If there is a dreamy, bookish young woman in your life (or a gentleman with a fondness for the type) who has yet to rejoice in the wit and beauty of the BBC production of Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice, the oversight must be remedied immediately. The five-hour adaptation — yes, meticulous in its attention to period detail; yes, lovingly respectful of the text; oh, yes!…with that eye-popping scene of Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy stripping down for an impromptu swim — is meant for a luxurious Sunday afternoon of swooning on the sofa, preferably with a cat (borrow one from the neighbors if you need to) and a bottle of chardonnay.
As Elizabeth Bennet, an endlessly endearing heroine with inimitable snap and crackle, the sparkle-eyed Jennifer Ehle is divinely accessible. (Keira Knightley was a pleasant surprise as Elizabeth in last year’s Hollywood remake, though two cheekbones higher and three dress sizes smaller than how we envision this earthy girl.) But the acclaimed miniseries, and its enduring, slavish legion of fans, belong rightly to Firth. His Darcy, regal rigidity irresistibly crumpled at the feet of our zingy heroine, is the stuff of a girl’s romantic dreams, right up there with horses and Paris in the spring. The role made Firth an international star, inspired wet T-shirt fever among female fans, and perhaps forever typecast him. See him similarly pinched and adorable as Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones’s Diary. Perhaps his fatigue with a now-worn-out formula explains his complete absence from this 10th-anniversary limited collector’s edition.
Which brings me, alas, to the end of this love affair. There’s nothing really here to justify the loud trumpeting of A&E’s marketing department. The wrongheaded attempts at seduction, with fussy, gold-embossed, cloth-slipcased packaging, embarrass. (We dreamy, bookish girls may drink the occasional tea, but we don’t use doilies.) To add insult to injury, there’s the unforgivable inclusion of a making-of companion book that was published back in 1995, cast and crew filmographies that inexplicably cut off at 2001, and a well-intentioned if rather hokey A&E Biography of Jane Austen. The only real fresh material is an ”exclusive” hour-long retrospective from various cast members and crew. But again, no Firth, and not a peep from Ehle, either. Instead we get earnest interviews with the producer, who trots out some of the same stories she tells on previous featurettes, and bored-looking supporting players. Cheers, though, to Crispin Bonham-Carter, who played the affable Mr. Bingley, for telling a good trouser-bulge joke. He alone understands that sometimes irreverence is the key to a woman’s heart.