Pride and Prejudice is a six-episode 1995 British television drama, adapted by Andrew Davies from Jane Austen's 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice. Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth starred as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Produced by Sue Birtwistle and directed by Simon Langton, the serial was a BBC production with additional funding from the American A&E Network. BBC One originally broadcast the 55-minute episodes from 24 September to 29 October in 1995. The A&E Network aired the serial in double episodes on three consecutive nights beginning 14 January 1996. Set in England in the early 19th century, Pride and Prejudice tells the story of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet's Benjamin Whitrow and Alison Steadman five unmarried daughters (Susannah Harker, Jennifer Ehle, Lucy Briers, Polly Maberly, Julia Sawalha) after the rich and eligible Mr. Bingley (Crispin Bonham-Carter) and his status-conscious friend, Mr. Darcy, have moved into their neighbourhood. While Bingley takes an immediate liking to the eldest Bennet daughter, Jane, Darcy has difficulty adapting to local society and repeatedly clashes with the second-eldest Bennet daughter, Elizabeth. The New York Times called the adaptation "a witty mix of love stories and social conniving, cleverly wrapped in the ambitions and illusions of a provincial gentry".
Critically acclaimed and a popular success, Pride and Prejudice was honoured with several awards, including a BAFTA Television Award for Jennifer Ehle for "Best Actress" and an Emmy for "Outstanding Individual Achievement in Costume Design for a Miniseries or a Special". The role of Mr. Darcy elevated Colin Firth to stardom. A scene showing Firth in a wet shirt was recognised as "one of the most unforgettable moments in British TV history". The serial inspired author Helen Fielding to write the popular Bridget Jones novels; the screen adaptations featured Firth as Bridget's love interest Mark Darcy.
Episode 1: Mr. Charles Bingley, a rich man from the north of England, settles down at Netherfield estate near Meryton village in Hertfordshire for the summer. Mrs. Bennet, unlike her husband, is excited at the prospect of marrying off one of her five daughters (Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia) to the newcomer. Bingley takes an immediate liking to Jane at a local country-dance, while his best friend Mr. Darcy, rumoured to be twice as rich, refuses to stand up with anyone including Elizabeth. Elizabeth's poor impression of his character is confirmed at a later gathering at Lucas Lodge and she and Darcy verbally clash on the two nights she spends at Netherfield caring for the sick Jane.
Episode 2: A sycophantic clergyman named Mr. William Collins visits his cousins, the Bennets. He is the entailed heir of their home, Longbourn, and decides to marry Elizabeth to keep the property in the family. On a walk to Meryton village, they meet members of the newly arrived militia, including a Mr. George Wickham. When Elizabeth witnesses Darcy's resentment of Wickham, Wickham tells her how Darcy cheated him of his inheritance. Darcy surprises Elizabeth with a dance offer at a ball at Netherfield, which she grudgingly but politely accepts. Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth the next day, but she resoundingly rejects him. While Mr. and Mrs. Bennet disagree about Elizabeth's decision, her close friend Charlotte Lucas invites Mr. Collins to stay at Lucas Lodge.
Episode 3: Elizabeth is stunned and appalled when she learns that Charlotte Lucas has accepted a proposal from Mr. Collins. When the Netherfield party departs for London in autumn, Jane stays with her modest London relatives, the Gardiners, but she soon notices that the Bingleys ignore her. After befriending Mr. Wickham, Elizabeth departs for the Collinses' home in Kent in the spring. They live near Rosings, the estate of the formidable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and as Lady Catherine is Darcy's aunt, Elizabeth meets Darcy several times. Shortly after Elizabeth learns of Darcy's direct responsibility for Jane and Bingley's separation, Darcy unexpectedly proposes to her, expressing his ardent admiration and love despite Elizabeth's inferior family connections. Elizabeth flatly rejects him, noting his arrogant, disagreeable, and proud character, and his involvement in her sister's failed romance and Mr. Wickham's misfortune.
