The Definitive Guide to Pride and Prejudice on Film: 1980 BBC Adaptation

The Definitive Guide to Pride and Prejudice on Film: 1980 BBC Adaptation

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.

What’s this version like?

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.

Fun Facts

  • 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. 

27 comments | Comment

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27 comments

  1. Hannah says:

    Hmmm…I’ve thought of watching this one, but may forego it now. I have Persuasion done in the same way and it was really a sad little adaptation of my favorite Austen book. Sigh, if only filmmakers were all women, these would be perfect. Or, dare I suggest, if they’d read the book through a few times themselves…

    • Anne says:

      I’m glad to hear it’s not just me! I felt a little guilty about this review–it makes me feel better that there are other true P&P fans (because I know you are one) that hate the very idea of watching it!

  2. Lucky says:

    I’ve been meaning to watch the wet shirt version after reading Jane’s Fame, so I think I’ll just skip this one!

    I’ve been watching the Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma under the free movies section of On Demand and really liking it.

  3. I may give this a go. The 1995 version is one of my favorite movies ever. I watch it at least once a year. I could not stand the 2005 version and turned it off about 25 minutes into it.

    • Anne says:

      I love 1995, but I also think 2005 brings something to the table. Keira Knightley is the only actress who approaches the “real” Elizabeth Bennet in age, and I enjoy her representation of the character.

      I’d love to hear your thoughts on 1980!

  4. Katie says:

    I have watched several versions of p&p as an avid fan myself. My favorite is still the 1995 version with Collin Firth & Jennifer Ehle. I have to watch it at least once a year, often with my mom or sister. The biggest thing that I had with the ’05 version was that it did not seem true to the manners of that time. (Like when Mr. Bingley went into Jane’s room while she was sick) I really need to watch it again to really form an opinion about it, but I wanted to turn it off after a short time like another of the readers here did.

  5. Brenda says:

    I thank you for a very honest assessment of this version, Anne. And while I agree that the 1980 Darcy has a wooden-ness about him, & that the “play like” quality you mention can sometimes make things feel a little contained, I still can’t help liking this version. 🙂 I also like the 1995 version (and my girls prefer it), but I didn’t care for the movie with Keira Knightley. Although you are right in pointing out that she, as an actress, is closer in age to Jane Austen’s Lizzie Bennett.

    It’s just that I find myself being rather suspicious of recent movie translations of Austen’s works. It seems there’s something often inserted in the dialogue, or the way the characters are played off each other, to give the very unmistakeable impression to the viewer that the female lead is a strong & independent woman…..so of course, this must mean that Austen herself was really, at heart, a feminist. And but for the time in which she lived….

    That such pains are sometimes taken with the way historical novels are presented to us today casts a kind of snarkiness over the whole production, for me anyway. Almost as though the screenwriter & director are trying to apologize for a period in history, instead of just letting us observe it for what it was.

    I’m sorry I’ve babbled on! I like coming here to your blog, & do enjoy & appreciate the time you take to critique the various screen versions of favorites in English literature.

    sincerely, Brenda

    • Anne says:

      Brenda–I’m glad to hear from someone who liked this version! I know the 1980 version has tons of fans–thanks for bringing that perspective.

  6. milorra says:

    I recently rented a Colin Firth movie, and I can never think of him without remembering his Mr. Darcy–so I got out my 6-tape VHS set and watched it again. I then borrowed the book from the library and read it (again). Then, I got out my DVD of the 2005 movie and watched it again. I had previously bought the 1980 version on DVD but could not get past the first 20 minutes, so donated it to the library. However, last night, I watched it all, in 30 segments, on YouTube. Since Pride and Prejudice is on my mind now, I’d like to join the discussion.

    My LEAST favorite is the 1980 version. E. Garvie was too sweet; she lacked the spunk, wit, and liveliness that was the very essence of Elizabeth. Jane was not at all the beauty that Austen described. Darcy was a pompous snob throughout and I never believed he was changed in any way by Elizabeth. His expressions and mannerisms revealed very little emotion, when he proposed or even at the end. Mr. Bennet seemed downright mean rather than teasing. Mrs. Bennet was not comical, as Austen portrayed her. I’m sorry to say that there was nothing in this version that I liked.

