Of Pride & Prejudice: Labels Can Be Deceptive

Summary: This is the 1995 mini-series of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel of upper class lifestyle in early 19th century England. The plot rotates around the pretty but silver-tongued Elizabeth Bennet (Jennifer Ehle), whose sharp wit and common sense usually keep her out of trouble, as she plays love games with the supremely arrogant Fitzwilliam Darcy (Colin Firth). Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s sisters Jane (Sussanah Harker) and Lydia (Julia Sawalha) have admirers of their own.


When we think of period dramas, we think of pompous British aristocrats using their class and money to look down their noses at the less fortunate. That’s the truth here as well, all too often may I add. The sneering of each other behind each other’s backs, the lies and the deceit. False personalities in abundance. British people are so awkward to be around. As a nation we love to avoid facing hard truths and dealing with anything that makes us feel remotely uncomfortable. That’s just not cricket is it?  The majority of the individuals of these upper class social circles married for wealth, political or social gain. Their parents thrust their children on rich men with lands, estates and titles. Characters like Lydia Bennet didn’t need much help in that department. She threw herself at all kinds of men and ended up running away with Wickham (Adrian Lukis).The families in series like these use their children as political and social pawns on a chessboard.

“Beauty is not the only virtue, Maria. She has just inherited a fortune of ten thousand pounds, I understand.”

Charlotte Lucas To Maria Lucas

Capitalism is the driving force of a society such as this. Without acquiring vast amounts of wealth, one isn’t worth associating with. You’re inferior and nothing more than a lowly peasant. Money is the be all and end all. Wealth brings position and respect. If you have a lot of money, you are from a respectable family. If you’re self-made with a lot of money, many will still scorn you because your ancestry isn’t prominent. Your family name isn’t in the history books nor do they possess any titles.

One of main points of this story is the history of Mr Darcy and Wickham. They are both playing this facade and are avoiding the truth for quite some time. We don’t truly know which one is lying and one is telling the truth until the very end. Darcy is telling Elizabeth one thing and Wickham is telling her something else. She doesn’t know who to believe. It turns out Wickham was the scoundrel and Darcy was telling the truth the whole time. I understand why Lizzie didn’t trust Darcy. Darcy is a serious man. He’s cold and dense and has a lacklustre of emotion with a consistent blank stare of lifelessness. He doesn’t have the most inviting personality. He’s one for being brutally honest with people and that’s not always what people want to hear. I respect that.

“The satisfaction of prevailing upon one of the most worthless young men in Britain might then have rested in its proper place. As it is, the thing is done – with extraordinarily little inconvenience to myself. When you take into account what I shall save on Lydia’s board and pocket allowance, I am scarcely ten pounds a year worse off.”

Mr Bennet On Wickham’s Extortion

Darcy is Elizabeth’s ideal match. He is highly intelligent, outspoken and much alike Elizabeth, he  has a tendency to make hasty judgements and harsh criticisms. His high birth and wealth have made him overly proud and excessively conscious of his social status. He epitomizes British pomposity in the beginning when Lizzie rejects his initial marriage proposal thus he experiences humility and that humanizes him. Indeed, his arrogance makes him initially awkward to take court with but that is merely a front. He is playing this constant facade and Lizzie eventually breaks the mask that he has effortlessly molded to fit.


Why the long face?

‘Titles breed titles’ is a saying I have heard a lot in history dramas but also romantic period dramas as well. It’s all about having that respectable label that you can parade about with. You can shove it in everyone’s face. It’s rather irritating. This is a class where these titles are like a sacred badge of honor, just without the honor part. It’s an excuse to look down their noses at everyone else. Aristocratic society’s progress is subject to the belief that these titles hold weight, and as long these titles hold weight, social scorn will endure. In typical English fashion, the characters are very deceptive. The people of England, past and present have a compulsive need to be evasive and indirect. We say one thing and mean something else yet we expect the recipients to know what we mean whilst being evasive and indirect. Theatricality and deception are powerful agents to the upper class and they use them to the greatest degree.

Another character that epitomizes the pomposity of this class is Miss Caroline Bingley (Anna Chancellor). She’s a vulgar character and is always on her high horse pining over Darcy because she sees him as her equal in wealth and social standing. She thinks Lizzie isn’t worth his time. Lizzie consistently puts her in her place with witty remarks using her sharp tongue. She’s a woman who can’t stand having other women in the room as she is always jealous of the competition. She’s an idiot because every time she makes a pass at Darcy, she shoots herself in the foot. She’s very self-destructive and always says the wrong things at the wrong time. It’s a compulsive need that she has and wants everything for herself. She’s over ambitious and wants it too much. Anna Chancellor is a great talent having seen her in ITV’s Downton Abbey and Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. Her performance in Pride & Prejudice is just as good, even if it is playing a pompous bitch.


Pining Much?

Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle’s performance as Darcy and Elizabeth were the standout performances of the series. Even though Darcy begins as a serious and shy character, every scene Firth was in was dominated by him despite him not being the intended centre of attention and that’s why he received a BAFTA nomination. Jennifer Ehle’s performance was also excellent and also being nominated for a BAFTA award. Costume, make up and the general Mis-En-Scene were fantastic and I’d expect nothing less from the BBC. If there’s one thing BBC do well, it’s period costume and history dramas such as: White Queen, Wolf Hall and Poldark. The series also received BAFTA and Emmy nominations for costume design, writing and make/hair.

In conclusion, Darcy is very anti-establishment in the sense that he married for love rather than money, political or social standing. He didn’t care about creating a scandal for marrying beneath him. For a man who was so conscious of social standing, he went against his better judgement for their own happiness. Lizzie married a rich man who she happened to love. This goes against the norms of the time as there were so many loveless marriages and the only time where the couples would be together are at public functions and when an heir needed to be made. BBC do make grand period dramas don’t they?

Very Good Old Sport!