Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Pride and Prejudice

The Langsett family had Radio 4's Pride and Prejudice adaptation on, on the way to the seaside a few weeks back. I was being a bit grumpy about it, but in all honesty I love Pride and Prejudice as much as everyone else does, and it was a genuine pleasure to have another version of it to enjoy. Particularly as I could do so even though I was in the fast lane on the A64 at the time. Also, it reminded me pleasantly about my Christmas time Austen overdose. Let me explain...

The Langsett spent three exceptionally happy evenings over the Christmas period experimenting with my new Martini fixation, surrounded by mince pie crumbs and most importantly, watching the superb Death Comes To Pemberley on the Beeb. I had unknowingly been setting myself up for this thrilling and totally unexpected three day Austen themed treat for months, starting in the autumn when Mrs Langsett met Jo Baker, the author of Longbourn, at a bookshop signing evening. It's been a few years since I last read any Austen books, so I steamed through this lovingly crafted retelling of Pride and Prejudice from the servants' perspective.

Then, I looked around for some more slightly oblique ways of enjoying Austen, and -courtesy of the surprisingly large band of Spanish Colin Firth fans willing to take the time to post chunks of it on Youtube - managed to watch the whole of the Beeb's 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. The picture quality was awful, but of course it didn't matter a bit - I could still hear the words, and they were brilliant. I loved it all, but there were a few bits that I particularly enjoyed. If you can spare me a minute, I'll just mention one:

That's Lizzie of course, taking a turn about the garden with her fantastically caddish and rascally brother in law who, in spite of having been lately discovered living in sin in London, is still having a go at spinning the hard luck story that Darcy deprived him of a living as a clergyman.

Lizzie responds by deftly warning Wickham off, suggesting Darcy's younger sister will turn out well as she is "...over the most trying age." She's referring to Wickham having tried to talk Georgiana into eloping, and also to how young her own sister - Wickham's wife - is. But that's not quite enough to get Wickham back in line, so she gives him both barrels, conversationally speaking: letting him say how much he wanted to be a clergyman and then setting out what actually happened. And then, while Wickham is still flapping about and wondering what has just happened, sweetly extending her hand for him to kiss and popping inside.

There is a real beauty to the way in which the two characters interact. Wickham, unable to stop himself from lying in order to make himself look wholesome, and Elizabeth meeting his behaviour with an incremental, exquisitely measured reveal: she knows it all, and he can't pull the wool over her eyes any longer. It's a tiny, brief scene, but the emotional payback that comes from reading or watching it is enormous. That's something to do, I think, with how measured and intelligent Elizabeth's response is. The fact that it's a private exchange between the two of them is important too. It's a reminder that no audience is required for the nature of a relationship to completely change.

The best thing of all though is that this is pretty much how it happens in the book. Two hundred years ago, Austen put together this beautiful little scene. There is no exposition, so you can just get on with enjoying these two characters jump off the page - or screen.

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