Reader Review: De Vier Dochters Bennet (The Four Daughters Bennet)

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Our Gentle Readers will recall that we posted a request from Caroline for assistance in defraying the cost of obtaining a copy of this 1960s Dutch television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Caroline was able to see the film at the national television archives, and the following is her review of the film. –Ed.

I watched De Vier Dochters Bennet, a Dutch adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, at the national tv archives the other day. As the title (The Four Daughters Bennet) suggests, Kitty has been cut, but Mary takes over some of her functions, such as coughing. Georgiana is also (physically) absent, but that didn’t affect the story much. The six-part mini-series is based on Cedric Wallis’s screenplay used for the 1952 and 1958 British productions, but the credits claim it was adapted rather than translated, so there might be some changes. It was undoubtedly set in England though, as the characters asserted from time to time. Apart from the language, the only Dutch element I noticed was a poffertjespan at the Lambton Inn.

The framework was nicely done in my opinion, each episode starting with one of the Bennet girls’ diaries. There was no letter: instead Darcy explained himself to Lizzy right after the proposal, and it made a very interesting scene. Another extra bit I appreciated was the bartering scene between Darcy and Wickham. The actor did an excellent job there portraying a calculating bastard! Overall the script was decent and pretty faithful to the book, with some quaint inventions like a running gag about the size of Mr Collins’s French beans. I thought it did have a decidedly feminist streak, with Lizzy complaining about how women can do nothing but sit around waiting for a husband, etc. Some of lines were quite literal translations and they sounded a bit stilted and archaic at times. But well, it’s from 1961. The only thing I really disliked about the script was the P&P0-like twist on Lady Catherine at the end. *rolls eyes* According to Darcy she thought Lizzy was an obnoxious ill-bred little hussy, but she nonetheless was looking forward to crossing swords with her for the rest of her life. As If.

For some odd reason they mixed up Longbourn, London and Lambton every now and then, but I’m persuaded to blame the actors rather than the scriptwriter. There were more indications that it was a rush job and they didn’t have the time and/or money to shoot a lot of takes. Because of financial reasons or perhaps limited technical possibilities, everything was filmed in the studio. The few exterior scenes in Meryton and the garden at Longbourn were obviously fake. I’d been hoping to figure out which Dutch house they had used for Pemberley, but there were not exterior shots at all, unfortunately. The only room shown was the portrait/statue gallery with the camera in the position of Darcy’s portrait; the Gardiners, Lizzy and Mrs Reynolds staring up at the viewer. One might argue that this is a cinematographically very intriguing interpretation, but I bet they were just too cheap to have a portrait painted.

The waistlines of the dresses were all too low but since they didn’t have those ridiculous hoopskirts they looked quite nice and I didn’t mind. As for the men’s costumes, oh my! The pointed lapels on both their coats and waistcoats were absolutely huge. Think Edward Ferrars in S&S2, but worse. It was quite distracting, especially when they were pinstriped as well.

As for the actors, Lies Franken was a bit (11 years) too old for the part but she played a creditable Lizzy, and Jane was fine too, althouhg they both giggled too much for my liking. Mrs Bennet was suitably silly, Liselot Beekmeyer portrayed a wonderful ditzy blond Lydia and Mr Collins was splendidly absurd. But Mr Darcy… Just No. Ramses Shaffy was totally wrong for the part, because he looked so boyish, cheerful and plain dim-witted. Luckily he didn’t have a lot of screen time. There was lots of snogging at the end though and I almost felt like yelling at the screen: Don’t do it, Lizzy! Mr Bingley, on the other hand, was delightful. I never saw such happy manners, and Maxim Hamel is now my all-time favourite Bingley. I laughed out loud when, after proposing to Jane in the garden, he jumps through the open window to find Mr Bennet, and then Lizzy and Jane dance around the room knocking over a little table.

However, the most absurd and hilarious thing about this adaptation were the ‘introductions.’ Since originally the six episodes were shown over a period of almost 5 months, the audience needed a recap of events. This was done in a number of unusual, creative ways, such as with a blackboard, animation and a puppet theatre, with the paperdoll-sisters singing ‘I’m so happy to be a Bennet.’ I kid you not. My conclusion: it was a whole lotta fun, for different reasons.

The image and sound quality was generally good, with the exception of episode III of which there is only a telerecording left, of lesser quality but still tolerable. I do intend to buy the VHS tapes, and since I’ve had about 13 reactions already the price per person (140/x) is getting quite reasonable. If you still want to be in please drop me an email. Franka, would you please try again because I never received yours.