The Definitive Guide to Pride and Prejudice on Film: 1995 BBC Edition

The Definitive Guide to Pride and Prejudice on Film: 1995 BBC Edition | Modern Mrs. DarcyThe 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice was born out of director Sue Birtwistle’s vision for a modern day version:  she wanted her film to be a faithful adaptation that’s “a fresh, lively story about real people.  And make it clear that, though it’s about many things, it’s principally about sex and it’s about money:  those are the driving motives of the plot.”

What’s this version like?

P&P 1995 is the first adaptation done on film (as opposed to videotape), which lends it a light and free and real feel. It lacks the stiffness of earlier British studio drama.

Jane Austen’s novel is a book about Elizabeth, but P&P 1995 is very much about Elizabeth and Darcy. The writer, Andrew Davies, decided that since Darcy’s attraction to Elizabeth is “the central motor that drives the story forward,” he’d bring Darcy to the foreground. We see much more of him–especially early on–and are given a much fuller picture of his character from the beginning than we are in the novel, or in any other adaptation.

The visual storytelling in this version is beautiful and highly effective: the houses, horses, costumes and landscapes tell us in a glance about the characters’ wealth and social status–important elements in any Jane Austen work.

Who is Elizabeth in 1995?

Writer Andrew Davies loved the Elizabeth in Jane Austen’s novel:  “Like everybody else, I’m in love with Elizabeth.  I find her kind of joyful energy and sassiness just so beguiling….She’s fiercely moral, she’s got a terrific sense of humour, she makes fun of people, she doesn’t take herself seriously, but she doesn’t put herself down, either.  She needs to marry money but she’s determined to marry the man she loves.  She’s a great character.”

Davies’ goal was to transfer Jane Austen’s Elizabeth to the screen as accurately as possible.  Jennifer Ehle is a bit too old to be Elizabeth (Austen’s Lizzie was 20; Ehle was 26 in 1995), but Ehle nevertheless fills the role well.  She said of filming: “I thought I was the luckiest person in the world to spend an entire summer being Elizabeth Bennet.”  This joy and passion shines through her character.

Who is Darcy in 1995?

Darcy is a much more prominent character in 1995 than in any other adaptation–or even in Jane Austen’s novel.

Darcy is played by Colin Firth, who hadn’t read a page of Jane Austen when he was offered the role–which he turned down!  He feared the role was impossible for him to play, and that he couldn’t do it justice.  But he loved the script, and Sue Birtwistle was convinced (and was able to convince him) that he was right for the role, so he agreed.

Firth’s Darcy is rich, aloof, arrogant, stiff, taciturn and shy–everything we might imagine from Jane Austen’s description of the man.  But the 1995 Darcy has been humanized–the viewers get more of a peek into Darcy’s inner life and thoughts from the outset, thanks largely to the added backstage scenes.  The audience sees sides of Darcy early on that Elizabeth doesn’t get to see till later, so the viewer is able to form a more accurate portrait of him than Elizabeth does–and root for him as he tries to win her over.

The slim book The Making of Pride and Prejudice that comes with the collector’s edition contains a whole chapter entitled “A Conversation with Colin Firth.”  Austen fans will love Firth’s descriptions of the ways he broke down Darcy’s character and came to understand it.  Take this example, in which he describes how he got in Darcy’s head for the first proposal scene:

And so Darcy is coming in with a very imprudent proposal, as he sees it.  He’s saying to her, “I’m going to put to you a proposal that may make me seem rash, irresponsible and even, possible, juvenile, but I don’t want you to believe I’m those things.  I have thought through every detail of this; I know that my family will be angry, that people will frown on us and that our social positions are very different.  So don’t think that I haven’t dealt with these issues–don’t imagine that I’m just some reckless schoolboy.  Nevertheless, having thought it all through, I find that my love for you is so overwhelming that these objections are rendered insignificant.”

And from that point of view, it’s a terribly romantic proposal.  I was a bit hurt when we filmed it, and everybody thought I was saying something terrible:  I had got myself so far into the notion that he had come in with a really charming thing to say.

