Sunday night was the third and concluding part of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ on PBS Masterpiece. It’s a version that’s not new to me. I’ve seen it before, with great enjoyment. As far as I’m concerned, Colin Firth is the definitive Mr. Darcy. He looks and moves and talks like Mr. Darcy and, although he doesn’t smile until the end of the story, his every nuance speaks volumes. I wait for that smile with breathless anticipation. Elizabeth and Jane Bennet are wonderful as the two sensible older sisters. Mr. Bennet, the father, is splendid. And Mary, the homely middle sister, is very engaging.
But there is one performance that agitates me, like a piercing high-pitched screech. It’s the mother, Mrs. Bennet, who is so strident that I cringe whenever she opens her mouth, and whose one-note performance makes me want to look away whenever I see or hear her.
When I see an interpretation of a major Jane Austen character that is so lacking in nuance, I can only conclude that the actor doesn’t understand Jane Austen and/or has read her only superficially. Elizabeth and Jane love their mother and younger sisters, despite their stupendous lack of judgment and sense. This awareness has enabled other actors to soften and layer the character of Mrs. Bennet, and present her sympathetically. After all, Mrs. Bennet just wants to marry off her five young chicks.
As for Andrew Davies’ dramatization, he can do no wrong when it comes to Jane Austen novels. And with ‘Pride and Prejudice’ he wisely lifts much of the dialogue whole cloth from the novel. After all, how can you improve on perfection? Especially when you have five hours in which to display the material.