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Pride and Prejudice, 1980, starring Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul.

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While the 1995 A&E/BBC version of Pride and Prejudice is favored by many, I have a great soft spot in my heart for this charming 1980 production as well.

I must give some personal perspective here: When I first saw this production (on Masterpiece Theatre, in 1980), I was young and woefully ignorant of anything Jane Austen. I had never read any of her books and I didn't know anything about the gentle satire of Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice. So as I watched this series for the first time, I was right there with Elizabeth in her "prejudice" for Mr. Darcy. What a cold, stiff, haughty fellow he was! David Rintoul was perfect as Mr. Darcy—he has an angular face and very erect posture and presents a seemingly aloof, detached and somewhat formidable figure when initially introduced. Elizabeth Garvie is lovely as Miss Elizabeth Bennet—she is pleasantly attractive, with a twinkle in her eye and a sweet smile.

I hated Mr. Darcy in the beginning. What a stuck-up jerk, I thought. On the other hand, I had seen the guy who portrayed Mr. Wickham in another TV series where he was very likeable, so I was as charmed by him as Miss Eliza was—at first. As Elizabeth started to discover more about these two fellows and her opinion changed, my opinion changed as well. My emotions echoed hers, every step of the way. My prejudices were dispelled at the same time as hers were. It was a fun way to be introduced to this classic Austen story.

I was lucky enough, back in 1980, to have an older sister who owned a VCR, and was able to make a tape of this miniseries when it aired on our local PBS station. I treasured that tape, watching it at least once a year from then on. You have to understand, it was the only version available at that time, (with the exception of the 1940 Laurence Olivier film, which took major liberties with the novel). I feel I am in a unique position when writing this review, since I have watched this series so many times over the past 25+ years (along with reading the book repeatedly). I know it very well.

This production of Pride and Prejudice is markedly different in some ways from the 1995 (Colin Firth) version. I have written a more in-depth comparison of these two series on another page, but I will touch upon some of the differences here: This version seems to me to be more strict to the book, in that it doesn't add too many extra scenes or additional dialog to help "flesh out" the characters. For instance, we know little about the inner workings of Mr. Darcy's mind—his personal feelings and internal conflicts are not revealed quite so quickly or obviously. Rintoul's Darcy seems quite aloof and more difficult to figure out at first.

Also, this production is more "static"—more like the book itself. There's more time spent waiting for letters to arrive, more discussions, and less drama shown on the screen. More attention is spent on little details and clever dialog. We are lavished with rich detail about the local happenings; party chit-chat and local gossip are explored at a leisurely pace. This is not a criticism on my part; it is, I believe, a viable and appropriate way to interpret Austen's book.

I liked the casting of actors. Rintoul's Mr. Darcy is indeed a formidable and cold character at first, so it is understandable for Elizabeth to dislike him. But when we see him start to subtly soften as he grows more fond of Elizabeth, we realize that once he gets over his absurd pride, he's actually a somewhat shy and reserved (but nice) young man. By the end of the tale, he is coming out of his shell a little and is more friendly and animated. (Incidentally, thirteen years later Rintoul starred in Doctor Finlay, which I also review.) Elizabeth Garvie is lovely and has that gentle humor to her that is what I expect in a portrayal of Miss Elizabeth Bennet. In addition, one of my favorite performances is given by Priscilla Morgan, as Eliza's mother. She's hilarious as the flighty, empty-headed and excitable Mrs. Bennet. I liked Moray Watson as Mr. Bennet—he's a loving father and husband, who can't help teasing and tormenting his silly wife. The extraordinarily haughty and rude Lady Catherine de Bourgh is portrayed masterfully by Judy Parfitt, another favorite of mine. Peter Settelen makes a good Mr. Wickham—I've seen the actor play some really nice protagonists, and while he has a friendly, open face, he's also good at revealing a hidden smarminess underneath.

The DVD contains the entire 5 episode series (exactly as I remember it from many years of watching that Masterpiece Theatre tape). A previous commercially available VHS version was edited down (I estimate about an hour was cut) but fortunately, this DVD is complete. Each episode is approx. 53 minutes long. The DVD is two-sided, 3 episodes on one side, two on the other. There are no DVD extras, but the DVD quality seems to be good. Be sure to pay attention to the delightful artwork that shows over the beginning titles in each episode. These fun, cartoony drawings illustrate the goings-on of that particular episode, and are an added touch that enhance the charm of this miniseries.

I highly recommend this version of Pride and Prejudice. Add it to your collection but don't expect the same sort of experience that you get from the A&E/BBC Firth version. Remember that it was made 15 years earlier, under what I suspect was a stricter budget and with less sophisticated production values, and adopts a different (but no less appropriate) approach. In summary, judge this production on its own terms and savor it!

See more screenshots from this series in the Pride and Prejudice Photo Gallery.

Order the Pride and Prejudice DVD from Amazon.com | Order the Jane Austen Collection DVD (includes Pride and Prejudice and other Austen productions)

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