    My absolute favorite is the 1995 version. Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth nailed their roles, in my opinion. Jennifer’s way of delivering lines shows Elizabeth’s intelligence, spunk, and wit very well. I also credit Andrew Davies for giving us enough of Darcy to really understand him. Yes, at first he is a pompous snob, but his falling in love with–and rejection by–Elizabeth make him reevaluate himself. The scenes in which he comes out of the lake dripping wet and runs into Elizabeth, and then meets her aunt and uncle are precious, because you see how hard he is now trying to change. At the end he tells her that he was given good principles as a child but was left to follow them in pride and conceit and would have still been that way if not for her (straight from the novel). Colin Firth played Darcy perfectly. I didn’t find Jane as beautiful as she was supposed to be, but in those days probably a fair-haired, fair-skinned girl was considered a beauty. I thought all the other characters were very well cast and when I read the book, theirs are the faces I see.

    The 2005 version was somewhat of a disappointment, though not as bad as the 1980 version. I felt Mathew portrayed Darcy as a man who only “seemed” proud on the surface but really was just shy and uncomfortable around strangers. This to me is a huge error because it completely mistakes Austen’s Darcy–who as I said above was a pompous snob at first, but gradually changes, with Elizabeth being the catalyst. However, I blame the script writers not the actor. As for Keira, I didn’t like her at all in this role. She came across as impetuous and almost bratty at times, rather than witty and intelligent. And she yelled at Darcy and her parents, something Elizabeth would not have done (also compare the way Ehle and Knightly refuse Darcy’s first proposal). I thought Jane to be truly beautiful, much more than in the 1995 version. However, I liked the chemistry between Keira and Matthew. I would have enjoyed this movie more, had it been advertised as a love story “inspired by the Jane Austen novel P+P” or “loosely based on P+P.” However, to change so many essential elements while calling it P+P seems disrespectful to what Jane Austen wrote.

    PS: I really enjoyed reading the other comments on this blog. Thanks.

    • Monica says:

      I agree with you… I read and watch this book and the movies (2005 and 1995 versions)… and I just found out about the 1980 series. I was pretty excited about it and I started watching with great excitement.. but really I couldn’t keep watching after Eliza overhears Mr. Darcy calling her tolerable.. ugg, running to her mother to tell her what she just heard.. no, no.. I don’t think I can give it a second chance, but so many people think it’s the best casting.. or maybe is the video quality of the series what doesn’t help with my perception.. who knows.. I’ll have to be in a really good mood to try it one more time.

  7. Kay says:

    Hmmm, I was surprised by the comments. I don’t know whether it was me, but I preferred the cast of the 1980 version the most to the others. All the Bennet sisters look alike, and I think they all looked well for the age they were playing.

    People forget that Elizabeth is not just witty and intelligent, she is also very much proper and introspective, as we can see when Bingley’s sisters think she is initially worth knowing after the Netherfield Ball and when she dances with Darcy (she remarks that they are both of a taciturn disposition). I think Ehle was a good actress for portraying a playful Elizabeth, but I liked that in Garvie’s Elizabeth they played up her more thoughtful side.

    I adored Garvie as Elizabeth and Rintoul as Darcy. I know many will object when I say they are my definitive Elizabeth and Darcy, in light of Ehle and Firth’s portrayal. The former just seems so much truer to the book to me, and I wasn’t sure about the new scenes added in the novel (especially the lake scene, which never needed to happen and no gentleman of the times would do such a thing).

    I wouldn’t say it is the most faithful of the adaptations, and I don’t know about costuming enough to be sure, but it certainly meshes well with how I imagined it to occur in real life for that time.

    • Anne says:

      “It certainly meshes well with how I imagined it to occur in real life for that time.”

      Kay, that’s the best reason to watch–and enjoy–a literary adaptation, and I’m so glad that you found that in the 1980 version.

      Pride and Prejudice fans are lucky to have so many to choose from!

      Thanks for stopping by and for commenting.

