Thursday, 24 September 2015

Alternate Best Actor 1940: Laurence Olivier in Pride and Prejudice

Laurence Olivier did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Fitzwilliam Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.

Pride and Prejudice is an enjoyable enough film about the complications that ensue from five sisters without inheritance attempting to find proper suitors.

Having not seen any other versions of the story nor read the book, I'm going into this interpretations with absolutely no idea about the true nature of the story, or perhaps how the tone should be. This as just a film though I felt worked as basically "proper" screwball romantic comedy. A great deal of a reason for this is Laurence Olivier as Mr. Darcy who we meet as one of the targets of the Bennet sisters' mother for a proper suitor for her daughters. Mr. Darcy though is not the sweeping romantic type though, and Olivier actually takes a similair approach to the character that Daniel Day-Lewis would later take with a somewhat similair role in A Room With A View. That being that Olivier goes about portraying Darcy as an excessively proper English Gentleman, particularly in the early scenes where he first meets the Bennets including Elizabeth (Greer Garson). He makes a poor initial impression by making his patrician attitudes known out loud, and Olivier depicts him as a man almost constrained within himself in his tight movements, and the fairly stilted voice he uses as though every words has been rehearsed over and over again beforehand.

Olivier, like Day-Lewis in that later film, does a great service to the film through his work as he makes Darcy quite an amusing presence in the film by making his proper behavior extreme enough that it actually becomes quite comic. The best part about this is that there is nothing that Darcy does that is necessarily funny in itself but Olivier effortlessly brings out through his purposefully overt performance. Although Olivier does technically over do it, so the character is funny rather than just serious and dour as I feel he easily could be, Olivier does not over do it to the point that Darcy is merely a caricature either. Rather Olivier is quite effective in fashioning the barrier necessary for the character, since there must  be some transition for Elizabeth. Olivier interestingly is able to help realize this through his own performance as he depicts the surface of the man as almost impenetrable. Olivier does not do this in order to portray Darcy as cold or unfeeling, but rather fashions the reserve fitting for a man who has spent all his life learning to behave in this distinctly proper fashion even though it may not actually be the true nature of Darcy after all.

Although much of his performance is in the role of being a tad overstuffed, and entertainingly so, Olivier is terrific in alluding to the better nature of Darcy quite early on. The moments where she purposefully embarrasses him Olivier quietly depicts Darcy not reacting like a simple pompous fool being surprised, but rather a more complex man being honestly hurt by this treatment. My favorite scene of Olivier's has to be his initial proposition of marriage of Elizabeth that rejects as in the single scene it shows exactly what's so good about Olivier's performance. In his stumbling proposal Olivier is very funny as well as in his needlessly direct responses to Elizabeth when she announces her objections, as he always stays as the proper gentlemen who never should be too emotional. My favorite moment in the scene is as Darcy exits the room, and its only a brief moment though an extremely important one. When Darcy finally turns his head away from Elizabeth's view Olivier shows just how genuinely torn apart emotionally Darcy is by the rejection, and in the moment Olivier is quite moving by revealing the sensitive man he really is. Olivier is able to make Darcy transition from pompous charmless gentleman to the perfect rather charming gentleman a wholly effortless one, by creating the sense that Elizabeth brings this better side out of him. It's not a change exactly, but rather simply having him shed some of his thick shell he learned over the years. It's strong work from Olivier and I doubt I would have liked the film to the same degree if it were not for his performance, as much of the humor of the film comes from him. It's a splendid performance, that might not be his best work from 1940, but that's hardly a problem. 


ruthiehenshallfan99 said...

Louis: Yes! The score I expected! What were your thoughts and ratings on the rest of the cast?

ruthiehenshallfan99 said...

In all honesty, I have seen no other versions of the story or read the book either. So this is my basis. I am aware that the costumes are from the wrong time period though.

GM said...

Really disagree, he and Garson didn't impress me at all.

Anonymous said...

