The budget was tight (there was a war on, after all) and legend has it that many of the costumes were borrowed from the previous year’s “Gone with the Wind.” The studio favored Clark Gable for the male lead, and Vivien Leigh was in the running, at least briefly, to play Elizabeth Bennet, though Greer Garson got the role.
Yes, it’s Longbourn meets Tara, better known as the 1940 version of “Pride and Prejudice.” Fortunately, Rhett Butler does not re-materialize as Mr. Darcy—the role went to Laurence Olivier—though Vivien “Miz Scarlett!” Leigh might well have made quite a feisty and lively Lizzy.
Somehow I had escaped seeing the 1940 movie of Jane Austen’s most beloved novel until recently. My first inclination was to laugh at the costumes. At any moment, I expected Lizzy Bennet to tear down the draperies to make a dress. My second inclination was to cringe at what MGM had done to Austen’s marvelous love story. While they kept much of her dialogue, they threw out some of the best lines, and dulled her sharp, sometimes caustic wit with a typically syrupy Hollywood story.
My third inclination was to sit back and enjoy the movie for what it is. It’s generally faithful to Jane Austen’s tale and as a romantic comedy, it’s not bad. After all, it has an “A” list cast: Garson, Olivier, Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane Bennett, Ann Rutherford as Lydia Bennett, Mary Boland as Mrs. Bennett. Renowned writer Aldous Huxley penned the script, and the movie won an Oscar for art direction.
Surprisingly, this is one of only two feature films, the second being the 2005 film with Keira Knightley, made of Austen’s most famous novel. (Not counting television adaptations, and variations of the story set in modern times, other countries, and so on.)
Laurence Olivier is really too soft-spoken and gallant for Mr. Darcy, but the man was gorgeous and one of the finest actors of all time, so he’s always a treat to watch. Greer Garson shows enough spark as Elizabeth Bennet, even if her huge, bustled ballgowns are a bit distracting.
If you haven’t seen this entry in the “Pride and Prejudice” repertoire, you don’t even have to get the DVD—you can watch it as a video on demand at Amazon or Netflix.