It’s hard to believe, and makes me feel rather old, but it is now a quarter of a century since Colin Firth in a white shirt dived into a lake, and the female half of the world gasped in delight. Ironically that famous ‘wet shirt’ moment is not even in the novel, but it became so iconic (it has been voted the favourite television moment of all time!) that most Jane Austen adaptations made since have felt obliged to add some wet shirt scene to the script.
With a script by Andrew Davies, gorgeous country houses as locations, and Colin Firth as Mr Darcy, the 1995 Pride and Prejudice could hardly fail to please. It was critically acclaimed and won several awards, and the public loved it. It was watched by about 11 million people in Britain (more than the entire population of the country when Jane Austen wrote the novel), the first video set sold out within 2 hours of release, and it sold all over the world. My sister, when on holiday in Spain, turned on the TV in her hotel room and got to see Mr Darcy talking about “Mi casa Pemberley”! There had of course been other dramatizations of Pride and Prejudice, some of them excellent (I’m especially fond of the 1980 version, with wonderful Elizabeth Garvie as Elizabeth Bennet) but it was the 1995 version that sparked Austen-mania and shot Colin Firth to stardom.
There’s a new adaptation of the novel coming out next year – it promises to be a “dark” and “adult” version. I guess every generation needs its ‘own’ Pride and Prejudice – our grandparents loved Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier, my children’s generation prefers the Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen film, and goodness knows how many versions my grandchildren will be able to watch. But I think the 1995 adaptation did set new standards of sexiness and quality casting (with the exception, for me, of Alison Steadman as Mrs Bennet – she ruined every scene she was in and was too over-the-top for me) and it will remain an influential and beloved series. So happy 25th birthday, BBC Pride and Prejudice.
And next year we will also have a new movie version of Persuasion to enjoy. Australian actress Sarah Snook will play Anne Elliot, and the script is by Jessica Swale. Interestingly, it will be the first version of the much-loved Jane Austen novel actually made for the cinema – all others were originally made for TV.