PRIDE & PREJUDICE: Keepsake Edition Blu-ray Review

A&E®’s cherished and critically-acclaimed production of Jane Austen’s enduring classic arrives in its most lavish and comprehensive set in the Pride and Prejudice: Keepsake Edition available on Blu-ray and DVD January 14 from Lionsgate Home Entertainment. With a masterful script, deft direction and star-making performances from Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty), Pride and Prejudice transports viewers to Georgian England, where affairs of the heart are an exquisite game, and marriage the ultimate prize. But Elizabeth Bennet — spirited, independent and one of five unmarried sisters — is determined to play by her own rules and wed for love, not money or privilege. Will her romantic sparring with the mysterious and arrogant Darcy end in misfortune — or will love’s true nature prevail?

Now, nearly 20 years after this masterful production first graced television screens — and 200 years since the original novel was published — the exquisite Pride and Prejudice: Keepsake Edition arrives with never-before-released bonus material including a featurette celebrating the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s most popular novel, and two featurettes exploring love, courtship, money and social class in the early 19th century England.

The 1995 BBC mini-series adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was apparently a cultural phenomenon, but one my teenage self was not really conscious of in a time when we didn’t even have cable TV, let alone this new “internet” thing. I doubt I had even read the novel at that point in my life, though I’ve since read it several times and become a fan. So when the opportunity arose to check out the new 2-Disc Keepsake Edition Blu-ray, I jumped at the chance. Despite this, I had a mild sense of overwhelming dread when the time came to actually sit down and watch it. Almost six hours for the series, plus special features — could I really slog through it all? I decided I couldn’t. I’d watch the first episode and the special features; that’d be enough to write a review, and I’d get to the rest of it eventually. But thank dog I had set aside viewing time on a lazy day I didn’t have any other plans, because I was hooked from the first, and ended up watching the whole series straight though. I was positively giddy with delight by the end of the first episode, and I just got sucked in to watching the whole thing.

So much is done right in this mini-series. The casting is pretty much pitch perfect, and the actors keep you engaged throughout. Of course, this is the feature that really launched the career of Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), whose Mr. Darcy fits the bill as the swoon-worthy “darkly handsome, brooding hero” in tight pants. Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty) is charming as Elizabeth Bennet, and brings vivacity, wit, and an extra sparkle to the part — everything you hoped for in a screen version of Eliza. Though anyone who hasn’t read the novel might suspect Alison Steadman and David Bamber of overacting and find their characters off-putting, rest assured that they are truly playing Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins with the shrill ridiculousness and obsequious unctuousness, respectively, assigned to them by Jane Austen.

The production is top-notch as well. This was the first BBC series to be shot entirely on film, and the upgraded picture achieved from the HD transfer from the negative is gorgeous. The English manor houses and countryside locations are lovely, and a large portion of the series was shot outdoors. I have nothing but praise for the costumes, hair, and make-up, all of which combine to provide subtle clues to the personalities and dispositions of the characters.

As someone who is usually a book literalist, I was very pleased with the adaptation of the novel. It’s approachable, with a modern feel, while still being true to the period and the source. As for the logistical choices, it was a smart decision to shoot it as a mini-series rather than a single movie. The six-episode length is satisfying, not to short and not too long — just enough time to tell the full story. It’s a fairly faithful adaptation to the book: the omissions and changes are subtle, understandable, and not annoying. Nothing of major importance is left out or greatly changed. Probably the biggest challenge in moving from novel to screen was the fact that so much of the book, especially the latter half, consists of narration through the reading and writing of letters. These sections are handled fairly well, mixing scenes of letter writing, letter reading, flashbacks, and voiceovers to keep things from getting too dull.

The Blu-ray itself is attractively packaged, consisting of two discs with the six episodes and several featurettes. The bonus materials are interesting and include reminisces from cast, crew, and creative team, though not the two leads. The featurettes cover everything from the historical context of the novel to the making of the series, with a variety of information about Austen, Georgian society, production stories, music, costumes, and the series’ relationship to popular culture at the time. Overall these features are interesting — there is some repetitiveness, but not too much.

All in all, this edition of Pride and Prejudice exceeded my expectations. I can certainly recommend it if you’re a fan of the novel, period pieces, and/or any of the actors. With the recent success of a multitude of British shows here in the U.S., I can only hope a new generation of fans who might not even be familiar with Austen will find and appreciate this release.

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