Let's begin with the most obvious, shall we?
Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
Played in the A&E version by the lovely Jennifer Ehle, and in the 2005 version by the equally lovely Keira Knightley.
I know some viewers can be annoyed by Keira Knightley, but I happen to be one of her fans, so I'm not using that argument against her portrayel as Lizzy.
Actually, I think both women portrayed our heroine in very similar ways. I was watching them, and found that they actually use many similar mannerisims. I don't know if that was unintentional, or if Knightley or her director made a concious decision to imitate Ehle.
Lizzy Bennet is 20 years of age, and is known for her liveliness. She is the second prettiest of the Bennet sisters (as well as the second oldest) and is intelligent, fond both of reading and of walking. Both Knightely and Ehle do a wonderful job of portraying all of this. Ehle, however, comes across as a bit older (26 at the time), a bit more mature in her views, and it seems less likely that she would make the flawed character judgements that Lizzy does. Knightley is younger (20) and brings a bit more youthful energy to the role. This is no critique of Ehle herself, merely a questioning of whether she was a bit too old to play the part. She certainly took what she had and used it very well.
With Jane Bennet, Lizzy's older, sweeter and prettier sister, the A&E version did not do quite so well. Unfortunately their actress was pregnant at the time- having seen pictures of her later I can say she is a much more attractive lady than she appears on screen. However, in P&P I simply cannot accept her as Jane, for all of her sweetness, because Jane is over and over again declared to be the prettiest of the sisters. The 2005 version was daring enough to cast a secondary role that risked overshadowing the leading lady and in doing so they were more faithful to the Jane created by Austen.
Let me say now- looks are important. In a book we can overlook them, but on screen we must enjoy watching the characters- especially if we are asked to love them. When the production is 5 hours long, physical attractiveness is even more important.
It is because I love Jane that I make this distinction. I want to like her- she is one of the sweetest creatures to walk the pages of a novel and it is important that this translates to screen. Unfortunately so much of loving her depends on watching her- something that I cannot enjoy in the A&E version. Especially when they repeatedly say that she is prettier than Ehle's Lizzy- which I think any viewer would agree is an erroneous statement.
I'll deal with Mrs. Bennet and Lydia next and get the worst of the A&E critiques out of the way. In fact, my issues with them are so similar, that I shall treat them as one. (The same critiques go to Lady Catherine de Borough, by the way).
There is a certain kind of acting that works for the stage- and there is another kind of acting that works for film. On stage, over the top, caricature acting can be quite funny and enjoyable to watch. However, it simply doesn't work on film. I felt that Lydia, Mrs. Bennet and Lady Catherine, while quite funny in their own way, simply did not work on film. I could not take them as real people.
Now, that is one way to view those characters. Certainly they could be represented that way from reading Austen. However, when the rest of the movie takes itself seriously and attempts to portray events "realistically" it is quite jarring to find these characters that are so obviously exaguated.
Now in the 2005 version the actors were given many of the same lines, the same mannerisims, and yet they played them realistically, using those words and actions in a way that makes sense and is believable.
I'll come back to this topic again when I discuss Mr. Collins.
However, lest this post be seen as too harsh against the A&E version, I will discuss a rather intriguing character last.
Charlotte Lucas was, I thought, admirably portrayed in both versions. Yet she is portrayed differantly- and once again, looks have something to do with it.
A&E's version of Charlotte is actually rather pretty. And I'm not certain her age is mentioned. Thus her move to marry Mr. Collins appears less desparate and more cool and calculating.
2005's Charlotte is much more obviously plain, and her conversation with Lizzy reveals her desparation. She is 27- she doesn't want to be a burden to her parents.
And yet both portrayels are realistic. The first, is perhaps, a less sympathetic view, and perhaps a little less likely, and yet I like to see this character played both ways. A woman could marry Mr. Collins out of sheer desperation- or simply because one wants a house of one's own and doesn't particularily care who one is married to. (They're not exactly the same thing- if you've seen both versions more than once, I think you'll understand what I mean.)
Actually, although I suspect that my earlier comments will generate more controversy, I am most curious to hear the opinions that you all have of Charlotte Lucas/Collins. Do you prefer one of the portrayels, and if so, why?