The Faces of Elizabeth Bennet

Many are the words that have been spoken in debate over the film actresses that have played the role of the witty, complicated, and prejudiced heroine Elizabeth Bennet over the years. Sides are vigorously taken in this ongoing battle between Team Keira and Team Jennifer. You might think it is all in jest, but for some, it simply isn’t. Like the debate of the avocados (fruit or vegetable?) or the defense for the honor of the Loch Ness Monster, it is a matter of principle and the utmost importance.

The three versions of “Pride and Prejudice” that I’ve seen have three completely different leading ladies. And though they all strive to live up to the high standards set by avid Austen fans, everyone has their favorite.

First off… Greer Garson. The 1940 version of “Pride and Prejudice” is hardly anyone’s favorite, I would think, but it still served enough of a role in my Austenian education to be mentioned. Poor poor Greer has a name so drear. She pulled off a snooty version of Elizabeth, snub nose and all. But how could she help it, wearing those awful attempts at period costume?

Then comes Jennifer Ehle, who has quite a devoted following. And no wonder, for she brings a very lovable grace to the screen. Playing alongside Colin Firth, Jennifer Ehle has become Elizabeth in many girls’ minds. Although I think she did a good job, Jennifer is just too… nice(?) – there doesn’t seem to be enough cutting wit about her, but maybe I’m over-analyzing.

And my personal favorite: Keira Knightley. I really don’t know why she gets such a bad rap for her efforts at Elizabeth, but I tend to think that it’s mostly a result of Jennifer Ehle taking the stage for so long. I do see how Keira Knightley is more Hollywood and less real looking, but I still believe she did a fantastic job showing the many sides to Elizabeth Bennet.

Elizabeth Bennet has taken many faces over the years… who was your favorite? Let me know in the comment section below!

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16 Comments

Filed under Jane Austen

16 responses to “The Faces of Elizabeth Bennet

  1. Wooah, someone who doesn’t hate Kiera? I was 12 when I saw the 2005 version, and I loved it. Everyone around me, however, couldn’t help but critique me and my new favorite. Ah, well, such is life. I hear Elizabeth Bennet, I think Keira. ^_^

  2. I remember the first time I saw the 1940s version I was confused at the costumes as well but they bumped the setting of the story to the 1830s (Romantic era), hence the huge sleeves and skirts.

    Have you seen the 1980s production with Elizabeth Garvie? The production is very stage-like and has it’s faults but I thought her performance the most like the Eliza Bennet I imagine and she is definitely cutting.

    • Oh, those costume choices were just dreadful – I cannot understand… Of course, when I saw that movie when I was a little girl, I didn’t know the difference and enjoyed the movie all the same.

      I haven’t seen the 1980s version yet, but would like to check it out sometime. Thanks for the tip!

  3. janeaustenismypassion

    2005 version is best, but some 1995’s version actors are better than 2005 actors (for example Mr. Bingley’s actor). Keira Knightley is just gargeous Elizabeth Bennett! Rosamund Pike, Carey Mulligan, Judi Dench, Tom Hollander and Talulah Riley are also very good.

    • Hi there, yes – Keira Knightley and Carrie Mulligan are brilliant actresses, aren’t they? But I rather like the 2005 version of Mr. Bingley myself. I can’t remember the 1995 version’s Mr. Bingley – I think it’s about time I watched it again.

      • tuomi

        Yes, Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley are so brilliant actress! In 1995 version’s Mr. Bingley’s actor was Crispin Bonham – Carter, by the way he is cousin of Helena Bonham Carter. I think at he looks more book’s Mr. Bingley than Simon Woods (he is Mr. Bingley in 2005 version’s, if I remember right) Nice week for you!

  4. tuomi

    I just release at I don’t have seen 1980 version’s. It is good?

  5. No kidding – I didn’t know she had an acting cousin! I’m a big fan of Helena :)

    • A Dane

      Yes the 1980 version is absolutely the best. You can see it on youtube. Just search for “Pride&Prejudice 1980 full movie.”How come you have forgotten the version from 1980. Elizabeth Garvie is the most sympathetic and emotionell actress in this role, compared with all the other three. I think Jennifer Ehle plays the act very coldly and cynikel compaired with the 1980 version. Keira Knightley also playes very soft and emotionell, but they talk too fast in the movie. Somebody must have been anxious not to tell the whole text from the book.

  6. Sophie

    keira was by far the better Lizzy. Jennifer was ugly.

  7. Pete

    I loved all of the P&P mini series and was a little miffed when I read that an upstart by the name of Keira Knightley had attempted to usurp my idea of the ideal Elizabeth, however, as I forced myself to watch the upstarts version a 2nd time, I saw that she was indeed one who could take the mantle of Lizzy, but not in MY eyes. Jennifer is and forever shall be, my dear Lizzy.

  8. Knightley has always been my favorite, I actually watched the movie last night :) Happy endings always make me cry and this one made me sob. Ugh! So beautiful. Its the only movie I can watched that has the underbust waistline on gowns. Ugh, I hate those types of gowns ;_;

  9. Robt C

    Greer Garson is a great actress that on occation had great humor and poise. I enjoyed her verson of Pride and Prejudice (1940) and repeatedly watch it still. Garson and Olivier played well together, despite the out of period dress, in this rather short version of Austin’s story. It may be said to be more a product of 1940 movie maker sense rather than 2014 reality sensibilities. If however you want the real story, fill your hand with the book picture Lizzy and Darcy in your mind’s eye and surprise. The luxury of covering the whole story falls to the BBC. By the way, I watch the 1995 version with Firth and Ehle with much enjoyment but I also like for different reasons also watch BBC’s 1985 dramitized version with Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul. This version is more like a stage play than a cinematographers’ or Kiera Knightley (2005) fans, forshortened version. Oh, Don’t misunderstand me I watch this version as well and file it with my other favorites. Jane Austen is alive and well at our home.

  10. jessica prescott

    I agree with your post–even though Jennifer Ehle is an excellent actress, for me, she was far too calm and sweet and “nice” to be the real Elizabeth Bennet. Austen’s Lizzy had, in reality, a far more biting personality, although with a large and generous heart underneath it. That’s why I liked Keira Knightley’s Lizzy much, much better.

  11. I’m sorry, I didn’t like Keira Knightley as Lizzie Bennet (though I do like her as an actress). I don’t think it was her fault, but the silly giggling was NOT the witty Lizzie of the book. She was also wearing dresses that looked like sacks of potatoes and her hair was a mess! The BBC series was so much better! Jennifer Ehle, nice and round, with heaving bosom, sharp wit, beautiful dresses and perfect hair! And Colin Firth! Sorry, no comparison! A

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