The 1980 Pride and Prejudice made-for-tv miniseries is a solid, well-respected BBC adaptation–so respected that it almost kept the 1995 version from being made. It has a reputation for being quite faithful to the original dialogue and story lines, which is half deserved.
Pride and Prejudice 1980 is a studio version done on videotape, which makes it feel like watching a play. Most of the action takes place indoors, because videotape doesn’t allow much flexibility for changes of scenery. Charlotte Bronte’s infamous commentary on the novel describes this version very well: “No open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses.”
Who is Elizabeth in 1980?
It’s the character of Elizabeth that gets top billing in 1980; Darcy is not the focal point of this version. Elizabeth Garvie handles the leading role well, even if she is far too old for it. Her Elizabeth is sweet and witty, and surprisingly boy-crazy–she’s very outspoken about her interest in Wickham. This Elizabeth is solid and competent, although she’s certainly not Darcy’s idea of the accomplished woman.
Who is Darcy in 1980?
Many Pride And Prejudice fans will object, but here it is anyway: David Rintoul’s Darcy is a real jerk: he’s snobbish, arrogant and cold. He smiles, literally, twice in the whole movie. He also speaks with an odd, melodious tone, which accentuates his stiff manner.
What’s to Love in the 1980 Version
Much of Jane Austen’s text and dialogue have been translated to the screen intact, which makes this version a pretty faithful representation of the novel.
What’s Not as Lovable in the 1980 Version
While P&P 1980 is largely faithful to Jane Austen’s text, many of the characters feel off to me. Mrs. Bennet is too intelligent; Jane is not intelligent enough. Mr. Bennet is frequently rude to his wife and daughters, with no redeeming hint of humor or gentleness. Kitty and Lydia are supposed to be silly teenagers, but the actresses playing them are so much older that the idea is inconceivable.
Not only that, but the “faithful” dialogue is compromised by frequently assigning some lines to other characters. Jane Austen’s words may be the same, but if the speaker is different, is it truly faithful?
Favorite Original Scene:
Elizabeth’s visit to the Collins’s “humble abode” is punctuated with many little vignettes that show how intrusive Lady Catherine is into Charlotte and Mr. Collins’s day-to-day life. I enjoyed these little asides, in which Charlotte always shows her good humor and Mr Collins is made to look ridiculous. (Interestingly, 1980’s Lady Catherine is 20 years younger than the Lady Catherines from any of the other adaptations.)
Scenes That Make You Yawn:
The 1980 version languishes at key moments due to lazy film-making. When Elizabeth reads Darcy’s letter, and when she’s reconsidering his character in the halls of Pemberley, the viewer is given a static screen-shot and a placid voice-over. These are exciting moments–but the scenes are boring.
In fairness, letters are difficult to adapt to the big screen, and it’s hard to follow the trusty adage “show, don’t tell” when you’re trying to reveal a character’s deep inner thoughts on screen. But Elizabeth Garvie isn’t given a chance to show us through good acting how she feels during these pivotal moments. Instead, she delivers long-winded internal monologues in which she tells us her feelings. Yawn.
- The 1995 BBC production starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle was set in motion in 1986 (!) but it was widely felt that it was too soon after the 1980 version to do it again.
- Many of the costumes were made for the 1972 BBC miniseries Emma.
The Final Word
Every adaptation brings something different to the table. See the 1980 Pride and Prejudice if you’re a devoted Jane Austen fan. But skip it if you’re not hard core–your time will be better spent with 1995 or 2005.
If you’re on the fence about whether to watch this version, would it help to know that Amazon prime members can stream this version for free? If you’re not yet an Amazon prime member, you can sign up for a free one month Amazon prime trial here.