After last month’s “goofs” blog, a few of the comments reminded me of some trivia factoids about Pride and Prejudice, such as the footage from the Netherfield Ball that had to be scrapped because there was a hair in the lens of one of the cameras. I started thinking about how much I’ve enjoyed the bonus material on my DVD and the interviews I’ve seen and decided that a top 10 Trivia list of some of these little nuggets would be fun. I jotted down a few but then realized that most of them would already be familiar to the Austen Authors readers. I scoured the internet to expand the list and hopefully increase my odds of finding something you didn’t already know. So … the challenge, should you choose to accept it, is simple. Count up the ones you already knew, and post your score in the comments.
20.) Georgiana’s Mum: After auditioning over 70 actresses for the role of Georgiana, they had not cast an actress with the combination of innocence, pride, shyness and an aristocratic demeanor. Simon Langton, the director suggested Emelia Fox, the daughter of Joanna David, who played Mrs. Gardiner. It gives an ironic twist to that line Mrs. Gardiner says in the inn at Lampton, “Not that I or anyone of my acquaintance enjoyed the privilege of intimacy with that family. We moved in very different circles.”
19.) The role of the British press: The British press had realized the power of hooking an audience with an ongoing story. The phenomenon was evident with the real-life dramas of the O.J. Simpson trial and the Charles and Diana saga. They quickly zeroed in on public excitement over Pride and Prejudice and started feeding the frenzy with stunts intended to stir it even more.
18.) The natural man: Simon Langton, the director, having reviewed past adaptations of Austen novels, felt that they were all rather uptight. He wanted to humanize the men by emphasizing “the natural man,” particularly their physical aspects. We see this manifested in the opening scene where Darcy and Bingley race through the fields to see Netherfield Hall. The iconic lake scene is another example of this dimension of the series.
17.) Retro Dancing: Some of the dances in Pride and Prejudice were taken from a book, The Apted Book of Country Dances (1966) by W.S. Porter., which comprises 24 late-18th-century dances by Charles and Samuel Thompson such as “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot”, used in the iconic dance between Darcy and Elizabeth at the Netherfield Ball. Others from this period in the book are “The Shrewsbury Lasses” and “A Trip to Highgate” which were also used in dancing scenes. Now for the dirty little secret – despite the sense of authenticity we get from the scenes using these dances, they would have been out of fashion in the decade Pride and Prejudice was set, sort of like if a modern film used disco to stand in for hip-hop.
16.) Bouncing Bingley: Crispin Bonham-Carter was no horseman. At least not prior to Pride and Prejudice. One of the first orders of business prior to film production for our dear Mr. Bingley was to teach him to ride.
15.) Copycat wedding dresses: The costume designer, Dinah Collin, said that after the series had aired, she had numerous inquiries from prospective brides looking to replicate Elizabeth’s wedding dress for themselves. She graciously obliged them with the information.
14.) The secret of the shawls: Susannah Harker, the actress who played Jane, was actually pregnant during filming. They concealed her condition with flattering cuts on her dresses and the clever use of shawls. Her hair, unlike Jennifer Ehle’s, was her natural hair. She had to report early in the morning to have her hair styled, and then in order to preserve the work of art that was her hair, could not lay down at any point during the day, despite fatigue from her pregnancy.
13.) Jane Austen’s post-mortem award: Jane Austen placed 10th on the Entertainment Weekly “Entertainer of the Year” list in 1995, thanks to the productions of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion and Clueless, a modern adaptation of Emma.
12.) Caroline’s costumes and connections: Anna Chancellor, who played Caroline Bingley, is tall. Costume designer, Dinah Collin, stated that Anna is over six feet tall in the Special Edition DVD featurette. (This is contradicted by her BBC profile and IMDB Biography, which put her at 5’11” and 5’10” respectively.) In any case, Ms. Collins frequently gave her headdresses with tall feathers to add more height to her already statuesque form. Anna is distinguished not only by her stellar performance as Caroline Bingley, but also by kinship. She is the sixth-great niece of Jane Austen through Austen’s brother, Edward.
11.) Stage directions: Andrew Davies sprinkled the script with notes to the actors that the viewers were never aware of. He revealed in an interview that one such note said that Darcy first realizes that he fancies Elizabeth when she is approaching Netherfield after walking through the muddy fields and he gets turned on by the rosy-cheeked Elizabeth. Likewise, Elisabeth first realizes that she’s in love with Darcy in the music room at Pemberley. My favorite revelation was shared by Crispin Bonham-Carter who said that one such direction instructed Darcy to look as though somebody farted. I wish I knew which scene that was. Perhaps when Lady Catherine is demanding her share of the conversation? Or maybe in the scene where he stands up as the groomsman to Wickham?
10.) The cart before the horse: The sequence of filming a production is never sequential, but is aligned with the schedules of locations and actors. It worked out that the filming of the Hunsford proposal fell on day two of filming, long before Firth and Ehle had a chance to get to know each other. Could that have been a source of some of the tension in the scene? Would the palpable awkwardness have been as potent if it had filmed when they were no longer strangers?
9.) The accommodating table: Lucy Briers, the actress cast as Mary Bennet, is a vegetarian. It didn’t take long for the set people laying out the tables for the Longbourn meals to recognize that she was repulsed by the trays of meat set in front of her on the table, particularly since the food was often left in place for hours for multiple takes. Adjustments were made, and you’ll note if you look at the food at the Bennet family meals, Mary is seated near the fruit and bread in most of them.