Episode 4: Darcy justifies his previous actions in a long letter to Elizabeth: he misjudged Jane's affection for Bingley and exposes Wickham as a gambler who once attempted to elope with his young sister, Georgiana, to obtain her inheritance. Back at Longbourn, Mr. Bennet allows Lydia to accompany the militia to Brighton as a personal friend of the militia colonel's wife. Elizabeth joins the Gardiners on a sightseeing trip to Derbyshire and visits Pemberley, Darcy's estate, during his absence. Greatly impressed by the immense scale and richness of the estate, Elizabeth listens to the housekeeper's earnest tales of her master's lifelong goodness, while Darcy refreshes from his unannounced journey home by taking a swim in a lake. After an unexpected and awkward encounter with Elizabeth, a damp Darcy is able to prevent the party's premature departure with an unusual degree of friendliness and politeness.
Episode 5: Elizabeth and the Gardiners receive an invitation to Pemberley, where Darcy and Elizabeth share significant glances. The next morning, Elizabeth receives two letters from Jane, discussing Lydia's elopement with Wickham. As Elizabeth is about to return to Longbourn, Darcy walks in and, upon gradually digesting the bad news, offers his help. When he leaves, Elizabeth supposes she will never see him again. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet try to deal with the possible scandal until they receive a letter from Mr. Gardiner, saying that Lydia and Wickham have been found and are not married, but will be soon under the Gardiners' care. After Mr. Bennet states his surprise at how easily the issue has been resolved, Elizabeth informs Jane about her last meeting with Darcy, including her ambivalent feelings for him.
Episode 6: After Lydia carelessly mentions Darcy's involvement in her wedding, Mrs. Gardiner enlightens Elizabeth how Darcy found the errant couple and paid for all the expenses. When Bingley and Darcy return to Netherfield in the autumn, Darcy apologises to Bingley for intervening in his relationship with Jane and gives his blessing for the couple to wed. Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who has heard rumours of an engagement between Darcy and Elizabeth but wants him to marry her sickly daughter Anne, pays Elizabeth an unannounced visit. She insists that Elizabeth renounce Darcy, but Elizabeth does not rule out a future engagement. When Elizabeth thanks Darcy for his role in Lydia's marriage, Lady Catherine's story encourages Darcy to reconfirm his feelings for Elizabeth. Elizabeth admits the complete transformation of her feelings and agrees to an engagement, which takes her family by surprise. The series ends with a double wedding in the winter months: Jane and Bingley, and Elizabeth and Darcy.
The fictional journalist Bridget Jones – in reality the British author Helen Fielding of The Independent – wrote of her love of the serial in the paper's Bridget Jones's Diary column during the original British broadcast, mentioning her "simple human need for Darcy to get off with Elizabeth" and regarding the couple as her "chosen representatives in the field of shagging, or rather courtship". Fielding loosely reworked the plot of Pride And Prejudice in her 1996 novelisation of the column, naming Bridget's uptight love interest "Mark Darcy" and describing him exactly like Colin Firth. Following a first meeting with Firth during his filming of Fever Pitch in 1996, Fielding asked Firth to collaborate in what would become a multi-page interview between Bridget Jones and Firth in her 1999 sequel novel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Conducting the real interview with Firth in Rome, Fielding lapsed into Bridget Jones mode and obsessed over Darcy in his wet shirt for the fictional interview. Firth participated in the following editing process of what critics would consider "one of the funniest sequences in the diary's sequel". Both novels make various other references to the BBC serial.
For almost a decade, the 1995 TV serial was considered "so dominant, so universally adored, [that] it has lingered in the public consciousness as a cinematic standard". Comparing six major Pride and Prejudice adaptations in 2005, the Daily Mirror gave the only top marks of 9/10 to the 1995 serial ("what may be the ultimate adaptation") and the then-new 2005 film adaptation, leaving the other adaptations such as the 1940 film behind with six or fewer points. The 2005 film was "obviously [not as] daring or revisionist" as the 1995 adaptation, but the young age of the film's leads, Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen, was mentioned favourably over the 1995 cast, as Jennifer Ehle had formerly been "a little too 'heavy' for the role". However, the president of the Jane Austen Society of North America noted in an otherwise positive review that the casting of the 2005 leads was "arguably a little more callow than Firth and Ehle" and that "Knightley is better looking than Lizzy should strictly be". The critical reception of MacFadyen's Darcy, whose casting had proven difficult because of the character's iconic status and because "Colin Firth cast a very long shadow", ranged from praise to pleasant surprise and dislike.