You really liked him.
Who would be your choices for:
High Noon (2000's version)
The Ox-Bow Incident (1970's version)
The Gunfighter (1980's version)
The Searchers (1990's version)

Calvin Law said...

Couldn't buy him as Mr Darcy at all. Probably disagree with this review most of all.

Calvin Law said...

Anonymous: my own choices would be

High Noon (2000's)
Will Kane: Viggo Mortensen
Amy Kane: Amy Adams
Helen Ramirez: Salma Hayek
Harvey Pell: Adrien Brody

The Ox-Bow Incident (1970s)
Gil Carter: Al Pacino
Donald Martin: Bruce Dern

RatedRStar said...

I would be very interested to see this film just to see who I agree with lol.

Calvin Law said...

I should note that I generally care very little for Olivier in this sort of stock romantic lead role he was pigeonholed into early in his career. Q Planes, this, his Leigh collaborations and to an extent Withering Heights (typo intended). Rebecca was his first great performance, and it's no mystery why filmmakers seemed to take him much more seriously after that. Complex roles were his forte. Not silly shallow ones like this watered down Mr Darcy.

RatedRStar said...

I have quite a soft spot for Wuthering Heights because of the beautiful look and the Yorkshire setting =).

Michael Patison said...

Louis: I you were you read the novel (which I think is excellent) or watch another adaptation (preferably the Colin Firth miniseries), I think you would find that this adaptation is a product of its time.

Pride and Prejudice is many things. It is a romance. It is a comedy. But it is not a romantic comedy, and screwball is definitely not a word ever used to describe it. It is a social satire about the foibles, both personal and societal, of high-society England at the turn of the 18th century.

Calvin Law said...

^Thank you Michael. I do really like the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle version, and it certainly is the best adaptation by far of Austen's material. I also have a soft spot however, for the Joe Wright version. Despite certain liberties with the text I have always really enjoyed watching it.

Michael: your ratings for all the adaptations of P + P you've seen (and Austen adaptations?)

The P and P miniseries (need a re-watch)
Firth: 4
Ehle: 4.5

The 2005 film
Knightley: 4.5/5
Macfayden: 4
Pike: 3
Hollander: 3.5/4
Sutherland: 3.5/4
Dench: 3
Malone: 4

Sense and Sensibility
Thompson: 4
Winslet: 4
Rickman: 4.5
Grant: 3.5

Anonymous said...

Calvin: Good choices for both Ox-Bow Incident and High Noon, but I was actually thinking Kevin Costner as Will Kane. He reminds me of Cooper a lot.

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: When are you gonna see Legend. :)

Louis Morgan said...


Garson - 3.5(I don't think she gives a great performance, but I prefer Garson being lighter weight in her work as I do feel she had a charm to her that she often hid with her more dramatic turns. This works fairly well here even though I did feel she was overshadowed a bit by Olivier)

Boland - 3.5(She is enjoyable in portraying her character's consistent shallowness, and is daffy in the right sort of fashion.)

Oliver - 4(Oliver is good in these cold woman roles, but here I thought she rather effectively alluded to the characters warmer side, in this version only apparently, though I felt Oliver made it work through her performance)

Gwenn - 4(Gwenn is quite entertaining as being the constant straight man as his reactions of exasperation at the ridiculousness of his family is quite enjoyable. He's also quite good though in portraying the quiet outrage in his character later on when one of his daughters has made a poor decision)


The Ox-Bow Incident (1970's version)

Gil Carter: Clint Eastwood
Donald Martin: David Warner
Major Tetley: William Holden
Davies: Donald Pleasence
The Old Man: Burgess Meredith

The Gunfighter (1980's version):

(1980 exactly)

Ringo: Steve McQueen
Peggy: Faye Dunaway
Marshal Strett: Jason Robards

The Searchers (1990's version)

Ethan Allen: Clint Eastwood
Martin: Viggo Mortensen
Reverend Clayton: Gene Hackman