Unlike other Darcys of other adaptations, Firth’s Darcy changes.  In the novel, Darcy’s primary failing is “foolish, superficial, social snobbery, and that’s the bitter lesson he has to learn.”   In this version–he learns it.

What’s to Love in the 1995 Version

If you want to see just one version of Pride and Prejudice on DVD, P&P 1995 is the one to see.

The casting is terrific.  Elizabeth and Darcy have great chemistry (in fact, they had a relationship going during the filming).  The supporting characters are excellent, and even the minor characters–who had to fight hard for their roles–are good.

This film was put together by people who absolutely love the book, and their passion comes through.  The sense of timing and pacing are terrific.  And though 5 hours is a long time to spend watching a movie, the long running time allows the producers to do the story justice.  It’s a great story, and it’s well worth watching.

What’s Not as Lovable in the 1995 Version

The 6-hour running time allows plenty of time for character development, but it’s too long to sit down and watch it in an evening.

Favorite Original Scene:

My favorite scenes are straight from the book.  I love the way P&P 1995 brings them to life.  But for cultural relevancy and sheer staying power, I have to say–of course–the lake scene.

In the fourth episode, Darcy travels a long way on horseback to Pemberley.  After his long ride he dives into the lake, then emerges to accidentally encounter Elizabeth, who’s arrived at Pemberley as a tourist. The stage directions describe Darcy’s swim as “a brief respite from duty, and free of the tumult of his tormented and unhappy feelings. He goes underwater–a natural man, not just a rich, buttoned-up snob.”

But the lake scene quickly took on a life of its own. The Guardian called it “one of the most unforgettable moments in British TV history.” It’s alluded to in many later works that involve either Firth, or Jane Austen. And it’s so famous it gets its own section on Wikipedia.

Fun Facts

  • This adaptation was first conceived in 1986, but it was deemed to be “too soon” after the 1980 production, and shelved.
  • Anna Chancellor, who plays Caroline Bingley, is Jane Austen’s niece by eight generations.
  • This version inspired Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones novels and subsequent movies.

The Final Word

If you only want to watch one version of Pride and Prejudice on film, make it the 1995 edition.

(I highly recommend the 10th Anniversary Collector’s Set that comes with the book The Making of Pride and Prejudice.  I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this companion book–although I’m disappointed that there’s a whole chapter called “A Conversation with Colin Firth” and nothing for Jennifer Ehle!)

(Right now on amazon the collector’s set is $66 but the the dvds by themselves are only $14.99!  Or you can buy The Making of Pride and Prejudice book separately for $16 new or as low as $3.99 used–with free shipping.  Fans will find it well worth the $4 price tag.)

Now that we’ve reviewed the Pride and Prejudice adaptations of 1940, 1980, 1995 and 2005, what’s YOUR favorite version of Pride and Prejudice?


Leave A Comment
  1. Love, love, love this verson. It is long, but I like to watch it in installments. I have seen this so many times that when you talk about the “lake scene”, I can picture the whole thing. I really enjoyed your commentry. Thanks, Anne.

  2. Tori says:

    Fantastic movie! (Mini-series…whatever!) I was trying to think of something special to watch to celebrate the first day of public school in my town, and I think this is it! We homeschool, and it’s amazing how much history you can pick up from watching this…they did a superb job!

  3. Mandi says:

    I’ve never seen this adaptation, although my best friend loves it and has been singing it’s praises for years. In our small apartment, my husband and I don’t have room to display all our books and were going through them to see which ones would stay packed and which ones go on the bookshelf. I decided to keep Pride and Prejudice out in case I wanted to reread it. I’m so glad I did because after reading this post, that’s exactly what I’m going to do!

  4. Bobbi says:

    I adore this version – actually, it’s the only one I’ve seen. I think anything else would just be too much of a disappointment after seeing this one.

    And yes, it’s LONG, but I got the VHS set as a birthday gift right after my first son was born (he’s 14 now!) and it was a great way to pass long nights with a colicky baby. My best friend did the same!

