Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Pride and Prejudice '95 stands the test of time

This film is approaching 20 years old people! And it is still amazing, the standard to which all other Pride and Prejudices and Austens are held. You know why? Because of reasons!

OF course! How the characters look is one of the most ready giveaways for a film's period, the story's and the production's. Think of other period films and how they've stood the test of time, Amadeus, Gone With The Wind, Sound of Music, any old Western with pointy busts. They are beautiful yes, but scream "I was made in such a year!". Designer Dinah Collin avoids this through meticulous research and what we can only assume was a very healthy budget. If you have any eye for costume history you can tell each woman is wearing the right undergarments (you can even see Lydia's busk in one shot), the shoes and stockings are right, the cut of the clothes is accurate, and never to be overlooked, the textiles are correct. The prints of the gowns, if there are any, are very demure and period, the weight of the Bennet sisters' gowns are right on track, and the accessories down to all the laces and detailed cuffs and collars are spot on. And please, let's take a moment to recognize the milliner. Amen.

Tailoring, millinery, silhouette, and textiles.
Two guesses as to a sign men's pants fit properly...(source)
Having great research and designs is not the only thing that makes good costumes. These costumes fit. Ah, it really makes me breath easy to see a show so universally well fit. Again, this goes back to the budget, as almost all the main characters' costumes were built for them. We can see this when we look at other films that we know were rented. The spencers fit immaculately over all the bust of the women and there are no gaps from the empire waists to the bottom of the jackets. The men's tailoring is superb and the pants fit! I'm honestly hard pressed to know what was built and what was rented amongst the minor costumes because I assume the house(s) that handled this production were on a very short fit leash. The second half of the IMDB trivia is costume reuse. These costumes stand up!

I'm not saying all the costumes were great. Maria Lucas wears a yellow gown with white flowers on the front that screams 70s to me, and Mary has a terrible yellow and green number at the dining table at some point, but those are probably rented.

Hair and Make Up
Right in line with costumes, hair and make up can be a huge deal breaker. (I'm dying to see how Amy Adams' character holds up from the new Sherlock Holmes films with all her eye shadow...) What P&P gets absolutely right is the use of the actors' actual hair when possible, excellent wigs when not, and as little "make up" as possible. Lore (and imdb) has it that Jennifer Ehle tried to be helpful and thus shopped off all her hair to fit under a wig better, hence the necessity for a wig...(ugh, ACTORS! When you get a role your body is no longer your own! Don't alter it unless instructed to do so!). I'll say though, even now that I know it's a wig (or three) I'm absolutely delighted by its excellent styling and clever deceptions as I know how much of a pain disguising the nape is, and how much of a pain getting baby hairs under it can be (looking at you P&P 2005). Mrs. Bennet is the only other wig on record, but I'd guess Lady Catherine's is as well, Miss King, and possibly Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst.
Natural hair, excellent menswear, minimal makeup,
 and beautiful material. (source)
Actors whose own hair was used was excellently styled for period and character. Darcy and Jane's was dyed. I adore Kitty's hair and Lydia's is perfectly obnoxious for her. Again, not everything was perfect. For the shape and size of Susannah Harker's head I would have definitely made her 'dos softer. I get that they were going for Grecian and wanted a contrast with Lizzie...but that's an awfully small bun for hair to her bum.
the more mature characters have
the best accessories! (source)
Make up: basic corrective with a little flush and stain when necessary. I'd guess Ehle had some cake mascara and Firth's face is rather sculpted (you can actually see his jaw line when he goes in to kiss Lizzie at the end...stops before it can get the collar dirty), but there's no eye shadow, liner, or lashes to speak of. Mrs. Bennet gets a bit of rouge when Bingley comes to propose, but very appropriate. I have the tenth anniversary DVD so I'd be interested to see how this stands up to restoration....

Andrew Davies, you pillar of novel adaptations you. In an interview he said the opening scene with Bingley and Darcy on horseback was meant to set the active pace and tone throughout the film. You all may be rolling your eyes because it's five hours long, but it's five hours of well crafted and beautiful intrigue. Much of this is Austen's genius but of course credit goes to Davies' well crafted and highly source referenced script. It's a monster to tackle and get right. My only qualms are with "Dearest, loveliest Elizabeth" which is in the book, and if Firth had loosened up a bit more near the end I could give it to him, but you'd better not risk such a sugary line. In context it works, but not enough in the film. Also there needed to be more affection. I've come to terms with only one freeze framed kiss at the end, but even Elizabeth taking Darcy's arm as they walked on would appease me (mostly). I watch this film straight though at least once a year and every year I'm delighted and find new things about it that I can't get over.

Duh. Colin Firth (despite initial objections from directors and himself) is perfect. I'm not really going to say anything else. Flaws in Darcy are script in nature. Jennifer Ehle of course is perfect Elizabeth. Alison Steadman as Mrs. Bennet is perfect. It's all pretty great, but of course there are misses. The Bingley sisters come off rather evil stepsister-ish, and Mr. Collins is creepy when I believe he should be awkward. And the big debate for almost 20 years: Elizabeth to Jane's attractiveness ratio is not correct. I will give you this, but I think it's more of Jennifer's bar being too high and thus Susannah Harker will forever be the "ugly Jane" when really she's not bad looking and with better hair could have been much lovelier. To everyone else that balks about Bingley or Wickham's looks, they are handsome fellows. Get over it. British people see things differently.

Shout out to under appreciated Maria Lucas (Lucy Davis) who is absolutely delightful!

Locations and Production
Such great detail is paid to the locations of this film, which really inform what we think of the character's statuses. Longbourne seems so shabby on the outside, but is so cozy on the inside. DVD extras have excellent interviews with production designers about set dressing and location selection. And I'm going to say right now, I've been telling people that Pemberley in this version is Chatsworth (rumored to be the actual model for Pemberley), but it's not. Pemberley in this is Lyme Park, a much darker, less inviting exterior, but it fits with the darker Darcy. So, my bad for leading you astray.

Basically this film stands the test of time because it is just a well crafted piece of art across the board. The qualms I find with it are minor and appeal to others, so I can't say too many boos. This film is great and really nothing like it should ever be attempted again. More modern Austens can fiddle all they want, but another 5 hour production has little to improve on. I mean...I guess you can try. If you did I'd have one more P&P to add to my collection!

No comments:

Post a Comment