It's been a whole month and a half since the last time I watched and reviewed a Pride and Prejudice adaptation, so obviously it's time for another one. This time it's the 1940 version starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier, and heavens is it delightful. Pushing the time period up several decades to allow the costumes to have cinched in waists, elaborate bonnets, and full-length trousers, this version does a surprisingly good job of adapting Austen's novel.
The time period allows for some loosening up of the manners and language and changing some of the settings (the balls require tickets, and the Netherfield ball is now a garden party). Overall, it makes things a little less claustrophobic from the constant scrutiny of chaperones. The screenwriters also cut out a lot of plot points, which only benefits the story altogether. Without trying to make everything verbatim to the classic novel, this Pride and Prejudice is a well-paced two hour version that captures the relationships and humor of the source.
One of the biggest changes is that Wickham is introduced first, but like I mentioned in my review of the Mormon version, this easily makes Wickham Elizabeth's preference and efficiently develops a strong bond. Plus, Wickham and Elizabeth's snappy conversation during the ball at the Assembly Hall makes Wickham seem rather charming. By the time Darcy insults her at the same ball, her mind is made up.
However, many of the scenes remain mostly intact in their original form. The dialogue is changed around to be easier to understand, and some scenes offer extra information original found in other scenes not found in this adaptation. The wit may not be as dry and the satire downplayed, but Elizabeth is still outspoken and Darcy is still a bit stuck up. However, much more is said by Darcy's body language than anything. Mr. Olivier is certainly the master of the I'm-attracted-to-you-lean. It's both telling of how he feels about Elizabeth and his inablility to really express it. And this is really the core of his character relayed to the audience without words.
One of my favorite scenes that is unique to this version is when Darcy saves Elizabeth from Mr. Collins at the Netherfield garden party and gives her a lesson in archery. It gives an easily readable scene where we see Elizabeth not afraid to surpass Darcy's skill (her sassy side coming out) and see a little bit of sexual attraction in the way Darcy gingerly sets Elizabeth up to shoot arrows. This economically shows us Darcy's obvious attraction to Elizabeth, and gives Elizabeth a chance to see that Darcy isn't all snobbery. We didn't even have to go to Pemberly for this to get across.
This film's ability to give us the proper emotional journey with each character is why this adaptation succeeds. I felt like each character, even if they were put in altered scenes, were presented the way they were originally written. Some of the relationships were simplified, and some minor characters removed, but this allows for the main story between Elizabeth and Darcy to shine through. The biggest change was the ending with the amelioration of Lady Catherine, but I was so delighted I didn't even care.
I caution those looking for a faithful adaptation, because this certainly is not one. But I also felt like the tone of the novel was kept intact and effectively told in an easy to understand two hours. And that's all you need for a good adaption. Even better if it's told with old Hollywood charm.
Here's the trailer:
Why yes, this version is a little bit Gone With the Wind.