Pride & Prejudice: Adapting the First Proposal

I’m still celebrating Pride & Prejudice’s 200th anniversary.  Today, I’m enjoying a retrospective of Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth.  It’s a classic within a classic. So, I thought we should take a look at the various ways it has been adapted

“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

Elizabeth’s astonishment was beyond expression. She stared, coloured, doubted, and was silent. This he considered sufficient encouragement; and the avowal of all that he felt, and had long felt for her, immediately followed. He spoke well; but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed, and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride. His sense of her inferiority — of its being a degradation — of the family obstacles which judgment had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit.

Read the rest of the proposal here.

This is possibly the most heartfelt and insulting proposal in English literature.  In adaptations, there is so much to be done with it.  Shall we see what has been done?

My apologies for not embedding the videos.  I can’t seem to size them correctly at this moment.


 1940: Greer Garson & Laurence Olivier

Like much of this adaptation, Darcy’s first proposal takes some liberties with the text, but it does manage to get the basics.  It’s one of the most faithful scenes in an unfaithful adaptation.  But who doesn’t like Sir Laurence?


1980:Elizabeth Garvie & David Rintoul

Yes, I know many love this adaptation.  I’m afraid I cannot share that affection.  The dialog is fairly faithful, but really.  There is no emotion in this scene.  I’ve come to expect that from David Rintoul, who plays Darcy as though he had been assimilated by the Borg.  And, I’m afraid Elizabeth Garvie gives as good as she gets here.


1995:  Jennifer Ehle & Colin Firth

Now, this one… This one is, in my opinion, very nearly perfect.  It occurs in the right setting and captures the feeling of the dialog, the emotion of both parties without going overboard (see below).  You can actually see Mr. Darcy struggle against his inclination and Elizabeth’s realization of exactly what’s going on. And you can’t go very far wrong with Colin Firth.  Now, that’s Mr. Darcy.


2005: Keira Knightley & Matthew MacFadyen 

Here we have Pride & Prejudice by Charlotte Bronte (or possibly Emily).  I cannot indict this scene for lack of emotion.  Indeed, there is a surfeit of emotion as evinced by the thunder in the background.  I’m sorry, but this proposal is sufficiently dramatic without the atmospherics.  And what is happening at the end.  Is she thinking about kissing him after telling him off? That’s one way of writing this scene.  I could see it happening and have in several romances but not, alas, in Pride & Prejudice.

I’m sure you all have a favorite adaptation.  And I won’t object too strongly if it doesn’t agree with mine.  What do you think of these proposal scenes or do you have another that you prefer?

About Myretta

Myretta is a founder and current manager of The Republic of Pemberley, a major Jane Austen destination on the web. She is also a writer of Historical Romance. You can find her at her website, and on Twitter @Myretta.
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21 Responses to Pride & Prejudice: Adapting the First Proposal

  1. Elena says:

    LOL on the Borg Darcy, Myretta! I total agree on that one and with the rest of your assessment. I have to confess I still enjoy the Bronte-esque treatment in the 2005 version. It’s a guilty pleasure, maybe, but I do love the tension of an almost-kiss.

    • Confession time: I didn’t even make it as far as the proposal scene in the 1980 version. Borg is right! Ick. I do love the 2005 proposal scene- over the top can be a good thing! But the 1995 proposal gets it right in every way. It captures the humiliation that Lizzy and Darcy are feeling, so that the second proposal is that much more satisfying. There’s a whole lot more to lose at that point in the 1995 version than in the 2005 version. What a fun post!

  2. Lil says:

    I remember the first time I saw the Ehle-Firth version. I was watching it with my husband, and at the end of this scene he said, “It’s amazing how erotic formality can be.”

    That’s a good comment on Jane Austen in general.

  3. Karen H in NC says:

    Nothing, IMHO, can replace Colin Firth’s portrayal of Mr. Darcy. He does it so well. In the 2005 version, it looked like they were both considering a kiss near the end that wasn’t in the other versions. I liked the clothes in the 1940 film but her gown didn’t fit the era.

  4. Julia Broadbooks says:

    The 1980s version is streaming on Netflix now, and, with our Lizzie Bennet Diaries obsession going strong, my girls wanted to see it. They spent the whole time pointing out it’s many flaws.

    hadn’t thought of the Borg comparison. But it’s pretty apt.