  5. Bobbi says:

    PS – I had to add, the scene in The King’s Speech where Jennifer Ehle as the speech therapist’s wife encounters Colin Firth as the Prince of Wales in her home must have been so fun to film. Loved that movie, and that moment, too!

    • Anne says:

      Yes–that was such a fun scene. You may like this short article where Kings Speech director says of casting Ehle, “Did I think about the ‘Pride and Prejudice’ thing? There’s probably a mischievous part of me that did.”

  6. Hannah says:

    Sigh…I’m so glad you finally got to this adaptation. It’s my favorite, too…mostly because Jennifer Ehle LOOKS like what I imagine Elizabeth to be. Pretty, cheerful, clever, but kind…also Colin Firth is definitely the best man I’ve ever seen portray Darcy, acting wise. All in all, it’s tempting me to jump on Amazon right now! Thanks for the review…brings back pleasant memories!

  7. Katie says:

    This is for sure my favorite P&P movie. I have seen others, but non of them compare. I think that Mr. Collins deserves a shout out in this version too. All the characters were so believable and seemed to be what I imagined from the book. It is long, but it is one that my whole family loves and watches together.

  8. One of my best friends introduced me to this version, to Jane Austen in general, really. She just spent the weekend with us…and we JUST finished watching this version!! It took all afternoon yesterday plus a couple hours this morning to get through it, but oh, was it worth it. And yes. The lake scene is definitely the best one. We kept hugging each other in glee all through the whole movie!!

  9. My favorite thing is to have a friend over, stock up on snacks, and watch the whole thing in one afternoon. Preferably on a rainy day! So scrumptious.

    It’s also worth mentioning that there are really great audiobooks of P&P. So true junkies can indulge in that medium, too!

  10. MCH says:

    I remember how disappointed I was when I first watched the ‘new’ 2005 version…it didn’t hold a candle to the 1995 version for me! All the characters seemed more flat, and of course no one could measure up to Colin Firth, but it was the difference in Mr. Collins’ character that really got me–his performance in this version is impeccable, and the 2005 production just doesn’t do him justice!

    Thanks for resurrecting my craving to re-read the book for the 5th time (or maybe sucker the hubby into another loooong night in front of the TV!)

  11. Latisha says:

    THIS is by far and away my FAVORITE version of Pride and Prejudice! I love this one so much that I cannot even enjoy the 2005 version. I love the way that they developed the characters, were careful to keep within the proper etiquette of the time period (the newer version is not as true to these social boundaries), and does justice to the book.

  12. Sara says:

    Oh, me, too! Love it! I’ve seen it so many times. Most of my kids have, too. Ehle and Firth are perfect. If I could just pick one episode, it would be the one that has the lake scene.

  13. Laura says:

    LOVE this movie! Even my husband loves it. Several years ago we took a very short trip to England. We went two places – Stonehenge, and Lyme Hall, which is where the outside scenes of Pemberly were shot. I’ve been to Pemberly! It was amazing to walk across the fields and hills of Derbyshire just as Lizzie would have done. Visit Lyme Hall if you are ever in England, you won’t regret it!

  14. FishMama says:

    Who says you can’t watch it all in an evening?! 😉 This is my go-to comfort film for the days when I’m sick. My boys clear off really quick when they see it playing on the DVD. Ha! Love it.

  15. I love this version! Firth and Ehle make such a perfect Darcy & Elizabeth and this is definately my favourite. I borrowed the companion book from a friend and it was so nice to be able to read what the actors, director, scriptwriter, and costumers said about the whole thing.

    Right now I’m doing a series of posts comparing the 1995 and the 2005 versions on my blog.

    Miss Georgiana Darcy

  16. Jean Bennett says:

    Several items: First the continuity in 1995 stinks.l But then I havefound one thing about British movies that continuity is rarely ever paid attention to: The Kings Speech as one excellent example. Very poor if any continuity. Colin Firth played a good MR. Darcy and of course satisfied all the estrogen rockette around the world, but Jennifer Ehle ran away with the acting and was so badly left out of praise received from those who should have known better. I suspect because of her affair with Firth. Too bad she wasn’t more guarded against his entire adult life of having affairs with any skirt he was attracted to at the moment, beginning long before MEg Tilly and probably continuing today when he gets the chance. A womanizer of the first water ….

