Pride and Prejudice movie characters, part 7

Lady Catherine de Bourgh

It is now time to choose the best Lady Catherine de Bourgh from the movies we’ve been discussing; her ladyship is an important character in Pride and Prejudice. Because Darcy and his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, visit her at the same time Lizzy is visiting Charlotte Lucas-Collins, Darcy’s opinion of Elizabeth is deepened and then congealed, moving him to propose to Elizabeth the first time. Lady Catherine is pivotal later in a most unusual way, giving Darcy hope that his chances with Elizabeth have not been lost for good. This, of course, is one of Jane Austen’s most interesting twists of the P&P story, leading him to  return to Longbourn, setting up one of the screens simplest and most endearing proposals. Austen had a real knack for that, if one but pauses to consider this proposal along with those of Knightley to Emma, and Henry Tilney to Catherine Morland.

Judy Parfitt, who plays the role in the 1980 version, is perfect as the queen in the movie Ever After (one of our favorite movies), but as Lady Catherine, she came across more like an emotionless nobody spouting bits of trivial information. Currently she plays the part of an eccentric nun in the TV show Call the Midwife, and she is magnificent. It is obvious she has the range to be Lady Catherine, but actors are to say the lines given and do as the directors direct, so I would much rather blame them than her for this very bad portrayal of Lady Catherine.

The wonderful Dame Judi Dench in the 2005 movie is actually ridiculous as Lady Catherine. She certainly looked stern enough, but there was no pomp and presumption of superiority in her manners. As I have said before in this discussion of P&P movies, this version gives me the impression of having been done in a hurry, as if they were pressed for time. Why else would they have Lady Catherine come to the Bennet home at midnight to talk to Lizzy instead of how the book says it happened? There is so much about this movie that stinks, which is another reason why her performance most likely appears in a bad light. In any case, Judi Dench does no justice to Lady Catherine, though she is an excellent actor in just about everything else I’ve ever seen her in. I should say that I own this version out of my love for P&P, and there are some portions of it that are very good, but they are very few.

Edna May Oliver, in the 1940 film, plays the role in the same way as my favorite (mentioned last), so that I was tempted to say my choice is a tie between the two. But, instead, I will say Edna lost by a hair. Great actors are amazing, however -- she plays a lady’s maid in A Tale of Two Cities and is just as believable in that role as she is as Lady Catherine.

My choice: There is truly only one Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and her name is Barbara Leigh-Hunt. In the 1995 BBC/A&E version of Pride and Prejudice, she projects pride and conceit, while at the same time making it perfectly believable that “shelves in the closet” are not something beneath her notice. She gives the appearance of gentility, and then with a quick glance reveals her harsh, critical nature. The one mistake the director of this version made with Lady Catherine is letting us see her when Mr. Collins’ letter informing them of his intention of coming to visit is being read at the Bennet home. Much later, when they try to give her a dramatic appearance as Lizzy meets her during the time she visits Charlotte, all the suspense of who she is, what she looks like, etc. has been lost by having revealed her sooner. But her portrayal of the great lady is really the only thing that counts, and no one does it better than she does.


The real Lady Catherine de Bourgh