MGM’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1940) is one of those Look-At-Me prestige pictures.
Critics of the era loved it, including the curmudgeonly Bosley Crowther of the New York Times. “The whole thing has been accomplished through a steady flow of superlative wit,” he gushed, “which puts a snapper on almost every scene…”¹
This “snapper” of a film also has a 100% Tomatometer score on Rotten Tomatoes.
As you know, prestige means big money and big business in Hollywood, and even though Pride and Prejudice wasn’t the most profitable film of the year, it presents us with an excellent business case study.
By that we mean the film’s depiction of a nineteenth-century business tycoon, namely, Mrs. Bennet.
Mrs. Bennet (Mary Boland) appears to be, at first glance, a manipulative and demanding mother.
OK, that she is, but look at what she’s up against. As the aging mother of five (!) unmarried daughters, she wants to ensure they’ll be Provided For. But she’s also hamstrung: Rural, 19th-century England offers limited career options for women, so she must engineer advantageous marriages for her brood.
Mrs. Bennet certainly has the market share of unmarried women – her five daughters are beautiful and accomplished – but, alas, the marriage market has collapsed. She can’t unload her inventory.
Like any shrewd business woman, she scrutinizes her competition and seizes potential opportunities, e.g. when two handsome bachelors move into the neighbourhood.
But here’s the kicker. Due to property/inheritance laws, none of her children will inherit her husband’s estate because they are women. The estate will instead go to a male relative; in this case, the pompous Mr. Collins, a man heartily disliked by nearly everyone he meets.
Welcome to Mrs. Bennet’s worst nightmare.
It has come to this: At least one of the daughters must Marry Well to provide for the rest. But Mrs. Bennet needs a Back-Up Plan in case that doesn’t happen. Additionally, she must also control the urge to throttle Mr. Collins whilst he catalogues his future inheritance.
She’s a CEO in a bear market, and she’s threatened by a hostile takeover. It’s a wonder she sleeps at night.
Because her husband has adopted a less angst-ridden outlook regarding The Future, Mrs. Bennet is left to do all the forecasting and market positioning herself. So it’s only natural she’s given to nervous collapses and fits of despair.
It would be an onerous burden for anyone, but Mrs. Bennet doesn’t seek fancy perks or year-end bonuses. She carries this load out of love for her family.
Pride and Prejudice has been adapted to film and television numerous times, and you can see a complete list here.
Although the 1940 film sets the story in the 1830s instead of the 1810s – because, rumour has it, the costumes would be more glamorous – this version is barrels o’ fun.
We (yours truly) aren’t convinced Greer Garson is the best choice as Elizabeth; however, Garson is nothing if not talented, and her scenes with Laurence Olivier are delectable.
If you’re a fan of Pride and Prejudice, the novel, we hope you’ll treat yourself to this MGM extravaganza featuring a 19th-century Marriage Tycoon.
Pride and Prejudice: starring Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier, Mary Boland. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard. Written by Aldous Huxley & Jane Murfin. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1940, B&W, 118 mins.