Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pride and Prejudice (1940): A Review

While both Shakespeare and Jane Austen were Brits, logic does not necessarily follow that British actors could portray their characters successfully. Such was the case with Laurence Olivier, who was in fact British despite a particularly French-seeming surname. He was a fabulous Hamlet, to be sure, but a Darcy? Not so much.

To be fair, the failings of this rendition of Pride and Prejudice are not really Olivier's fault. The really troubling bits include such things as costumes literally out of Gone With the Wind; an Elizabeth Bennet who cries several times throughout the film (not including when Lydia runs away with Wickham, because Darcy has not yet informed her of Wickham's womanizing/gold-digger-ing); and the fact that Lady Catherine de Bourgh actually gives her blessing to Darcy and Elizabeth's marriage. What planet is all of this occurring on???

I suppose that I have to admit that Olivier does what he can with a strangely revised storyline, save one moment. When Lady Catherine explicitly tells Darcy that Elizabeth truly loves him (which doesn't happen in the real Austen!!!), Olivier gets all dreamy-eyed and looks into the distance somewhere over the viewer's right shoulder. Could this be a Hamlet gaze? Methinks yes.

Greer Garson was more amusing than anything else as Elizabeth Bennet. What really preoccupied me about the Bennet sisters, however, was Ann Rutherford as Lydia. She played the youngest O'Hara sister in Gone With the Wind as well, although that character was very small. Since the costumes already had me mentally merging this rendition of P&P with GWTW, my mind fancied a bit of fictional character development for Carreen O'Hara. Mostly it was fun juxtaposing the dangerously flirtatious Lydia with the convent-joining Carreen. One might say that Rutherford had a knack for playing characters who would fit in well at nunneries.

One final Laurence Olivier tidbit:
"In his delightful autobiography, Laurence Olivier, who made a special pilgrimage to Ernest Jones when he was preparing his Hamlet in the 1930s, recalls that one of his predecessors as actor-manager had said in response to the earnest question, 'Did Hamlet sleep with Ophelia?' - 'In my company, always.'" -Elaine Showalter


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