    • Kathy Greene says:

      I agree. If Rintoul’s Darcy seemed “wooden”, he was a character who existed in a time when upper class “gentlemen” were wooden- distant to anyone they deemed below them. I felt that Colin Firth was too 20th century! I could not stand Ehle as Elizabeth. She was too heavy -I I did not see that lightness at all. Her voice reminded me of the flat voice of an elderly great aunt of mine – it was not youthful. Garvie was perfect- She was intelligent, reflective and light. My only complaint about the early version is that it is only four hours long – I wish it were much longer. The recent movie bastardation of the book? the acting was terrible, the script silly- Jane Austen would be horrified -Kathy

  8. Lela says:

    I agree with many of you on yur reviews, as I watched all three movies, 1980, 1995, and 2005. The best mr. Darcy was Colin Firth, although not very expressive in his emotions either, especially when he said: “Dearest and loveliest Elizabeth” was more rote memory of lines than any emotion at all. But, even if the 2005 version is totally out of whack on both screenwriting and directing, total misinterpretation of all characters, Mr. Darcy did show the agony and torture in his love for Elizabeth. I agree with Milorra, that this 2005 movie should be called a nice love story, but not P&P.
    As for the 1980 Elizabeth, I also think like others have expressed, she was too gucky sweet and no spunk, where Jennifer Ehle was just what Elizabeth would have been, wise, assertive, and quite pleasant in her talk. Nothing like the screaming Kiera Knightly at Mr. Darcy, and then coming too close for comfort almost kissing him, after she rejected his proposal at the Apollo Temple. The 1980 Mr. Bennet was very bad, hostile, angry man at everything and everybody, including Mr. Bingley. The 1995 movie (and characters) tops them all.

  9. Doris Deutsch says:

    I have watched all of the productions. Loved all the Elizabeths and Mr. darcys. But not the supportive actors who overact. The BBC cast are the worst. Too much stage training.

  10. Juliet says:

    Not sure why you say Elizabeth Garvie was too old to play Elizabeth Bennet. She was born in 1957, making her 22 at the time of the production.

    Personally, I love this version the best of all the P&P adaptations. But I acknowledge that it’s no for everyone.

    • Ruth says:

      Exactly. At 22 Elizabeth Garvie must have been just the age of Eliza Bennett (who has three younger sisters, the youngest of whom is 16). In addition, Lady Catherine had a daughter who was roughly Elizabeth’s age — or maybe even younger, since they hadn’t managed to marry her off to Darcy yet — which means Lady Catherine was probably not much more than 50.

      This is my favorite P&P — it’s captures the wit of the book, and doesn’t have a lot of the anachronisms of the other versions. Of course, if you think P&P is a rom-com and not social satire, then you may prefer other versions.

  11. Mike Marchesani says:

    I get a kick out of reading everyone’s opinion and comparison of the different Pride and Prejudice(s). As for me, the 1980 version is far and away my favorite, the one I watch when I want a P & P fix. Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul are perfect in their roles. It also doesn’t hurt that Ms Garvie was very, very pretty (and still is!).

  12. Shan says:

    As you said July, the actress from the 1980 version was 22, while Jenniger Ehle was 26 when playing Lizzie Bennet. But I too found Elizabeth Gravie “old” the first time I saw the 1980 version. I think it’s due to the make up and the videotape quality, her face is marked (under the eyes etc.) which make her look like she’s in her 30s.

  13. Faith says:

    I hated the 2005 version with a passion in every way. 1980 was meh. However, 1995 stole my heart; it was the perfect balance. I loved Mr. Bennett’s sarcasm and his father-daughter chemistry with Lizzie. Jane was beautiful to me in this version…The 1995 version played it for the satire that it truly was meant to be with a little love inside. Allison Steadman played Mrs. Bennett very irritatingly and I loved it; she gave me a glimpse of poor Mr. Bennett heartache.

    1995 for the win

  14. CW Barnett says:

    I’m late to this discussion, but for me the 1980 P&P is tops, the main reason being Elizabeth Garvie. No matter how you cut the cake the novel is about Elizabeth Bennet and if you get her right your home. Miss Bennet is perhaps not a beauty, but has an unconventional attractiveness that is nevertheless appealing. Blend that with her wit and intelligence and one can appreciate why Darcy fell for her so hard. Garvie brings these attributes together nicely. In addition, Fay Weldon’s screenplay is true to the spirit of the novel, and while the production is a bit stagey there were many outdoor scenes to relieve the theatrical atmosphere which so many commentators here seem to object to. Remember, when the novel was written ladies actually spent most of there lives indoors, and were expected to be quiet, modest, and unassuming. So those of you who have decided to not bother with it you might want to reconsider. It’s visually attractive, well acted, interesting, and enjoyable. So there!

