Pride and Prejudice (1940)

Pride and Prejudice- Robert Leonard

No matter what anyone says, I shall always love this version of pride and prejudice.  It is inaccurate, to both the original era and the book, is often ridiculous and changes the setting of almost every event, and yet it is beautiful and captures some of the essence of P&P all in its own way.  The costumes, although not regency style, are gorgeous and there is a beautiful elegance to the whole piece that really is a product of the 1940s.

Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier make an unlikely but lovely couple.  They have a strange stiffness in it which doesn’t do either of them credit, but the general acting between them is tender and they have some lovely moments thanks to Leonard’s directing, in particular the archery scene where she hits about four bullseyes.

The main downsides are in terms of the technology- the piece feels really static because there aren’t many camera angles or shots, the quality of the picture also isn’t great and if you have grown up knowing only televisions with colour then it is a bit painful to watch a black and white movie.  I also found the over-the-top accents to be bizarrely grating and painful, as though the characters are trying too hard to be posh, and the characters can easily be confused.   The slapstick-style beginning with the horse-and-carriage race to get home, indicating a race to gain Mr. Bingley’s attention, is a little too out of place and ridiculous and does nothing to help the film.

The only storyline change that really hindered the piece was the timing of Wickham and Lydia’s elopement (if you can call it that) when Darcy hadn’t given an explanation of Wickham’s character.  This made it seem so much less dramatic and important, even though he visited soon after the news.  However it does prompt one of the most sweet scenes of the whole piece that explains Lizzy’s change thoroughly.  As she admits to Jane that she loves Mr. Darcy, and Jane admits that she still dreams of Mr. Bingley there is a lovely moment where they feel for each other, however then it spirals and suddenly Jane is sitting on the floor (?) and acting like a three year old.

The scene with Lady Catherine is just a little tame, and falls short of my imagination.  There is no anger, and she ends up being the one telling Lizzy of Darcy’s role in Lydia’s marriage- which just doesn’t make sense in any other version but this one.  Lady Catherine is… on Darcy’s side!  Wonders will never cease!  I really dislike this fact about this film.  It’s so peachy and happy… and any miserableness or adversity occurs for about three seconds before everyone is content again, this is seen most at the end when all the events start to get way off track from the book.  I read somewhere that it is a film adaptation of a stage adaptation of the book… so you can sort of understand how so many changes got made.

One thing that is great is how Charles has a lot more strength and character.  Unlike the 2005 version, and several others, he has his own mind and uses it.  As Caroline reads out the letter describing the Bennet family’s disgrace, he ends up walking off in vexation, and Mr. Darcy makes the point of saying the Charles had made up his own mind about Jane.

Maybe Olivier makes my heart just go thud-thud-thud, maybe Garson is just stunningly graceful, but I have fallen entirely in love again with P&P through this- and particularly with the new Mr. Darcy line: “it’s I who should be ashamed- of my arrogance, of my stupid pride of all, all except one thing… I’m not ashamed of having loved you”.  Ahh, it’s just gorgeous!

Honourable mentions: The suggestion that Mary might actually get married at the end (it has always be a consideration of mine) and to Denny of all people! 

Dishonourable mentions: The rapidity with which the last 20 minutes happen.  All of the events are crammed in together that there really isn’t enough time to think or digest- and some of the best parts happen here.

Rating: ***

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3 Comments

Filed under Movie Review

3 responses to “Pride and Prejudice (1940)

  1. Rosie

    This is the version that first got me interested in Austen’s novel. It’s not the best version, but I believe it’s pretty damn good. And I’m not put off by the 1830s costumes. I don’t believe it was necessary that “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” should always be set during the Regency period.

    • thatjennie

      I similarly enjoyed this version and it is certainly not necessary, however the Catherine De Bourgh change was a huge deal for me! Despite the changes though I think that Garson and Olivier carried the pure off incredibly well!

  2. Rosie

    Although it’s not my favorite version of “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”, I am still a big fan of this movie. It’s great. As for the Wickham situation, it has never been handled well in any of the versions – including Jane Austen’s original novel.

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