JANE AUSTEN MOVIE CLUB: Pride and Prejudice (1940)

Welcome to the Risky Regencies JANE AUSTEN MOVIE CLUB!

Here we meet on the first Tuesday of every month (“and sometimes oftener,” as Wilde would say), to discuss TV and film adaptations of Jane Austen’s works.

Today: the 1940 film of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE!

First, let me say — Wow. What a poster.

“Five love hungry beauties in search of HUSBANDS!!” (And we think our back-cover blurbs occasionally lack in subtlety!)

While we’re on the subject of the poster…note how Olivier’s hair and clothing differ from what he’s wearing in the film (shown below) — the poster shows him in a 1940’s tuxedo! (And the sidewhiskers are gone!)

I know some folks love this film, and some hate it…and many have mixed feelings. So hopefully we’ll have some interesting discussion!

As usual, to aid everyone’s memory, here are the major credits from the film (courtesy IMDB):

DIRECTOR: Robert Z. Leonard

SCREENPLAY: Aldous Huxley and Jane Murfin
(based on the “dramatisation” by Helen Jerome)

(By the way, this wasn’t Huxley’s only screenwriting credit — He also co-wrote the screenplay for the 1944 JANE EYRE.)


Greer Garson: Elizabeth Bennet

Mary Boland: Mrs. Bennet

Maureen O’Sullivan: Jane Bennet

Edna May Oliver: Lady Catherine de Bourgh

Laurence Olivier: Mr. Darcy

(Fans of films set during the Regency and 18th century may also have seen Olivier as Lord Nelson in 1941’s THAT HAMILTON WOMAN, MacHeath in the 1953 BEGGAR’S OPERA, and as the Duke of Wellington in the 1972 LADY CAROLINE LAMB.)

Ann Rutherford: Lydia Bennet

Frieda Inescort: Caroline Bingley

Edmund Gwenn: Mr. Bennet

Karen Morley: Charlotte

Heather Angel: Kitty Bennet

Marsha Hunt: Mary Bennet

Bruce Lester: Charles Bingley

Edward Ashley: George Wickham

Melville Cooper: Mr. Collins

Marten Lamont: Mr. Denny

E.E. Clive: Sir William Lucas

May Beatty: Mrs. Philips

Marjorie Wood: Lady Lucas

Gia Kent: Anne de Bourgh

So: what did you think? What are your feelings on the casting, the costumes, the script, the music — anything?

All responses welcome!

And join us again on March 25, when we discuss the Kate Beckinsale version of EMMA, and on the first Tuesday in April, when we discuss the first half of the new SENSE & SENSIBILITY!

Cara King, author of MY LADY GAMESTER, who would be constantly dragging her sleeves in her dinner if she wore what those women were wearing!

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14 years ago

Well I’m probably going to be unpopular, but although I LOVE the film in general and would never miss it, because it’s Austen on the TV/screen- there’s so very much I don’t like.

Garson is completely wrong, in my estimation. Let’s not go into the whole age thing… But she was too BIG – too “full ship at sail” for my liking. Mrs Bennet she could have done admirably.

As much as I adore Olivier he just didn’t convince me in this part. Don’t really know why, he’s sneery enough, but perhaps he doesn’t melt sufficiently.

As for the costumes. GAH. What were they thinking?

To be honest, I haven’t really got an adaptation I love. Perhaps the 1970s one..

14 years ago

It took me forever to actually sit and watch the whole thing (and boy, this one always seemed to be on when I passed by the channels! LOL) because of the costumes. Ugh. But last year, I finally sat and watched it. I really like it — I liked Oliver’s Darcy, and did like Garson’s Lizzie. Loved the archery scene. LOL

But my problems were Lady Catherine got too likeable at the end for one. . . ah, oh geez, I forget what else now. LOL But yeah, even with it’s changes, I overall liked it.


14 years ago

Somewhat OT, but looked up Greer Garson on imdb.com. She was too old to play Elizabeth Bennett; she was 36 in 1949. But I also noticed that she played Irene Forsyth opposite Errol Flynn as Soames — now that’s inspired casting. I’m off to my video store to see if that film is available. I love these topics that lead to other finds that lead to(well, you get the idea).

Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

“But I also noticed that she played Irene Forsyth opposite Errol Flynn as Soames — now that’s inspired casting.”

I didn’t even know there was such a version of The Forstye Saga!! Must look for it.