  5. Lesley A. says:

    My nod to Sir Lawrence, but Colin Firth deserves a knighthood for his adaption of the character. I feel, the 1995 version is the most faithful adaptation of the book and such romance can be found in restraint!! It’s like that little bit of skin one finds between the sleeve and the glove – so tantalizing and forbidden! Colin Firth IS Mr. Darcy.

    Kiera Knightly just gives me a pain – I can’t put my finger on it, but she has a way of reminding me every time, that she’s not really of the era she is portraying. (sorry for being vague) So when I watch that version, I have to imagine it’s really a separate story altogether in order for me to enjoy it. (I do like Mathew McFadden and I have nothing against a Brontesque adaptation of Austen.)

  6. Mona says:

    I would agree with your assessment. The 1995 version is by far my favorite. And I think Colin Firth has a lot of similarity to Sir Laurence’s version in this scene. Both are great. Truth be told, even though the 1940s version is so far off from the book, I did see it first and loved it so much as a film (having not read the book) that it was the only reason I gave the miniseries a try. I normally did not watch mini-series. Boy am I ever glad I did. Very few things have entertained me quite as much as the mini-series did. It means so much to me and got me through some rather blah times in my life (that and Emma – the Paltrow/Northam version, and Sense & Sensibility…and even Persuasion). I became a lifelong Jane Austen fanatic after the mid-90s. Thanks for the article. I was one of the first members of the Republic of Pemberley when it started back in about 1996. I haven’t visited it as much recently but still appreciate it greatly and always brag on it.

  7. Lori says:

    Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle win hands down. And the loser hands down is Keira and Matthew. “I love you body and soul.” Seriously?! The entire Keira version was as though it were another book entirely; and I could bear to watch it if I thought of it as NOT P & P; which is too bad. Matthew McFayden is a terrific actor and much fun to watch. Sadly, not as Darcy and not with, as Bridget Jones would say, the stick figure. Now, how about Bridget Jones and that proposal?! It is, after all, a derivative of P&P.

    Last word: I do love Mr. Darcy, in the 1995 version, responding sharply and immediately to Elizabeth, when she asks (regarding his doings to tear assunder Jane and Bingley) “Can you deny ….?”; “I have no wish to deny it!” Brilliant. Mr. Darcy, Brilliant!

  8. Janna says:

    I completely agree with you. I re-read P&P every year. Colin Firth was the perfect Mr. Darcy. His portrayal of this important scene was phenomenal. He was perfect. This adaptation of P&P is definitely the best.

  9. Mary Beth says:

    Great commentary. I agree that Lawrence Olivier was DREAMY as Darcy, and Matthew McFayden was Fitzwilliam McScrumptious, but the Ehle/Firth version has always been my favorite.

  10. Tisa says:

    If we are to judge based upon the movie script fidelity toward the book the ’95 production excels by far, nevertheless Colin’s performance is eminent beyond comparison. Olivier just played his role obediently to the intelligence of a Holiwood director. Rintoul was plain stiff, and MacFadyen added more jucy artifacts nonstanding for those times (oh well was not his fault but all to that screenplay writer artistic momentum).
    No question, Colin’s proposal definitely takes the privileged place on the pedestal.

  11. Cassie Grafton says:

    Good assessment. I do love the 2005 film (and this scene) but I don’t watch that if I want to see a faithful adaptation, I watch it just for the sheer romantic interpretation (and of course, the story of P&P isn’t just about ‘romance’). I did love your description of it being the Bronte version! LOL I think that could apply to many a scene in it, especially the second proposal!

    I always found the 1980 adaptation to be satisfying on some levels, but not on that of Darcy. It was a fairly faithful translation, and what I did like was that we got so many of the scenes that don’t crop up in other adaptations. However, I could not take to David Rintoul at all, and as Darcy is so key to it all, I don’t hurry to re-watch it very much.

    I have only seen the 1940 version once, many years ago. I can remember being appalled at the ladies’ costumes at first, but then won over by Olivier (who isn’t?!) However, I would not rush to see it again, so it can’t have left that strong an impression.

    Many, including myself, feel the 1995 series is THE adaptation, even aside from the lead actors, in what it captures from the book, its settings, costumes etc. I do think that the first proposal scene was brilliantly done and that what you have said describes it to a tee; however, the one thing that I do not like in that adaptation is the second proposal.

