Jane Austen’s masterpiece comedy of manners and morals Pride and Prejudice has been a mainstay of stage, screen, and television for decades. Though there have been many wonderful adaptations of the piece, the 1995 BBC miniseries is generally considered to be the definitive interpretation of the work. Unlike movie and stage versions, the six-part series has the time and scope to offer all of Austen’s lightly satirical view of 19th century mores while being able to present the story in a lavish and most picturesque way. This latest Blu-ray release of the series offers a few new bonus tidbits along with the already presented high definition widescreen master of the project. For those who are fans and who don’t already own it, it’s a must.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English PCM 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 5 Hrs. 22 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case in a slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 01/14/2014
The primary concern of the Bennet family’s matriarch (Alison Steadman) is to see her five daughters comfortably set in advantageous marriages. Oldest daughters Jane (Susannah Harker), the family beauty, and Elizabeth (Jennifer Ehle), the most sensible and practical, have looks and charm that would seem to suggest their making good matches rather easy tasks though younger daughter Lydia (Julia Sawalha) is a shameless flirt and the other daughters (Lucy Briers, Polly Maberly) are rather lacking in distinct personalities. Into their lives come the well-off Mr. Bingley (Crispin Bonham-Carter) and the fabulously wealthy though imperious Mr. Darcy (Colin Firth) who complicate the lives of the family for well on a year before matters of the heart get straightened out. Also adding to the family’s concerns are their obsequious cousin Mr. Collins (David Bamber), the scheming wastrel Mr. Wickham (Adrian Lukis), and the haughty dowager Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Barbara Leigh-Hunt).
The Production Rating: 5/5
Andrew Davies’ wonderful screenplay captures the heart of Austen’s focus on the pride (symbolized most assuredly by Darcy though there is certainly enough conceit to go around found in many of the characters) and prejudice (symbolized by Elizabeth’s too-quick-to-judgment about several of the characters but again a failing exhibited by many of the story’s personages) resulting in a near-perfect adaptation of a classic (with a few of his own touches for modern sensibilities tossed in for good measure). Simon Langton’s direction of the six episodes follows the ebbs and flows of the story with uncommon grace and grandeur and builds to a crescendo of emotions by the final hour that’s beautifully realized and sustained until the end. The grand locations around England and the genuine period costumes, props, and furnishings lend an air of authenticity that’s unmatched and quite overwhelming. The generous running time of a miniseries allows viewers to get in-depth looks at characters like Wickham and Elizabeth’s friend Charlotte (Lucy Scott) that movie adaptations must skimp on in their necessary return to the plot at the expense of character development. And the developing ardor between Elizabeth and Darcy really only reaches maximum payoff when there is time to show the shifts in their feelings gradually over the course of the episodes.
Though the 2005 film version was most felicitously cast, it’s hard to imagine better actors for these roles than were found for this 1995 rendition. The striking chemistry displayed by Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in the two principal roles still bewitches, and each of them gives career-making portrayals in these two giant literary parts. Alison Steadman is the very embodiment of the nattering, flighty, foolish Mrs. Bennet while Benjamin Whitrow admirably underplays as the long-suffering Mr. Bennet. David Bamber is a toadying expert as the grimly grand Mr. Collins, and one roots mightily for the sweetly innocent characters played by Crispin Bonham-Carter and Susannah Harker to find one another. Adrian Lukis as the slimy Wickham, Barbara Leigh-Hunt as the stuffy Lady Catherine, and Julia Sawalha as the silly Lydia all make the roles their own.
Though the series was originally shown in this country on A&E at 1.33:1, the latest and previous Blu-ray releases have reframed the transfers from the camera negative at 1.78:1 and are presented at 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Though it generally works very well and certainly gives the show a decidedly more cinematic look, there are some occasional close croppings at head level that seem a bit off. Sharpness is excellent throughout, and color is generally strong and rich though occasionally flesh tones seem overly rosy especially on the older Bennet daughters. There is also some occasional line twitter and some momentary flashing with certain patterns. Each of the six episodes of the miniseries has been divided into 6 chapters.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
The PCM 2.0 stereo sound mix has a very open and engaging sound quality even if there are once or twice some phasing problems and slight but noticeable shifts in volume. Carl Davis’ music has wonderful resonance through the soundstage channels and never overpowers the dialogue, and dialogue has been wonderfully well recorded and appears in the center channel.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Four new featurettes have been added to bonus material which has appeared on previous editions of this program.
Special Features Rating: 4/5
- The Definitive Pride and Prejudice (21:25, HD): historians, selected actors from the show (but not Colin Firth or Jennifer Ehle), director Simon Langton, producer Sue Birtwistle, and writer Andrew Davies discuss a bit of the life of Jane Austen and remark on the book’s 200th anniversary and give the genesis of the television show and its remarkable reception in 1995.
- Love or Money? Courtship and Marriage in Pride and Prejudice (10:01, HD): many of the same participants from the above featurette discuss the importance of dancing to 19th century young men and women and describe the difficulty of portraying that accurately in the series.
- The Music of Pride and Prejudice (9:57, HD): composer Carl Davis discusses his various motifs for the characters and plot sequences used in the show.
- Lifestyles of the Wealthy in Early 19th Century England (8:38, HD): the importance of showing one’s status at the time as conveyed through their carriages and their mansions is discussed.
Pride and Prejudice: Turning Point in Period Drama (31:12, HD): a 2006 featurette that gives an overview of the series as discussed primarily by director Simon Langton and costume designer Dinah Collin.
Technical Restoration (5:30, HD): a brief featurette which shows the difference in quality between the show on home video taken from a print and from the camera negative.
Lasting Impressions (59:36, HD): the cast and major members of the crew reminisce about the twenty-two week shooting schedule of the series, the friendships made, and the enormous reception that the series enjoyed then and which still reverberates in their careers.
Impromptu Walkabout (9:46, HD): actors Adrian Lukis and Lucy Briers walk through a churchyard location and share stories to one another about their times on the show.
Promo Trailers (HD): Austenland, Dirty Dancing, Shakespeare in Love, The English Patient, and Ring of Fire.
The BBC miniseries version of Pride and Prejudice truly is the definitive version of this classic English romance and is likely never to be equaled. For those who already own the previous Blu-ray release, an upgrade for the four new bonus features wouldn’t seem particularly necessary though those who have only the DVDs should seriously consider an upgrade. Heartily recommended!
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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