This P&P is just so odd, I can’t help but feel a weird affection for it. It certainly makes me laugh! But I hate how they had to make Lady CdeB so nice at the end (ugh), the shrieking younger sisters, the Little Bo Peep costumes, etc. That tagline is fabulous, BTW–they’re not just looking for husbands, but HUSBANDS!!!

I remember reading that the costume designer on this one (though can’t remember the name) had just done the costumes for “Becky Sharpe” (aka Vanity Fair) and was tired of Regency gowns. So voila–we get fantasy Victorian. I’m not sure that would go over well now.

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

I was convinced that the costumes were simply what had been hanging in storage from Gone with the Wind or something.

I did enjoy it, finally. When I first tried to watch it a couple of years ago, I could not get past the costumes and the mincing little steps Greer Garson took. But when I saw it recently I was entertained. Funny thing though, all I can remember about it is that Lady de Bourgh turned nice. What a silly change that was.

Greer Garson was too old. Olivier was too, probably, but his casting didn’t bother me as much. But if you overlooked all that, it was fun to watch.

Cara King
14 years ago

Erastes wrote:

But she was too BIG – too “full ship at sail” for my liking.

Ooh, nice analogy! Yes, the image of a Victorian woman moving about, taking up huge amounts of room, is really so different from the image most empire gowns give!

Lois, I agree with you on Lady Catherine! (And if you remember the rest of your thoughts when you saw it, I’d love to hear them!)

Susan/DC, though you accidentally typed “1949” instead of “1940,” I just checked and of course you were right about Greer Garson’s age — 36 when she made the movie! I agree, she came across as too mature for Lizzy.

I love these topics that lead to other finds that lead to(well, you get the idea).

Me too! (Obviously!) 🙂

I remember reading that the costume designer on this one (though can’t remember the name) had just done the costumes for “Becky Sharpe” (aka Vanity Fair) and was tired of Regency gowns.

I’ve heard so many stories on that, Amanda! I think the two likeliest ones are that the one, and the one where Adrian (the costume designer for the women) wanted a more “opulent” look than Regency gowns would give. (Oddly enough, in an early scene they’re talking about buying muslins, but they’re running around in satin or other heavy, shiny fabrics for pretty much the whole thing.)

From what I can tell, the much-repeated rumor that they did it so they could reuse gowns from Gone With the Wind is totally fabricated. 🙂 (And, yes, wrong decade! I mean, look at those sleeves!)

As for age, Diane, I think a 33-year-old Olivier was closer to Darcy’s age than a 36-year-old Garson. (Then again, Hollywood is notorious for doing things the other way round — actors in their 50s and 60s getting ingenues — so I suppose I shouldn’t complain too hard that it’s reversed for once. But I do think she still seems too mature!) 🙂


Megan Frampton
14 years ago

I love this version, probably because it was my first (you never forget your first, do you?)

Now, of course, I see it through much different eyes, but I do still like it. Can’t hurt that I like both Garson and Olivier.

Georgie Lee
14 years ago

I haven’t seen this one but I love “That Hamilton Woman”. My to be watched list is growing.

Elena Greene
14 years ago

Well, I couldn’t get through it the first time I saw it. The costumes were a laugh and everything was so exaggerated and unsubtle. I imagine the intent was to keep it light and funny but it certainly wasn’t a nuanced performance! Though not as unsubtle as that poster. 🙂

Once I did watch it all the way through, I rather liked Olivier as Darcy, but Garson just was too mature for Elizabeth, not just in looks but in the assurance of her manner.

I like the tough old lady with a good heart type of character, but in this case softening Lady Catherine up just contributed to the cotton candy nature of the film. I missed the dark shading that’s present in all Austen’s books.

Still kind of fun to watch. 🙂

Cara King
14 years ago

I rewatched this last night, BTW, because it had been so long since I’d seen it!

Overall, I enjoyed it a lot. There are a lot of lines and scenes from the book, and I think some of the changes to adjust for a two-hour running time were smart (such as bringing Wickham and his feud with Darcy in immediately.)

It was definitely unsubtle, though. Sometimes this bugged me, sometimes not. Some of the humor with Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins was just too broad for my taste, and sometimes it was too much like we were being “told” (and retold and retold) who the characters were and exactly wht we were to think…

I hadn’t had this reaction before, but this time I liked Olivier a lot more than Garson. She was IMHO not only too sophisticated & assured for the character, but I thought her Elizabeth lacked almost all natural emotional — she seemed much more artificial, brittle, and calculated than the Lizzy I know.