    It does stay fairly close to the book, but I refuse to believe they didn’t kiss. “He expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do” is, in my humble opinion, Jane Austen’s way of telling us they embraced, and with the subsequent “had Elizabeth been able to encounter his eye… but, though she could not look, she could listen…”, I think it confirms that she was held against his chest (le big sigh!)

    How Andrew Davies could happily take the liberty of having Elizabeth meet a soaking wet Darcy wearing, in effect, his under garments, yet not give us that kiss, is beyond me. I mean, he didn’t even offer her his arm or his hand!!!!

    Okay, sorry; vent over! LOL

    Great post, Myretta; really enjoyed it!


  12. Colin Firth has no competition… and this scene exemplifies his entire performance.

  13. Valerie says:

    I feel far too much credit is given to the men. Granted I guess in P&P the book, this is the first obvious glimpse we really get of Darcy’s feelings for her, but I have to say both Garson and Ehle played their reactions perfectly opposite their screen partners and conveyed the shock, hurt, and anger to perfection.

    The 2005 proposal will always hold a special place and MM has grown on me as Darcy, but I have to go with 95 for faithfulness to the book and perfect acting partners in Firth and Ehle.

  14. Amy says:

    I agree that the ’95 version is the best. I didn’t like the ’80 version nearly as well. I like the ’05 version, but it’s not as powerful as the miniseries to me, nor as faithful to the text. I love Olivier & Garson in many things, but I really didn’t like this version of P & P. Besides the out-of-period costumes, which I had a hard time getting past, this actor (who IMO is usually genius in his roles – and I had a major actor crush on him when I was 12 & saw Wuthering Heights) is way too gentle & insipid for Darcy. Garson seemed to be playing it as a Golden Age screwball comedy (which I love, but again, NOT P & P!). I think Firth is brilliant as Darcy, and while I’m not sure I’m as big a fan of Ehle, she plays her role with restraint but with lots of subtext, if you know what I mean, and intelligently.

  15. Laura says:

    Having watched these clips I think that the 95 version Ehle/Firth portrays the best proposal scene. There is definitely chemistry between the actors with the restraint needed. I agree the McFadden/Knightly is a more romantic, Brontesque adaptation. When I watch the 2005 version I have to suspend my belief though I enjoy watching it. The first version I watched was the 1995 version and for me brings ‘Pride and Prejudice’ to life. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries although a completely contemporary version does show that Jane Austen’s work is being brought to today’s audience. Happy Birthday Pride and Prejudice.

  16. I love both the 1995 and the 2005 versions for different reasons.

    I love the passion and almost kiss of the 2005 version and I love the undercurrent of sexual tension in the 1995 version. Firth plays Darcy as if he just stepped out of the novel.

    The thing I love most is that this little novel written by a vicar’s spinster daughter is still capturing the imaginations of women and men 200 years later. A level of storytelling skill we should all aspire to every day.

  17. This particular scene is the weakness of every film adaptation and a fabulous example of how, even with the best of intentions and the most brilliant script, it’s a major fail. The scene is in Elizabeth’s point of view. So what we’re getting is her aversion to Darcy and her interpretation of what she hears. It may have been a perfectly reasonable proposal. We don’t know, and Austen wants us to guess.

  18. diane says:

    I love the 1995 version, which I do think is near perfect. But one thing I always liked about the 2005 version is that it showed (more clearly for modern audiences) the sexual attraction between Elizabeth and Darcy.

    I watched the movie in the theatre sitting behind several young teenaged girls. I could tell they were falling for the movie and Jane Austen. I think they were more apt to pick up the book after seeing the movie than they would have been even after seeing Colin Firth.

  19. Elena says:

    I love that this post sparked so many comments on Super Bowl Sunday. Go Jane!!!!

  20. ik says:

    “Is she thinking about kissing him after telling him off?”

    Really? It isn’t obvious? She has just torn into him for pride … & in MM’s interpretation ( Please ……. forgive me madam) – the ‘Please’ is disconnected from the rest & makes her think that he is about to beg. She is completely disorientated by this possibility, loses control, & can no longer mask her desire.

    Just watch her expressions at half-speed. Here and where he describes her as ‘tolerable’; or where Caroline Bingley invites her to ‘take a turn’. Those fleeting expressions are priceless.

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