Pride and Prejudice (1940 film)

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Pride and Prejudice
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Z. Leonard
Produced by Hunt Stromberg
Written by Helen Jerome (dramatization)
Screenplay by
Based on Pride and Prejudice
1813 novel
by Jane Austen
Music by Herbert Stothart
Cinematography Karl Freund
Edited by Robert Kern
Distributed by MGM
Release dates
  • July 26, 1940 (1940-07-26) (USA)
Running time
117 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,437,000[1][2]
Box office $1.8 million[1][2]

Pride and Prejudice is a 1940 American film adaptation of Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice, directed by Robert Z. Leonard and starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier. The screenplay was written by Aldous Huxley and Jane Murfin, adapted specifically from the stage adaptation by Helen Jerome in addition to Jane Austen's novel. The film is about five sisters from an English family of landed gentry who must deal with issues of marriage, morality, and misconceptions. The film was released by MGM on July 26, 1940 in the United States, and was critically well received. The New York Times film critic praised the film as "the most deliciously pert comedy of old manners, the most crisp and crackling satire in costume that we in this corner can remember ever having seen on the screen."[3]

The film differs from the novel in a number of ways. The period of the film, for example, is later than that of Austen's novel—a change driven by the studio's desire to use more elaborate and flamboyant costumes than those from Austen's time period. Some scenes were altered significantly. For example, in the confrontation near the end of the film between Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Elizabeth Bennet, the former's haughty demand that Elizabeth promise never to marry Darcy was changed into a hoax to test the mettle and sincerity of Elizabeth's love. In the novel, this confrontation is an authentic demand motivated by Lady Catherine's snobbery and, especially, by her ardent desire that Darcy marry her own daughter.


Mrs. Bennet (Mary Boland) and her two eldest daughters, Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan) and Elizabeth (Greer Garson), are shopping for new dresses when they see two gentlemen and a lady alight from a very expensive carriage outside. They learn that the men are Mr. Bingley (Bruce Lester), who has just rented the local estate of Netherfield, and Mr. Darcy (Laurence Olivier), both wealthy, eligible bachelors, which excites Mrs. Bennet. Collecting her other daughters, Mrs Bennet returns home, where she tries to make Mr. Bennet see Mr. Bingley, but he refuses, having already made his acquaintance.

At the next ball, Elizabeth sees how proud Mr. Darcy is when she overhears him refusing to dance with her, and also meets Mr. Wickham, who tells Elizabeth how Mr. Darcy did him a terrible wrong. When Mr. Darcy does ask her to dance with him, she refuses, but when Mr. Wickham asks her right in front of Darcy, she accepts.

The Bennets' cousin, Mr. Collins (Melville Cooper), who will inherit the Bennet estate upon the death of Mr. Bennet, arrives, looking for a wife, and decides that Elizabeth will be suitable. At a ball held at Netherfield, he keeps following her around and won't leave her alone. Mr. Darcy surprisingly helps her out, and later asks her to dance. After seeing the reckless behavior of her mother and younger sisters, however, he leaves her again, making Elizabeth very angry with him once more. The next day, Mr. Collins asks her to marry him, but she refuses point blank. He then becomes engaged to her best friend, Charlotte Lucas (Karen Morley).

Elizabeth visits Charlotte in her new home. There, she is introduced to Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Edna May Oliver), and also encounters Mr. Darcy again. Later, he asks her to marry him, but she refuses, partly due to the story Wickham had told her about Darcy depriving him of his rightful fortune, and also because she has just learned that he broke up the romance between Mr. Bingley and Jane. They get into a heated argument and he leaves.

When Elizabeth returns to Longbourn, she learns that Lydia has eloped with Wickham. Mr. Darcy visits her and tells her that Wickham will never marry Lydia. He reveals that Wickham had tried to elope with his then 15-year-old sister, Georgiana. After he leaves, Elizabeth realizes that she loves him, but believes he will never see her again because of Lydia's disgraceful act. Lydia and Wickham return to the house married. Later, Lady Catherine visits and reveals that Mr. Darcy found Lydia and forced Wickham to marry her. Darcy reappears, and he and Elizabeth proclaim their love for each other. The movie ends with a long kiss between Elizabeth and Darcy, with Mrs. Bennet spying on them and seeing how her other daughters have found good suitors.


Greer Garson as Elizabeth Bennet
Laurence Olivier as Darcy


The filming of Pride and Prejudice was originally scheduled to start in October 1936 under Irving Thalberg's supervision, with Clark Gable and Norma Shearer cast in the leading roles.[4] Following Thalberg's death on September 13, 1936, pre-production activity was put on hold. In August 1939, MGM had selected George Cukor to direct the film, with Robert Donat now cast opposite Shearer.[4] The studio had considered filming in England, but these plans were changed at the start of the war in Europe in September 1939, which caused the closure of MGM's England operations. Cukor was eventually replaced by Robert Z. Leonard due to a scheduling conflict.[4]


The film was critically well received. Bosley Crowther in his review for The New York Times described the film as "the most deliciously pert comedy of old manners, the most crisp and crackling satire in costume that we in this corner can remember ever having seen on the screen." Crowther also praised casting decisions and noted of the two central protagonists:

Greer Garson is Elizabeth—'dear, beautiful Lizzie'—stepped right out of the book, or rather out of one's fondest imagination: poised, graceful, self-contained, witty, spasmodically stubborn and as lovely as a woman can be. Laurence Olivier is Darcy, that's all there is to it—the arrogant, sardonic Darcy whose pride went before a most felicitous fall.[3]

