6. Pride And Prejudice (1940)
This production has its charms, but it's not for you if you're looking for a strict adaptation of the book. This version is a product of its time, and it's also important to note that it's adapted from a screenplay by Aldous Huxley. It enthusiastically takes liberties with its costumes, characters and time period. The creators of version do deserve credit for the only popular attempt to adapt this novel for the screen before the 1970's, even if the story is mostly sugarcoated. The tone is much lighter, more comedic, and has almost none of Austen's wit. Lawrence Oliver, who was 33, could get away with playing the 28 year old Darcy (Colin Firth in the '95 miniseries was 35) but Greer Garson is too old to play Elizabeth, who is but 20 in the novel. Even so, she does a spectacular job playing Elizabeth. She capture's Lizzie's humor and spunk. In fact, the two may be too spunky, and Oliver's Darcy is too much of a flirt. Despite this, they have good chemistry and are engaging as an on screen couple. The plot changes were conscious, made most likely to reflect differences in the stage play. Although one change made at the end is worth complaining about, in which Lady Catherine is reformed from the ignorant and self centered snob into a funny and sweet old lady who helped her favorite nephew 'get the girl.' I think the reason so many of us love Austen is because she has a great eye for authentic characters. She never would unceremoniously sugar coat her characters that way. TCM's website states:
"MGM took several liberties with Jane Austen's novel, among them moving the time period of the story forty years ahead. According to modern sources, this was done in order to allow for more ornate costumes."
One can wonder if these costume choices were made in the wake of Gone With The Wind's success the year before - GWTW had similar costumes, and it's safe to assume MGM was interested in drawing in the same audiences. If you go into this film not expecting a faithful historial and literary adaptation (which, to be fair, it doesn't set out to be) it's enjoyable. Besides, we have the BBC for that!