One of the most influential Austen adaptations of all time, Pride and Prejudice premiered on BBC One twenty years ago today on 24th September 1995.
Pride and Prejudice is Jane Austen’s most well known – and probably well loved – novel, telling the story of five sisters and their quest to make the best match. Focusing primarily on the eldest sisters Elizabeth and Jane, Pride and Prejudice is as influential and important now as it was when Austen first published the novel in 1813. The 1995 production split the novel into six separate episodes, running at 55 minutes each.
Starring Colin Firth in one of his most iconic roles as Mr Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett, the BBC One production is still one of the most beloved Austen adaptations. The production was adapted by Andrew Davies, produced by Sue Birtwistle and directed by Simon Langton. Firth was catapulted to stardom with this role, leaving an imprint on the minds of many with his now infamous ‘wet shirt scene’, while Jennifer Ehle won a BAFTA television award for her performance as Lizzie. The show also won an Emmy for “Outstanding Individual Achievement in Costume Design for a Miniseries or a Special”.
The show continues to influence both Austen and Regency films and television series, thanks to it’s eye for detail – particularly in relation to the costuming, which was largely designed for the show, rather than taken from the BBC archive of 19th Century costumes. The show was universally praised for its faithfulness to the source material, and for how it highlighted Austen’s natural wit. The show, alongside the 1995 and 1996 films of Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility and Emma, contributed to what has been called the ‘Austen-mania’ of the late 1990’s. It has also been named in many lists of the best TV shows ever, including Entertainment Weekly’s twenty best mini series of all time.
The show’s influence goes far beyond its impact on the screen. Embedded into the minds of many, it has also become a focal point for conversations about the representations of Austen, and the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century. Chawton House Library – which is associated with the University of Southampton – held a one day conference commemorating the BBC production on 5th September 2015, that saw both the director and academics discussing the impact that the show has had on academia, as well as the popular imagination of Jane Austen’s works.
The BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice can be found on Netflix. Watch the infamous lake scene, below.