And in that vein, I think of how Austen portrayed Anne Elliot and what Mr. Knightley said about Jane Fairfax’s reserve — I think Austen definitely favored heroines who were open, and warm, and spontaneous…which is not how I read Garson.

Of course, some of the problem was her acting style. She was definitely in that older movie style — in which women raise a beautifully curved hand to the mouth when astonished, people do very obvious double-takes, and lovers go from staring each other to leaping into a passionate embrace in 1/4 of a second.

Oddly enough, Olivier seemed much more natural to me. (Never thought I’d type that sentence!) He seemed to have some real warmth, real emotion in him, and I could totally believe his Darcy in love with Lizzy.


14 years ago

I like this film. It’s a typical Old Hollywood adaptation: fast paced and too glossy. I do think the pacing is better than the Keira version and I ADORE the archery scene which was in the spirit of the book.

To me, Laurence Olivier can do no wrong. His Darcy is still the definitive Darcy on screen to me. I think a lot of what’s wrong with the film is centered on Greer Garson, who is all kind of wrong. Setting aside the fact that she is almost 20 yrs too old for the role, she gives a very starchy and arch rendition. Even in something like RANDOM HARVEST, she came across as so much warmer than she does here or in VALLEY OF DECISION, she came across as younger. Garson does not do a good job here.

I love Edna May Oliver as Catherine de Burgh. She was also Aunt May in the Katharine Hepburn version of LITTLE WOMEN so she is a pro at playing the dragon types.


Keira Soleore
14 years ago

Sorry folks, no pearls or diamonds of wisdom here, because I haven’t seen this version. But from the photos, I have to agree that if I had to do anything more strenuous than standing in those dresses, I’d fall over in a dead faint. And eating? Forget about sleeves in the soup. The soup’s not going to make it past the collarbone. No room for air, much less food in that constricted space.

14 years ago

Well, I re-watched this movie last night (isn’t it weird how Cara and I always end up watching things at the same time?), and I enjoyed it quite well–it was pretty much as I had remembered it. Some things were very, well, “sentimental Hollywood,” and the acting style and direction look very dated now, but it was certainly amusing, and for the most part not too untrue to the book.

It also mostly did a good job of fitting the plot into two hours, though there’s a bit at the end when things just seem to happen one after another, bang bang bang: “Mr. and Mrs. Collins just arrived! Gosh, a letter just came from uncle Gardiner saying that he’s found Lydia and Wickham! Wow, here they are driving up the road! And here’s Lady C de B! And Mr. Darcy! Oh look, Bingley just proposed to Jane! It’s like Grand Central Station in here! Sorry, I’m exhausted from all this action and need to sit down!” And of course, everyone complains about the niceifying of Lady Catherine, which seems to have no good reason for it. But on the whole, I liked it.


Melinda Hammond
Melinda Hammond
14 years ago

I think the film says more about the 1940’s than the early 19th century! Garson & Olivier were big stars, and you have to say that the costumes were given the full Hollywood treatment. I enjoyed it, but is certainly isn’t the book, is it? I have given up expecting any JA adaptation to capture the book – that way I am pleasantly surprised when something comes close.
Melinda Hammond

Cara King
14 years ago

“The full Hollywood treatment” — so true, Melinda!

I thought of a couple other things I wanted to say. 🙂

I really liked Edna May Oliver’s performance as Lady Catherine. (She’s not responsible for the script!)

I don’t like Lady C suddenly changing at the end, but it struck me that the worst part of it was that it made Darcy seem like a wuss. It appeared that he sent her in to see if Elizabeth was more friendly toward him, rather than having the courage to approach her on his own…not the guy I want to marry! 😉

Also, I really liked the Miss Bingley here. She wasn’t in any way a caricature (as Miss Bingleys so often are.)

Oh, and it was quite startling when they referred to Charlotte as plain, when she was played by an extremely attractive actress! I actually laughed out loud…


14 years ago

I love this site! I love old movies and old costumes/ stage costumes/ dresses especially from the 40’s….thank you very very very much for creating this site…of anyone has some beautiful old images or photos to show me (’cause i love every single thing wich is old and pretty), you can contact me on my e-mai bibi_hood@yahoo.com thanke you again!

Cara King
14 years ago

I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Bibi!


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