Pride and Prejudice, a story of family, courtship, and the economics of marriage, is the most famous of Jane Austen’s novels, and has become the blueprint for countless romantic comedies. In 1995, the BBC released an adaptation of the novel in a six-episode miniseries starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet. The sly, sexy series quickly engrossed the world and made the public hungry for all the juicy tidbits that went on behind the scenes. Here are 41 bosom-heaving facts about the 1995 miniseries.
A recent study performed by two professors reveals that Darcy was not the dreamboat we imagine. They deduced that according to the beauty standards of the time, Darcy would have longish, powdered-white hair, smaller muscles (after all, he didn’t work for a living), and a pale face (only laborers rocked a tan) with a pointed nose (the better to look down upon people). But hey, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? And, as Elizabeth notes, Pemberley is a sight to behold.
In 2013, the BBC commemorated the 200th Anniversary of Pride and Prejudice by re-enacting the lavish Netherfield Ball. Experts worked tirelessly to recreate the Regency experience with the exact foods, fashion, music and dances that Austen herself would have experienced at a ball. What made the event truly exciting was the location; the ball took place at Chawton House, the former home of Austen’s brother Edward.
Lydia Bennet has only one thing on her mind: men. She is obsessed with all of the officers at the nearby encampment, and lasciviously encourages Kitty to accompany her into town to visit their friend Denny “before he is dressed,”—right in front of her parents! When Austen speaks of Lydia’s “high animal spirits,” it is evident that the youngest Bennet can’t be tamed.
Ehle and Firth did not share a major dialogue scene until three weeks into shooting. When they did share one, they dove in headfirst with the scene where Darcy proposes in the rudest way possible and Elizabeth turns him down in a war of words. Despite barely knowing each other, the actors nailed the scene in only two takes.
Darcy is a character known for being taciturn and silent to the point of extreme rudeness. In interviews, however, Firth describes his interpretation of Darcy’s character as quite wild and tempestuous, a man trapped by societal rules who “wants to have sex with her, or he wants to hit somebody, or he wants to scream at somebody or he wants to leave the room but he’s denying himself that.”
The 2001 film Bridget Jones’ Diary is a modern retelling of the Pride and Prejudice story, complete with embarrassing family members, skewed first impressions, and Colin Firth playing the arrogant, stoic Mark Darcy.
Crispin Bonham-Carter plays the adorable and rich Mr. Bingley, who wins Jane Bennet's heart by the end of the series. The actor also makes a cameo in Bridget Jones’ Diary as an employee of—ahem—Pemberley Press.
Before taking on the part of Lydia, Julia Sawalha was well-known in the UK for her character Saffron in the hit series Absolutely Fabulous. In the series Saffron is the boring, conservative daughter of her wild mother—the polar opposite of Lydia Bennet!
Benjamin Whitrow (Mr. Bennet) and Sawalha (Lydia) had a reunion of sorts in the animated film Chicken Run. Whitrow voiced Fowler, a no-nonsense ex-military rooster, and Sawalha played the cheerful and clever hen Ginger.
Screenwriter Andrew Davies was persuaded to write the screenplay for the film when a producer told him that the story was about “sex, money and social climbing.”
When the Bennet family’s attractive new neighbour Mr. Bingley arrives at the public assembly, he brings along his snobbish sister Caroline Bingley. Although Miss Bingley is a character that Austen fans love to hate, the actress who plays her in the series is actually related to the author herself. Anna Chancellor is the distant relative of Austen’s older brother Edward.
Susannah Harker, who plays the lovely Jane Bennet, is the daughter of actress Polly Adams, who played Jane in the 1967 version of Pride and Prejudice. Harker didn’t watch a tape of her mother’s performance because she wanted to give the role her own interpretation.
Although Elizabeth Bennet is one of the most famous literary Englishwomen, the actress who won the role is decidedly un-English. Jennifer Ehle was born in North Carolina, although her mother is British. She ended up winning a BAFTA for her portrayal of Lizzie, the ultimate English stamp of approval.
The scene where Darcy arrives at his estate and dives into a reedy pond became a national sensation in England, due mainly to how Colin Firth filled out his sopping wet white shirt. Ironically enough, Firth almost turned down the role because he believed that he wasn’t sexy enough to do Darcy justice.