    I find hard to believe of JAne Austen’s character development that she allowed a Lydia, unchecked by either her oldest sisters or her father. Surely no one expects her outrageous mother to hold her in check, but no father of that time would allow a daughter to act in such a manner without being disciplined. It is hard to believe Austen wrote her in this way.

    But then it is hard to believe that Elizabeth could see anything in a provincial red coat instead of a gentleman of propriety and manners such as MR. Darcy.

    • Marie Saint says:

      How do you know such interesting things (-lol!) on CF?
      True that JE is absolutely delicious, lovable and sexy in that version, I am sure that testosterone levels were on the rise also when it aired, but you know men…so sly…none of them dared say anything.

    • Nancy says:

      This is bang out of order when speaking of Colin Firth. Both he and Jennifer were in an equal relationship with each other. They were brilliant together on screen. They brought the best out in each other.
      Both have been loyal to the ones they were in a relationship with. Both have had long happy marriages until Colin’s wife had an affair.
      I think Jennifer in reality is a true Elizabeth Bennett and Colin Firth a gentleman and loyal.

  17. Anna says:

    I have lost count has to how many times I have watch my copy of the 1995 movie
    It never gets old; I love it, and yes I have to say my favourite part is when both Eliza and Darcy meet accidentally at his home by the lake.

  18. Jean Bennett says:

    Yes, Elizabeth Bennet the best acted role in 1995 I suspect. Thankfully,she was rewarded with a BAFTA. And the ONLY actor in the entire movie that was honored, proving she should have been listed ABOVE Firth’s name on the credits. But, oh well, Sue Birtwistle was in love with Firth obviously … her interviews and firth’s interviews over the years betray almost all my comments … and their behaviors. But I love the movie and watch the video often. I have loaned it to I do not know how many people, young girls in high school, and others. LOL They all love it. Jane Austen was such a gifted human being. One of the producers said she never writes scenes of dialogue between men but that just isn’t true. I also loved Mark Strong in EMMA have you seen that? Take care and wishing everyone a Happy Christmas Holiday and Prosperous nd Healthy NEw Year. PS Truly all P&P fans would love Mr. Bingley more if they truly emerse themselves in the video. Crispin is such a wonderful ACTOR who receives very little acclaim. He gave so much emotion to Bingley; while Darcy seemed to hit his marks and say his lines with so little emotion given to the role he was playing. My opinion … but there you have it. 🙂

  19. Jean Bennett says:

    Ehle’s Acting Talents are so Obvious in this as are Crispin’s and the actor who played Mary and Mrs. Gardner. Superb!

  20. Marie Saint says:

    Thanks for the answer. I am french speaking and not very familiar with english litterature or actors, and I was recently given the BBC serie by a friend. I just adored it and went immediately on internet to find out more about Austen, CF, JE, all the actors and everything related more or less to it. And bought the book,of course.
    Then I bought the 2005 version and was disapointed . The Bennets look like farmers, Mr Bennet is everything but a country gentleman, KN is lovely but too nervous,and MMF seems always about to cry.
    I regret that in both version, they robbed us of the real end, the one in the book, where you have a glimpse of what happens after the weddings. It seems to me they could have cut on the running in the fields, and Mrs Bennet’s hysteria fits if it was for lack of time.
    Back to the 1995 version, it is true that Bingley is excellent, so is Mr.Bennet. Mrs Bennet is a bit too hysterical, and Jane, that so many complained was not pretty enough for the role, I found absolutely beautiful in her very own way.
    It was fun to learn what actor was related to who, Colin to Helena, Giorgianna and mrs Gardiner for ex, who do look alike when you know, and who did what before or after. I was sorry to learn that JE went through a low phase after that ,both professionnaly and sentimentally. The reason why I asked why you claimed that CF was a womanizer is that I read everywhere that is a perfect and loving husband, so I thought may be you had first hand knowledge, lucky you-lol-one has to say that 17 years ago CF was rather pleasant.
    One thing amazes me, it is the addiction that this book, this serie, these characters induce. What is it with us women that we so need to dream ?
    I should have seen Emma first don’t you think, now I am afraid to be disapointed if I buy it.

