Pride and Prejudice (1940) Movie Review

By: Alex Phuong (A Toast) –

Originally entitled First Impressions prior to its publication in 1813, Pride and Prejudice has always been a favorite literary classic among Jane Austen fans.  Its examinations of life, love, and one’s place in the world have made the love story between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy endure.  Modern audiences might be more familiar with the 2005 version starring Keira Knightley, but some people might not know that Greer Garson was one of the first actresses to play that beloved heroine.  Indeed, the 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice is definitely a cinematic classic because it is a sumptuous adaptation of one of the greatest novels ever written.

A Toast

This film is a great example of a period drama (and it is even more special since it is one of the first of its kind in the early stages of film history).  This film definitely deserves its Academy Award for its art direction and set decoration (an Academy Award category now known today as “Best Production Design”) simply because it captures the essence of the Regency Era that Jane Austen wrote about and lived through herself.  There are also a lot of interesting literary connections associated with this film.  For example, Aldous Huxley of Brave New World fame contributed to the adapted screenplay, and Laurence Olivier shines as Mr. Darcy in this film.  Olivier is actually a very ideal actor to play the male lead, and he has even portrayed some of the greatest characters in film adaptations of literary classics, including Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights (1939) and the eponymous Hamlet in 1948.  Part of the grandeur of Pride and Prejudice (1940) is its connections that bridge the literary world with the cinematic world, and the final result is a brilliantly realized film as timeless as the original novel itself.

Verdict

This film might not be as well-known as the 2005 Joe Wright production (especially for modern moviegoers), but this version of Jane Austen’s beloved novel can still be a captivating movie-viewing experience for those who enjoy black-and-white cinema.  Because of its lack of acclaim (in terms of award wins) in 1940, it is possible to say that this film is an underrated classic.  In fact, the 2005 version actually received a lot of nominations during that particular year’s award season.

Then again, a lot of those awards did not exist in 1940, but at least the Academy was kind enough to give it one Oscar that year (and the 2005 film actually left the Academy Award ceremony empty-handed).  Nevertheless, it really does not matter if a film version of Pride and Prejudice is shot in black-and-white or in color or made for television just because it will always remain one of the greatest stories ever written, all thanks to the brilliant imagination of a woman who was once credited as just “a lady” when she published her first novel (Sense and Sensibility) in 1811.

Pride and Prejudice (1940) Bonus Drinking Game

Take a Drink: for every fancy dress

Do a Shot: every time Elizabeth and Darcy exhibit pride

Drink another Shot: every time Elizabeth and Darcy express prejudice during their tumultuous relationship

And Cheers: as one of the greatest love stories ever told unfolds on the silver screen with black-and-white splendor

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