Although Elizabeth is the protagonist of Pride and Prejudice, screenwriter Andrew Davies wanted to also feature the male perspective within the series. Davies wrote scenes of Darcy taking baths, remembering his past with Wickham, fantasizing about Elizabeth, and connecting with nature. This allowed the audience to see different, deeper sides of the character. It also serves to show Darcy’s overpowering sexual attraction to Elizabeth, which he could never reveal in public.
Firth’s aunt pleaded with her nephew to turn down the part because of the massive crush she had on the character back in her school days. Fair enough!
Originally, Firth’s diving scene was going to be filmed completely in the nude! However, the BBC quickly put the kibosh on the idea due to their broadcasting standards about nudity. After dismissing the idea of Firth sporting tighty-whities (underwear wasn’t really a thing back then), the production team decided to keep Firth clothed.
Instead of building elaborate sets, P&P filmed at various grand estates around England. This gives the series a strong sense of authenticity, and probably helped the actors get into character. However, many of these estates happened to neighbor military bases; director Simon Langton regularly had to worry about fighter planes rocketing through shots of an English setting that was nearly a century away from the invention of airplane flight.
The reaction to Pride and Prejudice after it aired verged on cultural mania, especially towards the two main characters. However, Firth missed most of the furor since he was off in the desert filming The English Patient. Firth’s mother tried to tell him in their weekly phone calls about the public’s enthusiasm for the series, but he thought she was joking and only said “Yeah, right, Mum.” By the last episode, 40% of England was watching the series.
The 2008 series Lost in Austen features a modern young woman named Amanda who is obsessed with Pride and Prejudice in all forms. In a fantastical twist, Amanda discovers Elizabeth Bennet crawling through a portal in her bathroom that leads back to the past. After switching places, Amanda gets to meet the famous Mr. Darcy (whom she compares unfavorably to Colin Firth) and even asks him to jump into a pool on his estate so she can fangirl to her heart's delight.
In Austen’s time, the upper-class were supposed to act with the height of propriety, always repressing impulses and concealing strong emotions. Austen would likely be scandalized by screenwriter Andrew Davies, who wrote a saucy stage direction in the scene where Darcy sees Lizzie disheveled and muddy: he wrote that Firth should imagine that Darcy gets an erection.
Scenes set in Meryton, the nearest town to the Bennet family, were filmed in Lacock Village of Wiltshire, England. The village can also be glimpsed in the Harry Potter films, specifically Slughorn’s hideout in the village of Budleigh Babberton in Half-Blood-Prince.
Luckington Court in the Cotswolds was chosen to represent Longbourne, the Bennet’s family home. Luckington Court may soon further become a part of British history, as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are apparently thinking of purchasing the 7.7 million-pound property after their wedding.
Ehle and Firth fell for each other during filming and dated for a brief period. In a 2015 interview, however, Ehle squashed fans' hopes of a romantic reunion by saying, “I’m not in touch with anyone from Pride and Prejudice. We filmed it 21 years ago.” The actress lives in Upstate New York with her husband and children, and Firth lives with his wife and children in both Italy and London.
Even though there may be no chance of romance, Best Picture Winner The King’s Speech was something of a Firth/Ehle reunion. The film featured Firth as the King and Ehle as the wife of the King’s language teacher (as played by Geoffrey Rush). In the sole scene the iconic lovebirds share, Geoffrey Rush introduces the two by saying, “I believe you two have met before.” David Bamber (who played the wonderfully slimy clergyman Mr. Collins) also has a small role in the film.
Halfway through shooting, Susannah Harker announced that she was pregnant. However, since she had a history of miscarriage, she had to take extreme caution in some scenes. In the scene where Jane rides to Netherfield alone in the rain, a host of stunt men walked alongside her—just outside of camera range—in case the horse became spooked and tried to jostle her off. The scene went well, and Harker later gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
Crispin Bonham-Carter’s character Bingley is constantly begging his friend Darcy to be more social and vivacious instead of glaring at everyone. However, behind the scenes Bonham-Carter and Firth would spend hours flirting with the girls in the make-up room and strolling around gossiping about their various crushes.
