Jane Austen describes Mrs. Bennet in her classic tale this way: "She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented, she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news."
Let's take a look at Mrs. Bennet in the movie versions we've been highlighting ...
2005 - Brenda Blethyn - The overall quality of this movie is just so bad, and this portrayal of Mrs. Bennet is in keeping with that. She lacks the vibrancy and vitality of Mrs. Bennet, who is determined to get her daughters married and is always working toward that end. Ms. Blethyn comes across as all washed up in this version. There is a kind of symmetry here, however, given the fact that this version also has the worst Mr. Bennet. It's really sad that so many people have only seen this version, and yet in praise of Jane Austen, they still love the story even so.
1980 - Priscilla Morgan is one of the bright spots in this BBC production. Because of her, the terrible portrayal of the Mr. Bennet character is made easier to tolerate. When you compare the way Ms. Morgan says her lines to most of the other actors, who seem to just be waiting for their cue and then sound as if they are reading their lines, she at least sounds more like she's talking than reading. The entire production just makes you want to shake your head, because if everyone would have actually been acting, this version would come across more like professionals were behind its making and not like a high school play.
These next three are my favorites and each in their unique way capture Mrs. Bennet as described by Austen.
Bride and Prejudice - Nadira Babbar is an excellent Mrs. Bennet (or Bakshi in this version). You can't have a real Mrs. Bennet unless she is embarrassing in public, pushy and ill-tempered at home. And because it is based on Pride and Prejudice, it also has to be done with a bit of a sense of humor, not in the way the lines are delivered, but in the way the scenes are set up. This version delivers all that! Nadira is one of my favorites because she fits the bill in all those areas.
1940 - Mary Boland plays Mrs. Bennet in my favorite movie version of P&P. Given the fact that this character is such a prominent figure for the story to unfold as it does in the book (even if there are divergences from it in bringing it to the screen, as in this case), not having a good Mrs. Bennet would mean not having a good movie. This is a great movie, and Mary Boland does her part in making it so. I love the opening scene where she, Jane and Lizzy are in the shop talking to Mrs. Lucas and after finding out about Mr. Bingley, she rushes to gather all the other girls so they can rush home to tell Mr. Bennet about it. Just how you would imagine Mrs. Bennet to act!
1995 - Alison Steadman - Having five hours to develop the characters is a big advantage of this adaptation, and unlike the 1980 BBC version, this one does a good job. Ms. Steadman is so good in this part that the extra time allowed for Mrs. Bennet enhances the entire movie. Nothing could better highlight how Alison nails the part of Mrs. Bennet down pat than the scene where she has just heard that her brother has found Lydia and arranged for Wickham and her to marry. How she goes from praising her brother to criticizing him in the space of two sentences, and the absurdity of rejoicing in the fact that her daughter is to be married to Wickham when moments earlier she was talking about what a scoundrel his is -- perfect Mrs. Bennet!