Sunday, October 14, 2012

Susannah Harker as Jane

I love the 1995 Pride and Prejudice adaptation.  This is not an earth-shattering revelation. Many others do too. And I, like many others, watch it, oh, say, once or even twice a year.  -- whenever I am getting in the mood for fall. . . or looking for a way to unwind after being really busy . . . or snuggled in by a fire at Christmas. . . there are many excellent excuses to re-watch.

So re-watch I did. Again. For the umpteenth time and, as I often do, I reflected upon Susannah Harker as Jane. When I first saw this series, many many years ago, I remember that I was just ever so slightly disappointed with Jane, thinking, as others have done before me, that she is just not quite breathtaking enough for the role.  But each time I watch I see more and more of her beauty. You just have to look with the right eyes.

The problem is not Harker at all; it is her hair.

Now, this Pride and Prejudice was an authentic period piece, so I understand that they were constrained to Regency-era styles. Of course that would present some strictures as to what would be appropriate for Jane; but, it's just no excuse for her hair not to suit her face better.  Other women in the production have hairstyles that really fit both the actress and what her character needed to convey. Especially Lizzy. Jennifer Ehle looks just as Lizzy ought to, and in some scenes, her hair adds immeasureably to her charms - for example, the Netherfield Ball 'do.

But poor Susanna Harker gets horns coming out of her temples. When she's casual, she gets to look long and stringy (with horns) and when she's dressed up, she gets to look too pulled back and severe (with horns.) The problem wouldn't amount to much except that Jane is supposed to be undeniably the most beautiful woman around and she comes off looking a bit unpleasant.  This is unfair, because on viewing photos of the actress not as Jane, I can see that she is very very lovely.

Here is how good Harker can look when she isn't becoming Jane:

She is very beautiful!

She has an excellent Greek nose, translucent skin and a lovely turn of the neck! While I admit that sometimes the production managed to showcase these characteristics well, for the most part, it failed to. The inability capitalize on and showcase the beauty of the character who was supposed to delight our eyes is one of the very few weak points in the production.


  1. I always thought that something seemed off with her styling but what always got me was her smile, or lack of it, or teeth or something in the general mouth area. I don't think Harker smiles that much. Google her. But in other roles the sort of grim look works ok. In this role, she affects this sort of Mona Lisa thing that looks weird. But maybe that's what pretty girls did back then. Oh, and for another related blog, you might like to read this

  2. Susannah Harker is a thinking man's woman, a lovely actress with classic features, which her hairstyle in P&P emphasized. Note too how the costuming emphasized her regal neck and shoulders in this production. I personally re-watch the 1995 production expressly to see Harker's unusual beauty. Although Jane is supposed to be much more beautiful than Elizabeth, beauty is largely in the eyes of the beholder, and her look, although perfect for the Regency period, may not resonate with modern audiences used to contemporary notions of beauty. I suspect the director didn't want Harker to look far more beautiful than Jennifer Ehle for fear of detracting from the central character. This can happen when a truly beautiful woman is cast in a minor role; for example, consider the over-shadowing effect of the gorgeous Polly Walker in the role of Jane Fairfax in 'Emma,' making G. Paltrow look undernourished and bloodless by comparison. I am very fond of S. Harker, but the director was correct in playing down her beauty in P&P to preserve the necessary visual balance between the main characters. Finally, beauty is not necessarily just physical. Consider that in the book Jane's beauty is not described -- but Bingley has his choice of the Bennett sisters and chooses Jane for reasons that have more to do with her personality than her looks. With that in mind, Susannah Harker seems to me the perfect Jane Bennett.