It’s a Saturday afternoon. As I sit on my bed and write my 10-page paper due on Monday that I only started 30 minutes ago, I can hear the bass pumping in “Industry Baby,” playing for the third time from the speakers of the frat house down the street. From my dorm right next door to Cantina and Good Time Charley’s, I can listen to the sounds of my peers as they watch The Big Game, their sighs and groans of defeat or exuberant shouts of triumph keying me in as to whether we’re winning or losing. Typically, at this point, I will realize there is no hope for this paper or for this game (it sounds like we’re losing), and I open my laptop to select the perfect show to help me escape from this hellish modern landscape: “Pride and Prejudice.”
Okay, I can understand why you might be skeptical. “Pride and Prejudice,” adapted from the beautiful novel by Jane Austen, might not sound like your ideal Saturday afternoon watch. No, it’s not a fast-paced thrilling show, or a side-splitting comedy, or a romantic drama – it’s ALL of the above. And by the time I’m done writing this love letter to the masterful six-part BBC series “Pride and Prejudice” from 1995, you are going to agree with me.
Set in 19th-century England, “Pride and Prejudice” tells the story of the Bennets, a moderately well-off family of five daughters, and their trials and tribulations in navigating British society with no inheritance and few high-up connections. Elizabeth, or Lizzie (Jennifer Ehle, “Zero Dark Thirty”), is the clever but headstrong protagonist who, unlike her mother and sisters, is thoroughly disinterested in trivial matters such as social climbing and marriage. Her sole confidant and adviser is her elder sister, Jane (Susanna Harker, “House of Cards”), the beauty of the family (I always think it’s convenient that the most attractive, charming and beloved characters of every Austen novel share her own Christian name). When a couple of rich, eligible bachelors move to town, Lizzie and Jane’s lives are turned upside down as one falls head-over-heels in love, while the other falls into a deep and passionate rivalry.
Now, although “Pride and Prejudice” may be a book that some would consider boring (a point on which I vehemently disagree), the show is, without a doubt, anything but. Its stunning imagery, from grand European buildings and ballrooms to the colorful and fun Regency-era style, draws you into Austen’s universe right off the bat. It breathes life into what you might have once passed off as a dusty 19th-century novel while still holding true to what “Pride and Prejudice” really is: an adaptation. With swaths of dialogue pulled straight from the novel, book-accurate plot structure and even gorgeous era-appropriate costuming, the perfection of the 1995 adaptation lies in its dedication to the book. Even though the setting is antiquated and the verbiage is littered with occasionally outdated and alien phrases, the Regency imagery and historic ambiance that the show maintains seem to whisk the viewer into an entirely new world — a world that you know is a real and historic one, but that feels fantastical nevertheless. The experience of being completely whisked away by a piece of art is a beautiful one, and “Pride and Prejudice” certainly delivers, providing a sort of shelter from the complications and perplexity of modernity by bringing us back to simpler times of courtships and ballgowns instead of COVID-19 and college hookups.
Some of you may be familiar with the (sadly) infinitely more famous adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” by the same name, starring Keira Knightley (“Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”) in 2005. This version, while drawing inspiration from the same novel, sells the story as more of a rom-com than a period drama, and its shorter screen time provides less opportunity to really set the scene and develop the tension and conflict between characters that make the 1995 version so much more exciting. While there is undoubtedly a huge romantic plotline in the older “Pride and Prejudice” (it’s quite literally the original enemies-to-lovers romance), the more spaced-out format of the show makes sure to leave time for both societal and familial drama — a good balance is always important. And while Keira Knightley is pretty well known as the queen of the period piece (does “Pirates of the Caribbean” count?), the acting in the original “Pride and Prejudice” show is pretty phenomenal, with the characterizations far exceeding those of the show’s more famous counterpart (in my humble opinion).
For one moment, let’s just forget that “Pride and Prejudice” is also classic literature, and that it has a title with stuffy words. You don’t have to be an English major or a bookworm to enjoy this masterpiece. Regency-era shows and movies are having a huge pop culture moment (I know you’ve all seen “Bridgerton”). “Pride and Prejudice” employs the same themes and tropes, though maybe without all the borderline soft-core porn that “Bridgerton” features. Still, there’s just as much drama, just as much excitement and definitely just as much scandal — everything that is sure to make a pretty damn good TV show. Yes, it’s a relatively old show from an even older book. But if you ever want to be swept away into the fantastical world of ballroom dances and courtship, turn off the Sweet Sixteen game and try “Pride and Prejudice” instead — at least one of them won’t disappoint.
Daily Arts Writer Annabel Curran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.