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One week ago today, (Friday 5th September 2015) I booked myself into a hotel in Alton and tried to get an early night. The only problem with that was that I was too excited to sleep. So, a very weary me got up at 6.30am and began to get ready for what I can describe as one of the best days of my life. I was going to Chawton House Library for the BBC Pride & Prejudice Reflections Around a Much-Loved Production event.
But as if that was exciting enough, there was also going to be a cast reunion, yay!!
On arrival, everyone was given a name badge and then we all gathered in the old kitchen for tea/coffee and biscuits. It was a lovely to chat like-minded fans and put names and faces together.
The morning session, and the first portion of the afternoon session, were spent listened to some very informative and entertaining speakers. (left to right)
Nora Nachumi (Yeshiva University, New York, final speaker), Juliette Wells (Goucher College, Baltimore, 2nd speaker), Sayre Greenfield (The University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg) and Linda V Troost (Washington & Jefferson College, Pennsylvania, joint 3rd speakers), Simon Langton (Director), Devoney Looser (Arizona State University, 1st speaker), and finally on the far right is Gillian Dow, Executive Director at Chawton House Library and Associate Professor at the University of Southampton
Their talks were packed full of interesting facts and information that they had painstakingly researched, including snippets like,
Most editions of Pride & Prejudice prior to the Peacock Edition of 1894 contained no images of Mr Darcy. The few that could be found were either only a half view, or very unflattering. (Darcy with a paunch, never!) This was because he was not considered a central character, and even Jane Austen herself only described him as, a fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien.
We also discovered that the character of Colonel Fitzwilliam was named Guy in early stage productions, and not Richard as we have all come to know him. Guy just doesn’t suit him at all.
I was first introduced to Pride & Prejudice with the 1940 film starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. What I did not know until last week, was that Clark Gable had been shortlisted for the role first, who knew?
Now there have been many incarnation of Pride & Prejudice via the stage, TV and movie, but it is the BBC 1995 production that has earned a place in TV history and our hearts. So much so it now has a cult status with millions of fans worldwide.
So when the director, Simon Langton took to the floor, the room fell silent. We were not disappointed.
He regaled us with tales and secrets from the production set and we sat spellbound. For instance, did you know that for insurance and H+S reasons, Colin’s pond scene was actually filmed in a tank at Ealing. However, with hindsight it might have been safer to film it in the pond. Due to a decision made by the first assistant, the last section of the metal lid that covered the tank was not removed. This meant that when Mr Darcy (Colin Firth) resurfaced from his dive, his nose collided with the rim of the cover, ouch! Fortunately, there was no lasting damage and Simon was able to work around Colin’s injury.
Another interesting fact Simon revealed was that Colin was a dyslexic dancer. Luckily Jane Gibson was on hand to teach him and choreographed the dance sequences. Yet when you watch him and Jennifer Ehle dancing to Mr Beveridge’s Maggot, he looks at ease and totally professional. Well done Jane!
One final secret, they had considered using Chatsworth as Pemberley, but the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire insisted that no area was to be closed to the public during filming. This would render it impossible to use as a location. Therefore, Simon looked for a more suitable place to use. When he found Lyme House, he knew he had found the perfect home for Mr Darcy.
Also, Huw Prall, one of the dance extras attended. Huw told me that they had a whole week of rehearsals before shooting the dance scenes for the Meryton Assembly, which were actually filmed at Ealing Studios. He has a wonderful collection of memorabilia relating to the show and was kind enough to let the delegates pore over it, literally. Huw was bombarded with an array of questions about Regency Era dancing. Some from ladies attending the Bath Regency Festival, and some from the scholars. How wonderful, that after 200 years, there are still people like Huw and Jane to pass on these dying traditions.
Finally, we came to the moment we had all been waiting for, the introduction of the cast. Almost every person present held up their camera, and the stars must have felt transported back to 1995. Though they need no introduction, I have added their names in case you are new to Pride & Prejudice
Benjamin Whitrow (Mr Bennet), Susannah Harker (Jane Bennet), Crispin Bonham-Carter (Mr Bingley), Simon Langton, Director, Jane Gibson, Choreographer, Polly Maberly (Kitty Bennet), and Joanna David (Mrs Gardiner
Oh, where to start? Ok, I will move around in order of appearance.
Ben was charming, a perfect gentleman. He revealed that he had based his character, Mr Bennet, on his own father, who, he said, totally adored his mother. Unfortunately, he also loved to tease her. We see this clearly in his portrayal of Mr Bennet and his constant ribbing of Mrs Bennet. Sadly a few of the cast, including Ben found it hard to get work for a period of time after the phenomenal success of P & P.
Susannah is as lovely today as she was in 1995, both in looks and personality. She happily signed autographs and posed for pictures for all who wanted a souvenir of the day. (Including me)
Crispin, well, first of all, be still my beating heart. Crispin has improved with age, and although handsome as Mr Bingley, he is now quite the show stopper in my humble opinion. Crispin admitted that he is not a great horseman, and during the opening sequence of the first episode, it was a stunt double who galloped across the field. He also revealed he had been asked, some years later, to play Mr Darcy in a stage adaptation of P & P. Wisely he turned it down. Crispin in now the Head of Department and teachers English in a London school.
Polly was lovely. She has blossomed into a beautiful and charming woman, with no sign of the awkward, snivelling Kitty, who we all remember. She was only 17 when she won the part of Kitty, but I personally think she did a wonderful job. Polly now does a lot of voice-over work, and will start shooting her first film part in the new year.
Joanna doesn’t seem to have aged a day, and talks in the quiet voice of Mrs Gardiner. She confided that she hated wearing the corsets and would happily never wear one again. Over a coffee, Joanna also confirmed that her daughter, Emilia Fox, had stepped in to play Georgiana at the last minute. This was because Simon had been unable to finding an actress that matched his image of Georgiana. Also, it was actually Emilia playing the piano in her scenes. Wow, to be so young, so beautiful and so talented.
It was most rewarding to see Jane and Mr Bingley reunited after 20 years.
In the world of any Pride & Prejudice fan, Jane and Charles Bingley could do nothing but live happily ever after. So it was lovely to see Crispin and Susannah laughing together, confirming the imaginary outcome for two of our favourite characters. Ben and Crispin were as charming as their characters, and the highlight of my day was meeting them both. Gentlemen are a dying bread in the world, but today I have met two.
On a sadder note, David Bamber, (Mr Collins) was unable to attend. His loss was keenly felt.:-)
Also, Mr Darcy, (Colin Firth) was not in attendance BUT, the shirt was. I happily posed along side it, imagining Mr Darcy emerging from the lake.
On a more personal note and for those who do not know, I am a writer, and I took along a copy of the first novel I wrote, a Pride & Prejudice ‘what if’ variation called Mr Darcy’s Struggle. Happily, I managed to get all the attending casts autographs. It is something I will treasure forever, along with my memories of this wonderful day.
This celebration of twenty years passing since the release of Pride & Prejudice was a ticketed event, and only 60 seats were available. I feel immensely proud to have been one of the lucky few to attend. I hope this Blog Post has passed on a little of the excitement we experienced and the secrets we were privileged to learn, from both the academics and the cast. With special thanks to Simon, Jane, Huw, The Chawton House Library, and of course Miss Jane Austen, whom without, none of this would have been possible. M xx
Our very best
Lizzie and Darcy x