&P‘s Lizzie makes no secret of how much she hates Mr. Darcy in that scene where he first proposes, she keeps her voice relatively restrained. When she does get riled up enough to insult him back, she neither sounds timid nor angry. Ehle’s Elizabeth replies in a way that can only be described as scorn, a sharp contrast to the almost timid refusal of Knightley’s Lizzie.
The 1995 Pride and Prejudice Has the Better Mr. Darcy
All renditions of Mr. Darcy are amazing by the simple virtue of their being Mr. Darcy. That said, Colin Firth’s portrayal of the dashing gentleman stands out among them as the best.
The 1995 Pride and Prejudice‘s Mr. Darcy has a more refined, gentlemanly vibe to him compared to the 2005 version. Firth’s Mr. Darcy has a more solemn tone of voice and carries himself with more genteel pride. While Matthew Macfadyen’s Fitzwilliam Darcy screams romance and passion, there’s something about Colin Firth’s relative stoicism and subtle looks at Lizzie Bennet that just oozes tenderness and affection.
Heart eyes. I’m saying he has heart eyes for her. Come see it here for yourself.
But even with such reasons provided, it cannot be countenanced that you, reader, do not have your discretions about the 1995 Pride and Prejudice. On that matter, you are dearly encouraged to correspond in the comment section below. Let us know which adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel you feel is the best. Personally, I’m a sucker for the 2020 Emma.