Pride and Prejudice remains one of the most beloved classic stories in history. Although I’ve seen numerous adaptations, I’m somehow always ready for more. While there have been excellent adaptations (1995 and 2005 versions), weak ones, and all the ones in-between, there’s never been an all-black adaptation. Until now.
The new Lifetime original movie, Pride and Prejudice: Atlanta is an entertaining TV movie where Mrs. Bennet finally gets to shine.
THE STORY OF PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: ATLANTA
As Pride and Prejudice: Atlanta begins, Mrs. Bennet (Jackée Harry) narrates the story as she introduces us to her five daughters sitting in church listening to their father give a sermon. Mr. Bennet is, in fact, the pastor of the local Southern Baptist church. We quickly learn Mrs. Bennet is the popular author of a self-help book for women on how to find the perfect match and husband. Unfortunately for Mrs. Bennet, all five of her daughters are single.
Lizzie Bennet (Tiffany Hines) works as an activist in the community trying to save a neighborhood and a theater from local developers. She also has high standards when it comes to romance. However, complications soon arise when Mr. Darcy (Juan Antonio) and Mr. Bingley come to town. Soon, Elizabeth clashes with Mr. Darcy over politics and misunderstandings. But will she recognize he’s the “perfect” man for her before it’s too late? And will Mrs. Bennet find happiness for her daughters?
MRS. BENNET – THE HEROINE?
While an imperfect production (there were a few editing issues, for example), I enjoyed the TV movie from start to finish. It’s funny, cute, and refreshingly different than previous adaptations. However, the one way this adaptation truly stands out from the others is with Jackée Harry as Mrs. Bennet. While many of the characters are layered and interesting, Mrs. Bennet steals the film. In fact, one could argue this is her story to tell. Plus, it’s hard not to appreciate Harry and her always impeccable comedic timing. Not to mention, Harry also proves she has dramatic acting skills as well.
ELIZABETH AND DARCY
Besides Mrs. Bennet, the romance is also great fun. Darcy and Elizabeth have good chemistry and their story hits the right beats for a contemporary take. I also loved just how positive and optimistic this production is. It’s unabashedly romantic and sentimental. Think Hallmark but less formulaic.
FROM BOOK TO SCREEN
Still, some purists may not appreciate a few departures from the book. For one, none of the men in this adaptation are villains or buffoons. Wickham’s close to Darcy and a gentleman toward Lydia. Mr. Collins is still awkward, yes, but he’s also sweet and a good match for Charlotte.
So, rather than focusing on satire as a device to point out serious defects in the community and people as Ms. Austen does, the screenwriter instead chose to present human flaws in an empathetic way. Consequently, while all the men are flawed, they’re not condemned. The only “semi” villain in this story is Mrs. Darcy – Will’s aunt. And then there’s the matter of Lizzie’s pride and prejudice against Mr. Darcy…
Still, the basic structure of the adaptation follows the original classic closely. The characters (especially the female ones) easily match their classic’s counterparts. And you can figure out what happens next if you’re familiar with Pride and Prejudice. So, that’s a good thing. In all, this is a “mostly” faithful adaptation though more rom-com than drama; and more sweet than satire.
Overall, while Director Rhonda Baraka and screenwriter Tracy McMillan haven’t created a TV masterpiece, they have created a fun as well as an important adaptation. Jackée Harry discussed the importance of the Austen reimagining in an interview with the New York Post. She says:
“One of the houses [where we filmed] used to be a plantation house, where they kept slaves in their quarters, and they told us all the history… So you go [to set] and do your thing, but you feel the ghosts of it. It really made it all the more real to what we were doing — a black version of a classic.”
In a recent interview with Bustle, Juan Antonio (Will Darcy), also added to the conversation about the movie’s significance:
“I think timing wise this is just perfect because not only does it open up the story but it’s an all African-American cast. It shows that you can put any race in this storyline and all the specifics are still there. It really brings us all together instead of saying it has to be this or that.”
I couldn’t agree more. I’d love to see more classic romances with diversity. So, this is a fantastic step in the right direction.
Where to Watch: You can currently watch Pride and Prejudice: Atlanta on Lifetime. Check your local listings.
Content Note: TV-PG for mild suggestive dialogue.
Did you watch Pride and Prejudice: Atlanta? What did you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Featured image: Pride & Prejudice: Atlanta. Photo by Courtesy of Lifetime. Copyright 2019
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