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Pride and Prejudice (1967)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Pride and Prejudice (1967)
6 episodes of 25 mins each, black and white
DirectorJoan Craft
Production CompanyBBC
ProducerCampbell Logan
ScriptNemone Lethbridge
Original NovelJane Austen

Cast: Vivian Pickles (Mrs Bennet), Michael Gough (Mr Bennet), Polly Adams (Jane Bennet), Celia Bannerman (Elizabeth Bennet), Sarah Taunton (Kitty Bennet), Lucy Fleming (Lydia Bennet), Lewis Fiander (Mr Darcy)

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It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife...

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The BBC's 1967 adaptation of Jane Austen's novel was directed by period-drama queen Joan Craft, who, fresh from David Copperfield (BBC, 1966), was one of the few female directors working in television during the 1960s. Craft and scriptwriter Nemone Lethbridge pruned the novel's drier observation and social commentary to focus on the three main romantic plotlines: the love developing between Elizabeth Bennet (Celia Bannerman) and Mr. Darcy (Lewis Fiander); the relationship between Jane (Polly Adams) and Mr Bingley (David Savile); and Lydia's (Lucy Fleming) scandalous 'engagement'.

Their cuts produce a faster-paced story, intended to engage contemporary audiences. Interestingly, Andrew Davies' 1995 adaptation takes much the same approach, making similar dialogue and scene cuts and choosing much of the same key dialogue (often quoted verbatim from Austen's text). To simplify the plot, the novel's fifth sister, Mary, has been excised. As her main function was to serve as a contrast to the 'silliness' of the two youngest daughters, she isn't much missed.

The availability of the BBC's new location film equipment meant that many scenes were filmed outdoors; however, the resulting freshness of these scenes sits uneasily with the studio-bound interiors, with their cramped, sparsely furnished sets. The costumes and makeup (copious black eyeliner, bouffant hairdos) reflect the fashions of the 1960s rather than the novel's Regency setting. Similarly, the theatrical feel, static camerawork and, by modern standards, exaggerated performances haven't aged well. Michael Gough, however, perfectly captures Mr Bennet's dry humour, rendering Vivian Pickles' histrionics as the irritating Mrs. Bennett almost unbearable in contrast.

With an admirable lightness of touch, Craft and Lethbridge accentuate Austen's teasing humour, and amplify the soap-opera dramatics. However, the foregrounding of sibling sniping and Mrs Bennet's hysterics results in Elizabeth and Darcy's love appearing almost low-key, with none of the fireworks of the 1995 version's couple. The frothy mood makes this production populist Austen, aimed largely at an audience unfamiliar with the novel.

Louise Watson

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Video Clips
1. Revelations (3:57)
2. Pemberley (2:32)
3. Elopement (3:44)
Complete episode (24:21)
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Jane Austen on Television