It’s official. Due to popular demand, the “Top 10 Goofs” and “Trivia Challenge” posts will be an ongoing series. The first two films I covered in this series were the 1995 and 2005 adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. I’ll do several more before shifting gears to other Austen novels.
When I decided to focus on the Pride and Prejudice 1940 adaptation with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier for this round, I confess that I expected the research to prove annoying. I have always struggled to get past the 1830s costumes in a Napoleonic era society. I struggled with the ages of the actors, the style of the acting and drastic changes in the plot. I began the research phase of this post looking only to find fault. After repeated viewings, however, I gained an appreciation for the unique charms of this adaptation. I like this film more now than I did when I set out to document its flaws.
In selecting the goofs, I eliminated intentional production decisions, such as the Victorian costumes, due to their being a conscious choice, while including similar observations that seem likely to be the product of oversight or inadequate research. A few items that I initially planned on citing as goofs were ultimately slated as “trivia,” and will be included in my next post. So here we go – the top ten goofs as I rated them.
10. Caroline’s secret correspondent. As far as we know, Caroline Bingley never bonded with anyone in Meryton beyond Jane Bennet, yet she receives a letter in London from an unnamed person specifically giving her all the gossip on the Bennet family’s disgrace. I have difficulty suspending my disbelief sufficient to allow her a single friend in Meryton.
9. Dance like it’s 1854. Wickham has asked Elizabeth to dance the next and they are chatting while waiting for the current dance to conclude. When the music begins, he turns and exclaims, “Ah, Polka Mazurka.” The composer of that title, Johann Strauss II, wasn’t born until 1825 and he didn’t compose it until 1854. Oops.
8. The ultimate Americanism. Traffic in the film flows on the right. In England, they drive and ride on the left side of the road, and have since Roman times. This way, if oncoming traffic was hostile, the sword arm was positioned on the right for defensive purposes. Considering that so many of the leads in the film were British, it’s astonishing that this detail was missed.
7. Mr. Bennet’s pipe. When Mrs. Bennet and her daughters are arriving at Longbourn from Meryton, Mr. Bennet sees them coming and puts away his pipe. Seconds later, when Mrs. Bennet walks into his study, he’s smoking it again in a classic continuity mistake.
6.) That’s “Miss Bennet” to you, sir. In declaring which of the Bennet daughters he wishes to wed, Mr. Collins first selects “Miss Jane.” As the eldest unmarried daughter, she is correctly referred to as “Miss Bennet.”
5.) No minor goof. In the confrontation between Lady Catherine and Elizabeth, Lady C claims to be the trustee of her sister’s estate, able to “strip Mr. Darcy of every shilling he has.” Elizabeth Bennet would have never been fooled by such a blatant falsehood since women’s property was forfeited to their husband on marriage and Darcy was of age and his father’s legitimate heir. His maternal aunt would never have been named a trustee of his father’s fortune in that world.
4.) When the last dance isn’t the last dance. The rules of etiquette and propriety of the Regency era were clearly defined and taught to the upper classes from childhood. It is inherent to Elizabeth’s character that she understands and complies with those expectations. If a woman declines to dance when asked, it is considered a declaration of her ineligibility to dance with other partners for the rest of the evening. In this scene, Elizabeth refuses to dance with Darcy and immediately accepts a dance with Wickham and doesn’t even blush. Austen’s Elizabeth would never behave so scandalously.
3.) The Reel heel. Elizabeth isn’t the only one gifted at the art of insult in this adaptation. When Bingley invites the neighborhood for a garden party and ball at Netherfield, Darcy is attentive to Elizabeth and requests to begin their acquaintance anew. When Jane and Bingley come upon them, they beckon the couple indoors for a Highland Reel, Darcy holds out his arm to Elizabeth and invites, “Shall we?” On their way, he overhears Mrs. Bennet boasting about Jane and Bingley and they encounter silly Lydia, drunk Kitty and the ever-present contingent of officers. At this point, he makes it clear that he’s only offering to escort Elizabeth into the room where there are plenty of men who will be happy to dance with her. The proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back” occurs when Collins shows up singing his ode to Lady Catherine and Darcy walks away without a word, or even a bow, leaving Elizabeth feeling the sting of his rejection so soon after his overture to make a fresh start. This degree of rudeness is excessive and completely out of character for Austen’s Mr. Darcy.
2.) Hide and Seek: Since we’re talking about out of character Darcy moments, one of the defining virtues of his character is that of being a scrupulously honest man, famously saying, “Disguise of every sort is my abhorrence.” In another scene at Bingley’s garden party, Mr. Collins is trying to catch up with Elizabeth, who is doing her best to avoid him. Darcy, observing the chase, begins to follow Elizabeth. Collins asks him if he has seen Elizabeth. Darcy, looking over Collins’ shoulder directly at Elizabeth–who is shaking her head–replies that no, he hasn’t seen her and misdirects him towards the lake. Is Darcy telling a lie a goof? I think so, as it undermines his excuse for being so forthright during his disastrous first proposal, and what we know of his character. What do you think?
1.) The envelope, please. This goof is difficult to believe it happened at all, considering that three decades will pass before the invention of gummed envelopes in 1845. But here we see Mrs. Bennet gleefully steaming an envelope that she believes contains a proposal to Jane from Mr. Bingley.
I’m curious as to how many of our readers have seen this film, general impressions you may have of it, and how many of the goofs you noticed. If you haven’t seen it but would like to, it costs $2.99 USD on YouTube or Amazon Prime to stream it. It may be available on other platforms as well. As always, if there is a goof I didn’t include, please mention it in the comments and expand the list.
My next post will be the Trivia Challenge for this adaptation. You’re going to LOVE it!