8.) No Regrets: Although it has been widely reported that Colin Firth regrets having played the role of Darcy due to it serving as type-casting that took him years to overcome, he denies this is true and that he is grateful for what Pride and Prejudice did for his career. He said that the best way he has found to survive the Darcy phenomenon is with humor. He laughingly admits that if he became an astronaut and participated in a moon expedition, the headlines would proclaim, “Mr. Darcy Lands on the Moon.” The ironic twist of humor and chance to laugh along with the world in an enormous inside joke is the reason he accepted the role of Mark Darcy for the Bridget Jones’s Diary film series. He even filmed a scene with Renee Zellweger still in character as fangirl/reporter Bridget Jones while he shed his character of Mark Darcy and played himself. Though it was not used in “The Edge of Reason” film, it WAS included in the bonus material as a deleted scene.
7.) Almost not Darcy: I have seen various versions of the history. It all starts with the producer, Sue Birtwistle, who had worked with Colin Firth on a comedy film in the 80’s and wanted to cast him as Darcy. Some versions say he refused her outright at first, while others say he wasn’t initially thrilled with Austen’s feminine viewpoint. All agree that it was, at one point, up in the air as to whether he would accept the part. In an interview with Francine Stock for the “Life in Pictures” series, Colin speaks to what happened. He said that when he made the opportunity known to those in his inner circle, he was bombarded with pleas not to do it. His aunt said that he shouldn’t do it because she had always been in love with the character of Darcy, and he would change all that. His own brother told him that he couldn’t be Darcy because “he’s supposed to be sexy.” Firth was also worried about how to play Darcy because there is so little dialogue, and Austen didn’t “write men from the inside.” In the Stock interview, he said:
If you battle over something long enough, you get involved without realizing.
Just as he was about to say no, he realized that if he did, someone else would get to do it. He suddenly felt territorial about the role and realized that the idea of someone else taking it on stirred immense jealousy in him, so he finally agreed. When he showed up to formally audition for the role, he had not yet read the final episode (and apparently, not the novel either….) He didn’t even realize that Darcy and Elizabeth get married in the end.
6.) Can you dance if here’s no music?: Because there was dialogue filmed during the dance scenes, the music was not audible on set while the dances were executed. Instead, the dancers and the musicians were fed the audio through earpieces. The musicians pantomimed while the dancers danced. The music was then added to the soundtrack in the post-production phase.
5.) Sold out: In spite of the fact that the series ran on television and viewers could tape the episodes themselves, the initial retail release of 12,000 VHS tapes unexpectedly sold out in two hours.
4.) The absentee hero: Colin Firth was nowhere near England when the series began to air. He was in South America, where he met his now-wife, Livia. He was completely unaware of the Darcy craze going on in the U.K., and when his mother told him about it. His response was, “I only had my mum’s word for it,” speaking of the phenomenon. Eventually, a friend sent him some of the newspaper articles and tapes of radio programs that convinced him that his mother wasn’t exaggerating.
3.) Gooseberries vs. grapes: There was a Bennet family dinner scene which was to take place during the dessert course. Benjamin Whitrow and Alison Steadman–aka Mr. and Mrs. Bennet–were allowed to specify their desserts since they were supposed to be seen eating them in the scene. Whitrow chose his favorite: “Gooseberry Fool,” a rich confection made of gooseberries, butter, sugar, and cream, while Steadman chose grapes. After each take, the set dressers would re-fill Whitrow’s bowl with his creamy dessert. The multiple takes took two days, and by the end of them, Whitrow was so sick of his choice that he had completely lost his taste for “Gooseberry Fool,” while Steadman, who merely had to pop a grape into her mouth here or there, was none the worse for it.
2.) Wardrobe malfunction: In the double wedding scene, the costume department kept stopping the filming to re-arrange Bingley’s trousers. Much to his frustration, they felt no need to adjust Darcy’s wardrobe.
1.) The Lake Scene: When I first learned that the original script had Darcy jumping into his pond sans clothing of any kind, I didn’t believe it, but on reflection, I realized that it would have been accurate for the period, even if it wasn’t Austen cannon. Some sources said that Firth balked at the idea, but he said he probably would have done it in an interview. Other sources said that the BBC did not want to tarnish their family friendly reputation with nudity. The initial compromise was to have him jump wearing just underwear, and the costume department rigged him up with a pair of pantaloon-style skivvies that weren’t authentic in any way. It was agreed that they were ridiculous and so the version of him in a wet shirt and breeches was born. Of course, it fit with Andrew Davies’ concept for the scene, which was the social awkwardness it would cause for the prideful Mr. Darcy to encounter Elizabeth while sopping wet. The takeaway from this is that one must never underestimate the power of a wet shirt on an attractive man.
Score and Rank:
- 18-20 – Master
- 15-17 – Pro
- 10-14 – Expert
- 5-9 – Amateur
- 0-4 – Novice
If you know of some trivia I didn’t include in the list, or would like to expand on the details of one I did, please don’t hesitate to share it.
Resources and References:
Featurette – Pride and Prejudice 10-year Anniversary Special Edition DVD