Pride and Prejudice movie characters, part 16

Elizabeth Bennet

Lizzy is supposed to be the second prettiest girl of the reported beauties in the area where Charles Bingley decides to take up residence, surpassed only by her sister Jane. One of her more endearing qualities is described here: “There was a mixture of sweetness and archness in her manner which made it difficult for her to affront anybody; and Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her.” Her playful teasing nature is seen when she says to Charlotte that if she doesn’t confront Darcy soon she will grow afraid of him, and then, of course, she proceeds to confront him! She is also described as a very happy person. For instance, when she learns that her trip with her aunt and uncle is not going to be long, the book says this of her: “Elizabeth was excessively disappointed; she had set her heart on seeing the Lakes, and still thought there might have been time enough. But it was her business to be satisfied – and certainly her temper to be happy; and all was soon right again.”

As far as essential events of the book goes, the occasion of Lizzy staying at Netherfield is most important because it is at this time that Darcy becomes totally captivated by her. This sets up his not being able to get her out of his mind, and by the time he encounters her at Rosings, he is too much in love and must propose. 

Most of the actors that have played Elizabeth fail on these most important aspects of her personality: not giving offense because her manner is sweet, her lighthearted sense of humor, and her very happy disposition. My opinion of the first two actors mentioned below is that they are particularly bad in displaying the real Lizzy Bennet because they are too determined to fight and give offense to Mr. Darcy instead of just teasing him. If someone is going to make a Pride and Prejudice movie, they should definitely get the two main characters and the most critical events that propel the story along right, don’t you agree?

Let me now present my choice of who plays the best Elizabeth Bennet:

Bride and Prejudice - Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as Lalita Bakshi. Despite the fact that I like this Bollywood style adaptation, Aishwarya Rai is the most combative Lizzy of the five versions we’ve been discussing and is therefore the least likely to make Mr. Darcy fall for her. She is mean when they first meet at the dance and when Darcy tries to make conversation about the arranged marriage that has brought everyone together. When they are at the next dance, she rudely dumps Darcy for Wickham, and she lashes out at him more than you expect Elizabeth to do. So, even though I love this movie, this portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet is way off.

1995 - Jennifer Ehle. Her conduct to Mr. Darcy when she is staying at Netherfield nursing Jane is also pretty confrontational. What makes this so bad is, it is at this time that Darcy, being presented with such sweetness combined with her displaying no desire to put herself forward to appeal to him and having no qualms about teasing him, finds her so irresistible. The way Ehle plays the part - or is directed to play the part - makes this most important part of the storyline unbelievable. And quite often, her face is expressionless when she should be showing some kind of emotions. I will say, though, this adaptation definitely gets better by the fourth episode.

2005 - Keira Knightley. I must say, Keira brings out Elizabeth’s pleasant teasing and good humored qualities very well in this movie. But one problem I have with this version is the way they hurry the story along in an effort to fit bits and pieces together in such a fashion that the real story is not given time to develop. They would have done much better leaving those long spaces when they’re just showing scenery (or dancing and such) out in order to give us more of the story and avoid that sense of having seen a movie via commercials. I mention this because it takes away from Knightley’s portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet.

1940 - Greer Garson is too old to have played Lizzy when she did, but she does such a fine job with the part. The scene with Darcy trying to teach her how to shoot a bow and arrow is brilliant. Yes, I know this is not in the book, but it helps you see reasons why Darcy would begin to have feelings for Lizzy. Also when Elizabeth is nursing Jane and she and Caroline are taking a turn about the room and she says, “If my leaving the room is a punishment to you, Mr. Darcy, you are quite right - my character reading is not very good.” (This may not be an exact quote, but it’s close enough.) There are many other scenes where Garson shines as Elizabeth Bennet, and if you have not seen this one, I highly recommend it because it sticks so closely to the spirit of the book and presents P&P as the charming heartfelt story that it is.

1980 - Elizabeth Garvie. It may surprise everyone to know that Garvie is my favorite Lizzy Bennet, but I base my feelings on how Jane Austen describes this character - she is happy, witty, and perfectly charming, not to mention very pretty indeed. This is the person I can imagine Darcy falling in love with despite his best efforts not to. I really wish they would have spent more money on doing this one as well as they later did the 1995 adaptation, because then Garvie’s work would be shown in its best light. But since it was a low budget film and a gathering of mostly mediocre actors, her portrayal of Lizzy Bennet is not going to be appreciated as it should. I highly recommend watching this version, or skipping through to the best scenes if you’re not able to stand seeing the whole thing, just to see Elizabeth Bennet come to life on the screen by Garvie’s performance.

Elizabeth Garvie