Christmas is officially the new season for Jane Austen. I feel like I can say this because the holiday is over for another year. For years there have been Christmas stories, primarily connected to Pride and Prejudice. Not only were there sequels to the story set at Christmas, but there were modernizations setting the whole series of events, the original story, at Christmas time. This year it evolved into Hallmark movies and a play. I attempted to consume the two movies and one play (only one didn’t irritate me) to varying degrees of success. I got me thinking about why I loved the play I saw, but couldn’t stand the movies. The key is what I want from a Pride and Prejudice story.
Here’s what I want when I read or see a variation of Pride and Prejudice. I want Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth to be two people completely shut down to each other. I want them to initially dislike each other, but to know they’re secretly attracted to the other. I want him to realize it well before her, against his better judgement. To that end I want him to announce his feelings only to be rebuffed not only because Elizabeth is shut down but because he has done things to people she cares about. At least one of those things has to be completely made up, showing Elizabeth how she’s only too willing to believe the worst in Darcy. I want him to admit to one wrong and correct the other. I want her to realize she’s equally to blame and reconsider her perspective, while he is reflecting on his actions to her. I want him to prove to her that he can correct mistakes, even if not given credit for it and for her to realize they are in love.
Do I need the Lydia story? No.
Do I need the Jane story? No.
Do I need Collins and Charlotte? No, but let’s be honest it’s a delight.
I am open to different reasons for them to come together over and over again and for what Mr. Darcy’s wrongs actually are. When it comes to sequels or prequels to the story, I’m much more open. I want Elizabeth to struggle with being the Lady of Pemberley. I enjoy when they’re sexually compatible and openly indulge. I want the pair to continue with the issues they’ve always struggled with, not the traditional romance tropes. I enjoy Lydia getting to shift through the narrative as the reality of her husband sinks in. I enjoy when Kitty and Mary get to be the focus of a story. I like the sisters to remain the narrative focus, not the men in their lives. That is, unless we are seeing a familiar story from a different point of view.
These preferences extend to all potential media related: video, books, plays, etc. If you fail to deliver what I want, I’m not going to enjoy your production. Understanding this is critical to why I didn’t like the Hallmark movies, but I loved the play. These preferences are why I loved Unleashing Mr. Darcy, but hated its sequel, Marrying Mr. Darcy.
This year there were two Hallmark movies that turned Pride and Prejudice into Christmas stories. Neither follows the traditional Pride and Prejudice plot structure. In one Elizabeth need’s Mr. Darcy’s family home and he’s a hyper rational business man who is trying to sell the home. Also, he doesn’t like Christmas that much. She’s super ambitious and needs to make this work out or she’ll lose her job. He reluctantly agrees and they are forced to spend time together until they both slowly realize they like each other and then there are a few minor misunderstandings (her boss is Caroline), but it all works out in the end. In the other the Elizabeth and Darcy characters grew up together, but never liked each other. Now she’s about to lose her job and her mother needs her help with some holiday auction thing. He helps, they spend time together and realize they may like each other. There is one major miscommunication where he assumes something he has no reason to assume and that’s quickly resolved.
Neither of these have any connection to Pride and Prejudice, other than character names, some personality traits, and some location is named Pemberley.
Here’s the plot of the play, a sequel centered around Christmas. The Bennetts are all descending on to Pemberley where the Darcy’s are hosting the holiday. Elizabeth is putting her own touch on the holiday by putting a Christmas tree in the house (not done in the UK until, maybe the 1830s). It’s a plot point and how characters react to it reveals their personality. Jane, very pregnant, is bringing Mary with her. Kitty is coming later with their parents. Lydia is coming on her own (Wickham not being allowed to ever visit). Mary is our central character, the poor middle child who can’t keep up with her older sisters and doesn’t have anything in common with the younger ones. Now the only one at home, she has finally been able to thrive and shows maturity. Also joining them is the new Lord deBurgh. Lady Catherine has died and the estate has been left to the next male heir. Catherine’s plan to leave it all to Ann was only her will and not the law. Arthur, the new lord, is bookish and socially awkward. He studies snails and is at Oxford University. He and Mary like each other even though Lydia tries to flirt the entire first half of the show. Even when Ann deBurgh enters the story, they acknowledge why she’s different than we remember her. The elements of the original story are made into inside jokes and winks to the audience. The sisters are still versions of themselves and the men they love are as well, but with more humor and comfort. Mr. Darcy is far more comfortable at home and with his new family than he was when we last saw him. There’s humor in that comfort and it made the play funny.
I love the play and detested the movies. I was openly angry about them and worried I would feel the same way when I went to the play, but in the end I felt like the play could officially become part of my very small collection of holiday favorites. Those movies, though, they’re the worst and I will never watch another Hallmark movie again. You could call it Sara Meets Mr. Darcy and I still wouldn’t watch it!