    • Anne says:

      Ha! I love your assessment of the 2005 Pride and Prejudice!

      I’ve heard that the 2009 BBC Emma with Romola Garai is excellent, but I haven’t seen it. Although I did just notice I could watch it for free with my amazon prime account, so I may just do that this holiday season!

      • Charlotte says:

        I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was 12 years old, and it changed my life!!! I wasn’t surrounded by highly educated people with “class!” I re-read Pride and Prejudice time after time to where I could almost quote it verbatim! It showed me that there was another world that was different to mine, and another country that was different to mine!!!!

        My favorite version of Pride and Prejudice is the 1995 BBC version, but with just a fewf things if they had done differently, it would have been “perfect!” The main thing to me is that Elizabeth doesn’t tell her father, as she did in the book, what Darcy did to bring about Lydia and Mr. Wickham’s marriage!!!! The other thing that is SO WRONG is that the actor who plays Mr. Wickham doesn’t look anywhere good enough to be the “great seducer” or have the “charm” that he supposedly has in the book. Crispin Bonham-Carter has far more charm, and is better-looking!!!! Also, Jane is supposed to be the “beauty of the family” and Jennifer Ehle who plays Elizabeth is far better-looking than the actress who plays Jane!!!!

        My son, who watched this with me, and has been to England twice, agreed with me about the casting of the actors who played Jane and Mr. Wickham. He wouldn’t know about my other criticisms because he’s never read Pride and Prejudice, he just thought this from the story as presented by the BBC. It wasn’t until after we watched it that I asked him if he had any comments that he mentioned the miscasting of Jane and Mr. Wickham. Over all, he LOVED it, even though he was in the US Navy, and has a university degree in business!!!! My university degree is in history and my husband was the history department chairman at a university in the US. We went to England five times, took our daughter twice, and our son once where we showed them wonderful, fabulous, houses, castles, gardens and scenery. They changed after they went to England, becoming interested in gardening, interior design, and architecture!!!! After my husband died too young of cancer, I’ve been back twice, one with my son. The English people are so warm and welcoming!!!!

  21. Marie Saint says:

    Hi Anne and all! I just watched yesterday “Emma” with Kate Beckinsdale. I have not read the book, but to me, the story does not have the intensity of P & P,and in the film at least, I could not find any depth to the characters.

    So I went back to my favorite version of P & P, the 1995 series, and then I was wondering if it was miss Ehle singing, when (pretending to be)playing the piano at Pemberley. Anybody knows? As I said, I am not familiar with british actors at all.

    Btw, it is the first time -in the series- that she sings…but a few minutes before, at the inn, Georgianna tells her” my brother had great pleasure to hear you play and sing”.
    So they hid something from us again-lol-

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  23. Jennifer B says:

    Perhaps I am an idiot, but I refuse to watch the Pride & Prejudice with Keira Knightly.

    The only Elizabeth Bennet I will ever acknowledge and adore is Jennifer Ehle’s and I cannot picture any man other than Colin Firth to play Darcy.

    I have no problem sitting through an entire 6 hours to watch all 6 installments at once. Of course, I am perfectly useless for the rest of the day. It’s wonderful to have lackadaisical days like that… in the company of Jane Austen’s characters. 🙂

    • Charlotte says:

      I agree with you!!!!

      The later version is AWFUL!!!!

      Donald Sutherland as Mr Bennet and Keira Knightly as Elizabeth, how preposterous!!!!

  24. Cynthia Murray says:

    I also like the scene where Darcy’s sister is playing the piano, with Elisabeth turning the pages, and one of the “ugly” sisters mentions Mr. Wickham and startles the sister and Elisabeth covers it up and you see the love and attraction between Darcy and Elisabeth. So powerful to achieve that between actors.

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