TV Guide, commenting upon the changes made to the original novel by this adaptation, calls the film "an unusually successful adaptation of Jane Austen's most famous novel. Although the satire is slightly reduced and coarsened and the period advanced in order to use more flamboyant costumes, the spirit is entirely in keeping with Austen's sharp, witty portrait of rural 19th century social mores." The reviewer goes on to note:

Garson never did anything better than her Elizabeth Bennet. Genteel but not precious, witty yet not forced, spirited but never vulgar, Garson's Elizabeth is an Austen heroine incarnate. Olivier, too, has rarely been better in a part requiring the passion of his Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights but strapping it into the straitjacket of snobbery.[5]

The film received an 88% rating from Rotten Tomatoes (7 fresh and 1 rotten reviews).[6]

Box office[edit]

According to MGM records the film earned $1,849,000, resulting in a loss of $241,000, despite the fact that it's budget was $1,437,000.[2]

Differences between the film and novel[edit]

At 35, Greer Garson was much older than the book's Elizabeth, who is only 20.

Among aficionados of Jane Austen's original novel, this movie adaptation diverges drastically from the novel and being excessively "Hollywoodized"—and for putting the women in clothes based on the styles of the late 1820s-1830s, which were different from the Regency styles appropriate to the novel's setting.

The timeframe of the movie's plot progression is noticeably compressed, with certain events being juxtaposed in the film that were separated by days, weeks or even months in the novel. Wickham did not attend the Meryton ball where Darcy first insults Elizabeth, and in fact never attended any ball at which Darcy was also present. There is an archery scene between Darcy and Elizabeth that is not present at all in the novel. Darcy's revelation of Wickham's attempted elopement with his own sister, Georgiana, is not done in person after Lydia and Wickham's elopement as is shown in the movie; in the novel, he describes these events to Elizabeth in the letter he delivers to her the day after she turns down his marriage proposal during her stay at Hunsford.

The film eliminates two journeys:

  1. In the novel, Jane travels to London with the Bennett girls' Aunt and Uncle Gardiner after the Christmas holiday. The Bingleys, the Hursts and Darcy had already left Hertfordshire for London at the time, shortly after the Netherfield ball on 26 November, and Jane specifically goes in the hopes of seeing Charles Bingley and continuing their fledgling courtship. Darcy and Bingley's sisters actively conceal her being in London from Charles in their efforts to put an end to Charles and Jane's budding romance, which Darcy confesses to during his proposal to Elizabeth at Hunsford.
  2. Later in the novel, Elizabeth plans an extensive tour of the 'lake country' with the same aunt and uncle, only to have her uncle's business responsibilities cut short the time available for the trip and rerouting the trio to Derbyshire. In Derbyshire, Elizabeth has an opportunity to see Pemberley, Darcy's home estate, and to see a different side of Darcy than she had encountered previously. She also meets Georgiana Darcy and develops a rapport with the shy teenager, to Darcy's great pleasure. This is the first time Darcy has seen her since the disastrous marriage proposal as well, and his first opportunity to show her how much he has changed in the wake of her scathing rejection and rebukes. It is during this trip that Elizabeth and Darcy both find out about Lydia's elopement, via Jane's letters to Elizabeth begging her to return with their aunt and uncle in the face of the family crisis.

Also changed is the timing of Lydia's elopement with Wickham. In the novel, Lydia follows Wickham's regiment to Brighton as the companion of the colonel's wife, and elopes with Wickham from there. As described above, this takes place while Elizabeth is in Derbyshire with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, not after Elizabeth's return from her visit to the Collins' at Hunsford as happens in the movie. When Lydia and Wickham visit Longbourn after their wedding in the novel, which is several weeks after the initial elopement and Elizabeth's return from Derbyshire, it is Lydia who reveals that Darcy was at their wedding, and it is Elizabeth's Aunt Gardiner who, by letter, reveals his role in getting the elopees to the altar. Mary and Kitty do not have suitors at the end of the novel.

By far the biggest difference between the novel and the film is in Lady Catherine de Bourgh's motives for calling on Elizabeth at the Bennets' home in the final scenes. In the movie, she comes at the behest of Darcy to test whether Elizabeth would be receptive to a second marriage proposal, whereas in the novel, Lady Catherine comes on her own steam to thwart just such a turn of events.

The following characters were eliminated completely from this film adaptation:

  • Georgiana Darcy (Fitzwilliam Darcy's younger sister)
  • Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner (Elizabeth's maternal uncle and his wife)
  • Colonel and Mrs. Forster (the commanding officer of the Meryton regiment and his wife, whom Lydia goes to Brighton as a companion to in the novel)
  • Maria Lucas (Charlotte Lucas' younger sister)
  • Mr. and Mrs. Hurst (Charles Bingley's married sister and her husband)


Pride and Prejudice received an Academy Award for Best Art Direction, Black and White (Cedric Gibbons and Paul Groesse).[7]


  1. ^ a b Glancy, H. Mark "When Hollywood Loved Britain: The Hollywood 'British' Film 1939-1945" (Manchester University Press, 1999)
  2. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study .
  3. ^ a b Crowther, Bosley (August 9, 1940). "'Pride and Prejudice,' a Delightful Comedy of Manners". The New York Times. Retrieved August 16, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c "Pride and Prejudice: Notes". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved August 16, 2014. 
  5. ^ "Pride and Prejudice". TV Guide. Retrieved August 16, 2014. 
  6. ^ Pride and Prejudice (1940) @ Rotten Tomatoes
  7. ^ "Pride and Prejudice (1940)". The New York Times. Retrieved August 16, 2014. 

External links[edit]