on 10 May 2008
Regardless of what might have prompted you to fall in love with the sumptuous BBC/A&E production of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, you'll love this companion book, which fills in the background to an almost unprecedented degree.
Written in chatty style by the producer, Sue Birtwistle, and script editor Susie Conklin, the book begins with the very first idea (in 1986) of bringing one of the most loved books in the English language to the screen once again, concluding with the Christmas wedding of Eliza Bennet and Mr. Darcy. The six-hour, six million dollar production very nearly brought England to a standstill during the weekly broadcasts, as an estimated 40 million Brits were glued to the telly to see this (then) one-hundred-seventy-eight year old book brought to life. Almost no detail was allowed to be missed by the scrupulous inspection of the production crew. A few items were anachronistic, but calculatedly so; most notably, the billiard table, and Mr. Darcy's "cool-off" swim.
Each member of the technical staff -- director, casting, costumes -- speaks in his/her own voice, giving reasons for each particular choice made. Even the horse ridden by Mr. Darcy was auditioned. Contemporary pictures were used as much as possible to provide accuracy in costume and hairstyle. Meticulous attention was given to the dancing and the music, of which there is an abundance. Such minor considerations as the number of musicians employed at each dance venue exemplify the care taken with the production. Equally so, the food (of which there was more than enough to make the actors as well as the table groan) was specially prepared from recipes of the time by the appropriately-named chef for the series, Colin Capon, who specializes in period food for the BBC.
The book abounds with color photos, delineating in great detail how reality-based this production really was. In the end, however, it is the broad shoulders of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy upon which the success of the production rests. As the physical embodiment of the absolutely perfect Regency hero, he smolders wonderfully through the first three hours, sounding very like the young Richard Burton, when he does speak. A female of any age can easily be forgiven for wishing his liquid, dark and expressive eyes, as he surreptitiously follows Eliza Bennet around the room, would gaze at her in just that way. In perfect stillness, those eyes express the depth of his longing for Eliza, as well as his bewilderment by that longing, unsuitable as he deems her to be as a marriage partner.
Eventually, it is her sparkling intelligence and ready wit that win him to her, but only after she has brought him to his knees by refusing his first arrogant proposal. (Mr. Firth candidly explains how he arrived at that scene, in the ten-page chapter nine, "A Conversation with Colin Firth.") Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth was perfectly winsome and charming with her 'fine eyes', a beautiful smile, and an obvious intellect, not readily apparent in her three younger sisters.
Although the book doesn't specifically say so, attention must also have been paid during the casting process to those young ladies who were, perhaps, rather more well-endowed in the bosom department. The necklines of the various gowns are treacherously low, in some cases, which, when coupled with the very vigorous dancing, could make one understand the necessity for the close chaperonage of young women of the Regency. Not to mention those nearly skin-tight 'unmentionables' worn by all the young men!
We should all concentrate on wishing for another such production, especially if it would include the estimable 'Mr. Darcy'.