Benjamin Whitrow passed away in September 2017 at the age of 80, having over 100 acting roles to his name. His portrayal of Mr. Bennet was so beloved that many obituaries included a photo of Whitrow in character on the set of Pride and Prejudice.
In 2016, a museum in Washington hosted an exhibit about the cult of celebrity that surrounds William Shakespeare and Jane Austen. Despite featuring such rarities as a lock of Austen’s hair, the most photographed item of the show was the shirt Firth wore so memorably (and wetly) in the 1995 series. It was simply labelled as “THE SHIRT.”
For insurance reasons, Firth was not allowed to dive into the water on location because of the danger of contracting Weil’s Disease—a potentially fatal illness caused by contact with rat urine. A stuntman dressed in Firth’s costume performed the dive.
Ironically, when Firth shot his underwater scenes in a tank under careful supervision, he ended up smashing his nose on a metal crossbar. There was only minor swelling, however, and director Langton joked that he briefly had to stop shooting Firth in profile in case any bumps showed.
Barbara Leigh-Hunt, the actress who plays the frightful Lady Catherine in the 1995 series, is Godmother to the daughter of Judi Dench—who plays Lady Catherine in the 2005 film version of the story.
In the book sequel Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, (which is loosely based on Jane Austen’s Persuasion) Bridget travels to Italy to interview Colin Firth for a newspaper profile. Instead of asking him about his current projects, Bridget interrogates him about how many times he had to change his wet shirt during the filming of Pride and Prejudice.
Mrs. Bennet is constantly embarrassing her daughters by crowing about the annual incomes of any single men in their vicinity, but modern viewers may not understand the worth of Darcy’s 10, 000 pounds a year. Taking into account lower costs relative to income during the Regency, interest from his investments, profit from his land holdings, not to mention the large family fortune, Darcy’s total worth is close to a million pounds a year in today's money—or more.
Elizabeth is disappointed when her friend Charlotte Lucas becomes engaged to the sycophantic clergyman Mr. Collins, and viewers may wonder if poor Charlotte has lost her mind. Actually, at the ripe old age of 27 (women reached a societal expiry date extremely early in those days), Charlotte is merely being realistic about her options. She cannot work and her parents have limited financial resources—so she chooses the security of married life.
In 2013, three artists created a 12-foot fibreglass statue of Colin Firth as Wet Shirt Darcy that was erected in Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park, London. The statue was actually a publicity stunt to promote a new TV channel that would feature content similar to Pride and Prejudice. After moving to several different locations, the statue was ultimately placed in Lyme Park, where the scene from the miniseries was filmed.
Although Caroline Bingley thinks the Bennets are beneath her family, the Bingleys are (*gasp*) nouveau-riche, and have only had their money for a generation. This a detail that the series exposes almost immediately, when Mr. Bingley decides to rent Netherfield Park—there is no family estate for him to inherit.
During the series, Elizabeth is shocked by a letter from home that informs her that Lydia has eloped to Gretna Green in Scotland. People of Austen’s era would know immediately what this meant: Gretna Green was the place to go for quickie wedding—just as Vegas is today. Since England had strict laws stating that anyone under 21 could not marry without their parents’ consent, many young lovebirds scurried across the border before anyone caught on.
In one of the most intense scenes of the series, Elizabeth dances and verbally spars with Darcy at the Netherfield ball –going back on her vow to never dance with the man who had insulted her. Their chemistry is palpable, which makes it even funnier that one of the songs the orchestra is playing is called “Mr. Beverage’s Maggot.”
Austen never comes straight out and says that Lydia is no longer a virgin, but the series leaves little ambiguity on the matter. Wickham and Lydia never made it to Scotland but are living together in London—one scene shows Lydia in bed (with disheveled sheets) in her nightgown, looking goopily at Wickham.
Their characters are sworn enemies, but Colin Firth and Adrian Lukis got so drunk on the first night of filming that they ended up naked in a Jacuzzi in Firth’s room after he had bragged about his swanky accommodations. Their co-star Joanna David (who plays Elizabeth’s Aunt Gardiner) couldn’t stop laughing when she found Lukis and Firth in the Jacuzzi—and apparently took photos of the inebriated pair. Did she take them to the tabloids? No, the honorable actress reassured the actors the next day that she had destroyed the film.
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Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.
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Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.
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