Movie Review - Pride and Prejudice (1995)

This movie has been reviewed in our new format and rating system.  To see the new review, click here.

Simon Langton
British Broadcasting Corporation

There are four very notable things about the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. It’s the version closest to the original story; it’s the one girls use to inspire their latest sewing projects; it’s got a few stage actors; and it’s five hours long. Certainly those things aren’t bad, or at least they don’t have to be, and some people even prefer them that way.
You’ve got to remember, though, there’s beauty in diversity, different strokes for different folks, no accounting for taste, and lots of other sayings in the same vein… which is as much as to say that, in my humble opinion, there are worse things that could happen than that a Jane Austen story should be altered for the movie; my appreciation for Regency fashions doesn’t manifest itself in costuming; I think Mrs. Bennet might have been better acted; and five hours is a long time to sit in front of a screen tallying swear words. Even so, I think that this adaptation of Pride and Prejudice certainly has merit. It’s just a question of weighing the good against the bad, the worthwhile against the mediocre, and while the BBC may pull out ahead of its own shortcomings, there is, after all, enough in the way of howevers to warrant a review.

Cultural Stumbling-Blocks:
Anyone who is offended by characters on the screen drinking alcohol should avoid all Jane Austen movies. One lady’s husband seems to be perpetually intoxicated, but otherwise there is no excess.

Sexual Content:
Anyone who is offended by characters holding hands while dancing should also avoid all Jane Austen movies, and those who are offended by characters wearing low-necked dresses should at least be aware that most movies of this sort feature them. They also occasionally (as in this case) feature statues of madmen and lawbreakers; that is, of people who stand about in public with no clothes on.

Not all of the immodesty is as straightforward and typical as that. Mr. Darcy’s line from the book declares that there are only two motives for young women walking about the room (discussing secret affairs or showing off their figures), but the movie cuts it down to a remark about their figures alone. Two of the more annoying girls flirt with officers, and even get in the habit of calling on one of them, and that “before he’s dressed. What a shock he will get!” One of the unfortunately more eccentric characters does end up covering his eyes at the girl’s immodesty, but only because she’s in just an underdress, which isn’t much more revealing than her usual garb. Fornication is definitely condemned in the movie, but the next time a woman is shown in nothing but her underclothes, she’s in the arms of a man who probably paid her for her services. Later, that same man is shown in a hotel bedroom with a woman who is not his wife, but who evidently enjoys the same intimacy. That it’s shown as bad is a positive thing, but that it’s shown is questionable.

Of course there is the kiss at the end, between characters who are married, and actors who aren’t.

As far as PG language goes, there’s an instance of d--n when the drunkard awakes from his doze to offer a comment on the assembly ball. For the more biblically offensive language, I counted twenty-one profane uses of the single word “Lord,” and I confess that, in five hours, I might have missed a couple. Besides that, there were two obviously inappropriate uses of “God” and two that might possibly have been meant to be more reverent. There was a “Heaven knows” and a couple of extra “Lord knows.”

Naturally, most—well, actually, all—of the “dangerous” worldview patterns in Jane Austen’s books show up in Pride and Prejudice, her most famous work; and since the BBC version is closest to the book, they show up here in full force.

Even apart from those, Elizabeth’s situation really is a mess. Her mother is extremely loud and obnoxious on good days. Her father is guilty of neglecting his daughters’ intellectual and spiritual well-being as well as their character training. There’s a fine line between recognizing your parents’ failings and failing, yourself, to honor your parents properly. I think that rolling the eyes, sighing, turning away, etc. might fall on the wrong side of that line.

Statements like, “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance, you know. There will always be vexation and grief,” are, I imagine, meant to be taken as an expression of a wrong opinion, rather than a right one, but when the lady who said them ends up happily married to a man she knows and cares very little about (happily, that is, because she’s not with him more than a few minutes in the day) I think there’s at least no harm in reminding the girls in the audience that this is neither an acceptable view of marriage, nor an acceptable outcome.

On the positive side, the BBC adaptation is the most explicitly Christian version of Pride and Prejudice. On the negative side, however, its portrayal of clergyman is the most derogatory. Mr. Collins isn’t just a flattering nitwit; he’s positively sycophantic, he’s a hypocrite… and he’s the most devout Christian of them all. There are little things that help communicate this sadly mixed message, from Mr. Collins’ awkwardness in the carriage to his at times harsh tone toward his wife; meanwhile he’s explaining doctrine to the Bennet girls and using pious phrases like “God willing.” Mr. Collins and his off-brand of pietism become the butt of the girls’ mockery, and apparently somehow end up being confused with clergymen, sermon reading and righteousness in general. Idiotic Mrs. Bennet’s “Three daughters married—oh, God has been good to us!” should also probably be viewed as an inappropriate association of Christianity with frail-minded people.

Here’s a line you might not have heard condemned quite like this before: “My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever.” It’s a statement by Mr. Darcy that seems to label him, if he really meant it, as an unbeliever*. Sure, it’s possible that he didn’t really mean it the way it sounded, but then we really shouldn’t get too used to hearing professing Christians sound like that.

I think I might come pretty close to shocking people when I suggest that this version of Pride and Prejudice is better saved for an audience twelve years old and up. Different families have different standards, and I’m not going to condemn or argue with parents who have let their six-year-olds watch this movie; but, as for me, the language, the sexual content and parts of the worldview are just too inappropriate for me to be responsible for putting them before children.

There were parts of the movie I enjoyed, even though it isn’t among my favorite Jane Austen films. There were actors who didn’t suit the parts well, and actors who did; lines and facial expressions that I thought could have been improved, and a few that I thought couldn’t have been improved. But all this is a matter of taste, and it’s not my taste that will decide anybody about a movie as popular as this one. For older girls (for I can’t imagine there are many men or boys who would be very excited about watching it), the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice may be enjoyable, if you understand about the problematic content, and if you don’t mind sitting in front of that screen for five hours. If you’re planning on seeing the movie (or seeing it again), I suggest you have a look at those “dangerous normatives” in it, and if you have the opportunity to block the inappropriate references to the Lord, I’d suggest you take it. After that, I suppose it’s just a matter of finding the time to watch it.

* Matthew 6:12-15

Learn More about
The Gospel of Jesus Christ >>