The father of the five daughters of Pride and Prejudice is described this way: "Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three and twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character." A bit of research I came across had an interesting point stating that at the beginning of the book, a person may tend to view Mr. Bennet as a very likable character, but as the story unfolds we begin to see how negligent a father and husband he is, which could have an effect on our first impression of him.
This brings us to another aspect of his character: he is the kind of father that is uninvolved with his wife and children, having basically given up on them all, preferring to ignore the family by retreating into his library. He likes his daughter Elizabeth because she is not so silly and ignorant as his other daughters are and, like him, she is quick witted and given to finding some pleasure in observing the follies and inconsistencies of others.
In my book, Mr Darcy falls in love, I have Darcy thinking (after talking to Mr. Bennet about marrying Lizzy) how much like her father she is in certain matters, and that there could not be such a woman as Elizabeth if there had not been such a man as Mr. Bennet. She has his good qualities.
From what I can recall, there is no physical description of Mr. Bennet, so the actors that played in the movies we have been discussing are looked at through the lens of how well they bring to the part what has been mentioned above.
2005 - Donald Sutherland is hands down the worst Mr. Bennet past, present, and future! The only way for someone to out-do this horrible performance is to be in a coma. It makes me think he stayed up all night and came to work so tired and worn out that he didn't care to even attempt acting. This is yet another reason why this version is the worst of them all, for he either chose or was directed to play the part as someone even dumber than Mrs. Bennet herself.
1980 - Moray Watson, the Mr. Bennet of this version, is so angry and gruff there is no humor (sarcastic or otherwise) in anything he says or does. The best that can be said of him is that he isn't as bad as Donald Sutherland! If this version would have chosen better actors, it could have been my favorite, for it has so many scenes from the book that the others do not.
Bride and Prejudice - Anupam Kher is a wonderful Mr. Bennet, or as he is called in this adaptation, Mr. Bakshi. He is funny and has a terrific father-daughter chemistry with the girls. That is different from the Mr. Bennet of the book who hides away in his library, but I love him in this part nonetheless. Great modern-day adaption of Pride and Prejudice, and Kher is one of the reasons why.
1940 - Edmund Gwenn, like Anupam Kher, is terrific in the part, and comes across very much as the same kind of Mr. Bennet -- the likable, humorous man without that part of his character that shows him being an absentee parent. Even though he's a bit different than Jane Austen wrote, Gwenn is definitely one person that comes to my mind when I think of Mr. Bennet.
1995 - Benjamin Whitrow has the part down perfect in every aspect. He shows the man as Jane Austen pictured him: able to enjoy the absurdities of others all on his own, such as when Mr. Collins is having his first dinner with the family. He also plays Mr. Bennet's shallow selfish side really well in the scene when he talks about not being overpowered by his not having taken better care of his girls, saying that 'any feelings of regret will pass soon enough, perhaps sooner than they should.' Of course, this being a five hour long movie, there is enough time for that kind of character development. He is kind and silly at times, indifferent and somewhat irresponsible at others. As strongly as I think Donald Sutherland played the worst Mr. Bennet, I feel Benjamin Whitrow played him the best.