Elizabeth Bennet - Though all four actresses play the part well, it is Jennfier Ehle who will always be my personal favorite. The indignation and joy she expresses with her eyes are perfectly Elizabeth. No one else captures the liveliness that characterizes her so well. Her performance is, in my opinion, definitive.
(image - www3.bc.sympatico.ca/yve/darcymania)
Fitzwilliam Darcy - Um ... Colin Firth of course. Any one who has been paying attention knows my love of his performace. Just like Jennifer Ehle expresses Elizabeth's "sparkling" nature through her eyes, in Colin Firth's we see all of Darcy's pain and struggles. This has nothing to do with wet shirts and bathtub scenes, in fact I think he looks more handsome in his great coat, but is premised on the fact that he totally embodies the role. If Ms. Ehle's performance is definitive, his is iconic.
(image - Jane Austen in Vermont)
Jane Bennet - I really love Sabina Franklyn's 1980 performance. She makes Jane more warm and feeling than she is usually portrayed, without sacrificing that notoriously private lady's composure. I do tend to think of Jane as a blond, but Ms. Franklyn's hair color is not enough to sway me from her.
Charles Bingley - I have to go with Simon Woods in 2005, mostly because he just looks the most like I think Mr. Bingley should. It was a very hard call, as Crispin Bonham-Carter played the role superbly in 1995 (who also has the advantage of being related to one of my favorite actresses, as well as having made an appearance on one of my favorite TV shows), but some roles must go to the 2005 cast and, if Mr. Bingley had a larger role in this version, I believe Mr. Woods (who was actually in yet another of my favorite TV shows) would have been remarkable.
(image - Flore et Faune)
Mr. Bennet - This one is easy. Benjamin Whitrow was Mr. Bennet in 1995. He is perfect in the role, from the sardonic twinkle in his eye to the humored grimace he maintains throughout. No one else has matched him.
(image - BBC)
Mrs. Bennet - Also easy, and though I do not think Alison Steadman is quite as fabulous as her counterpart, it is her voice I now hear shrieking in my mind every time I read the book, which should certainly count for something. She does a better job with the comic aspect of the role than some of the other actresses, and she flutters divinely.
(image - ShareTV.org)
Lydia Bennet - Those of you who have been following my many links in this post may already know why my prejudice is completely with Julia Sawalha on this one, who performed the role amazingly well in the 1995 mini-series. She played Saffron on the 90's TV show Absolutely Fabulous, a role as different from Lydia as it possibly could be, and for which she will always command my loyalty.
George Wickham - Adrian Lukis of course, 1995. I mean, just look at him! Need I say more?
(image - la mia biblioteca romantica)
Caroline Bingley - There is a a reason why Miss Bingley almost always wears orange (and looks ghastly in it) in Austen fan fiction: because Anna Chancellor made such a huge impression on everyone who saw her 1995 portrayal of the character. Really, she was fabulous.
Mary Bennet - Mary gets a few more lines in the 1980 mini-series, which might be why I favor Tessa Peake-Jones in the role. Her piano playing is atrocious, her countenance smug, and I just adore the entire performance. I also enjoy how the character was developed in 2005 by Talulah Riley, but she was not as Maryish as she should have been.
(image - My Pride and Prejudice)
Kitty Bennet - If Carey Mulligan had the opportunity to cough in this role, I might have had to go with her, but as it is I must give it to Polly Maberly, 1995.
Mr. Collins - Once again, I have to go with the 1995 performance of David Bamber (though Malcolm Rennie must be commended on his dancing in the 1980 version), and again, not just because he is spectacular, but because he is reaping the benefits of my prejudice being on his side. I was always amazed by his perfect portrayal of one of the silliest characters in Austen, but after boggling my mind as Cicero in Rome, he has my undying devotion.
(image - jasna.org)
Charlotte Lucas - After much deliberation, I have to say Claudie Blakley in 2005 was the best. I really love both Lucy Scott (1995) and Irene Richard (1980) in this role (though I always considered Ms. Scott a bit too pretty for it), but Ms. Blakley, with very little time on screen, nails it.
Lady Catherine be Bourgh - This is a little unfair, as this fabulous role has been performed beautifully by all the actresses who have undertaken it, but when Judi Dench is in play, who can really compete? In her hands, it is like the character stepped out of the book and onto film, an indomitable force demanding to be reckoned with.
(image - allmoviephoto.com)
Emma Jacobs' very short 1980 performance, because it best represents the shyness and timidity Austen gave to the character. Unfortunately, I cannot find an image of her.
(Added 4/21/11 - Thanks to Vince Runza for the following image! http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_LCVZWFAEodk/TKkQ2cia_iI/AAAAAAAAVak/clrjzP_kdbc/)
Anne de Bourgh - Again, I like the 1980 representation of this character by Moire Leslie, although this time it is because she is developed beyond what Austen provides. With no lines, it takes only one tender moment for Ms. Leslie to garner our sympathy. Very well done. Sadly, I cannot find an image of her either.
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner - I love how this couple was portrayed by Michael Lees and Barbara Shelley in 1980. Sophisticated, agreeable, and snidely witty, their performances were dead on. While I cannot find an image of Mr. Lees, here is Ms. Shelley with Elizabeth Garvie.
(image - ellenandjim.org)
Mr. and Mrs. Hurst - Rupert Vansittart and Lucy Robinson (who also played Mrs. Elton in the 1996 TV adaptation of Emma) were perfect in 1995. I especially love when Ms. Robinson demonstrates what good piano playing sounds like with Mozart's Rondo alla Turca, played with such a self-complacent smirk on her face.
(image - My Pride and Prejudice)
Colonel Fitzwilliam - 1995 again, Anthony Calf. He just has the correct manner: not stiff or too handsome but with good air.
(image - meanddarcy.blogspot.com)
Maria Lucas - Lucy Davis (1995) doesn't have a lot of competition, but she does do a wonderful job. Her performance reminds me of Mary Crawford's thoughts regarding the distinction between ladies who are out and those who are not. Here she is with Jennifer Ehle.
Sir William Lucas - Christopher Benjamin's 1995 performance is perfect.
(image - kellynch.com)
Mrs. Phillips - No one has made her quite vulgar enough for my tastes, but I prefer Lynn Farleigh's 1995 rendition to the others. I love this image of her with Alison Steadman and only wish it were clearer.
(image - lousiemacdonald.com)
Forgive me for stopping here, to the neglect of Lady Lucas, Mr. Denny, and Mrs. Hill, amongst others. There are so many players in this story that it is difficult to be conclusive. And what of the 1940's version, which I have totally failed to represent? It is so different from the book that it has proven too difficult to plug its characters into a scheme like this, but that does not mean that it isn't a wonderful movie, if a product of its time. In way of making amends, I am concluding on this clip from the film, which includes my favorite scene, in which Greer Garson shows up Laurence Olivier in archery. Enjoy it, as I hope you enjoyed this highly prejudiced exercise. Who would you have cast?