  15. Jan says:

    Just found this website while searching for the 1980 BBC version of P&P. I was living with a roommate at the time and we would rush home from our respective jobs on the evening that the PBS broadcast of this production was to be broadcast. This was actually my FIRST exposure ever to Jane Austen (yes, I know – a true barbarian!) as well as my roomie’s and we were both absolutely enraptured! We waited impatiently from week to week for the episodes to air until the grande finale and the happy ending. I thought Jane and Lizzie were perfect, after picking up a paperback of P&P, but was not too keen on the casting of the other sisters. I liked both Mr. and Mrs. Bennet very well. I thought the 1995 version just too ridiculous to be a real person, except she may have foreshadowed Donald J. Trump in her interpretation of the change everything about you and what you said every 10 seconds mode! I did not like Mr. Darcy in 1980 very much, too stiff. Loved Colin Firth as Darcy, but then, I had fallen in love with him when he was still quite young in “The Secret Garden.” I also have come to appreciate Matthew McFayden’s performance in the 2005 movie as time has gone by and I’ve watched the film several times. Being so short a time period in which to cram a lot of story, a lot of license was by necessity taken with presenting the story line, and that has to be kept in mind when watching. I did think that Kiera Knightley’s performance of Elizabeth Bennet caught her spirit and the freedom of being born and raised as a “country” girl refreshing, and there is no denying her great beauty. The double-take that McFayden does at the assembly ball the first time he sees Elizabeth is a classic for the ages.
    I thought the casting for Lady Catherine in 1980 was also spot on, and the uglification of Miss DeBourgh was awful in the 1995 A&E production! Lady Catherine could not possibly have been as old or as unattractive as the actresses who were cast to play her in 1995 and 2005 and have a daughter young enough to marry Darcy or indeed, actually have gotten well married herself! I am very fond of the 1980 production because it introduced me into the world of Jane Austen and I have been an ardent fan ever since. The 1980 production gives a real sense of the rather stiff manners in general at the time, the uncomfortable furniture, the strict rules of behavior imposed particularly, on ladies, and how stifling and boring life may have been at times for young ladies hoping to make a good marriage but having little to no opportunities to do so! The 2005 film, however, showed me a Longbourn that I would love to live in myself. Somewhat old and shabby, but comfortable and much loved, with those 200 year old oaks flanking one facade – just gorgeous! Funniest scene is the gigantic hog being herded through one of the hallways, LOL!

  16. Emily says:

    I just finished the 1995 miniseries—the only version I had seen—and loved it. Because I have Amazon Prime, I started in on the 1980 version and as another commenter wrote above, couldn’t get through the first episode.

    I know it is not the fault of any of the artists involved, but for me, the major distraction was that it was shot on videotape, so it has that harsh, unnatural look of an American soap opera. On film, ’95 P&P is so beautiful and lush that the visuals of the ’80 version can’t compare.

    As I watched it, I had other quibbles with the characterizations, already pointed out above so I won’t repeat. David Rintoul, my god, what a beautiful man, but his Mr. Darcy was so one-note and had such an affected way of speaking. I did kind of like that Mary wasn’t so awful as the 1995 version, but that may be revisionist.

  17. John Knox says:

    I have watched the 1989s BBC telemovie, the 1995 BBC miniseries and the 2005 movie with my wife.
    While I have no particular affection for Jane Austin’s work (to be sure, I am not the intended audience),I paid enough attention to determine the 1995 series was far superior to the 1980 one – regardless of how faithful the lines were.
    The 1980 version cast not a single role appropriately (minus Mr.Bingley),with many of the actresses being shrill and overly animated – especially compared to the wooden performances of the men.

  18. Barbara G. says:

    I prefer the Elizabeth in the 1980 version, but the Mr. Darcy as played by Colin Firth in the 1995 version. On the whole, while I like both versions of Pride & Prejudice, I prefer the 1980 version, which is more true to Austen’s original. Jennifer Ehle seems too old for the part, and doesn’t fit my mental picture of Elizabeth. Elizabeth Garvie’s feistiness seems more consistent with Austen’s Elizabeth.

  19. Sandra Lopez says:

    The 1980 version is the best and I’ve seen them all. I didn’t really care for the 2005 at all. The 1995 version was of course brilliant and is the close second favorite. I would love to know the 1980 film locations…that Bennett family home was lovely.

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