Pride and Prejudice
Director Simon Langton; writer Andrew Davies; featuring Jennifer Ehle, Colin Firth, Susannah Harker, Adrian Lukis, Benjamin Whitrow, Alison Steadman, Julia Sawalha
Pride and Prejudice (2005)
Director Joe Wright; writer Deborah Moggach; featuring Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen, Rosamund Pike, Brenda Blethyn, Donald Sutherland.
Pride and Prejudice
COMMENTARY | MOVIES
Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth overcome their pride and prejudice to find love in the sensual 1995 miniseries.
The earthy Pride and Prejudice
Could any new adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, let alone a much shorter movie version, stand a chance of winning hearts just ten years after the mammoth, sensual, much beloved miniseries of 1995.
Yes, it turns out. While one may start watching the two-hour film (about a third the length of the miniseries) with some skepticism, by the end one may come around to wondering: did we ever really need much more than this?
All the crucial plot points of the original story appear to be touched upon in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice. And if any important scenes are skipped, well, with the quick, youthfully energetic cinematic style of the film keeping us involved, we don't really miss them.
The most brilliant example of this economical, yet dense, filmmaking may be the ballroom scene that begins with Mr. Bennet (Donald Sutherland) shutting down a daughter's singing and piano playing efforts, sweeps through several rooms, moves in on sporadic conversations between dancers, picks up on hallway confrontations among the lead characters, follows ongoing dramas beween secondary characters, and finally ends with Mr. Bennet consoling the sobbing daughter behind a wall in a different room—accomplished all in one long shot. In just a few minutes of screen time about fifty pages of Austen's character and plot development are dispensed with.
The rest of the film similarly moves along at a fair clip, cleverly compressing what used to be separate scenes into one, though always devoting as much time as necessary to the important emotionally charged scenes between Keira Knightley's Elizabeth and any one of her parents, her sister Jane (Rosamund Pike), her friend Charlotte (Claudie Blakley), and her suitors, focusing on Mr Darcy the most, of course.
As in the novel, Elizabeth is the main character, whose perspective we share. Matthew Macfayden's Darcy is not brought to the fore as much as Colin Firth's Darcy was in the miniseries. And he is certainly not as big a sex symbol. While Knightley was nominated for an Academy Award for her role, Macfayden was unfairly criticized by some as not being charismatic as Firth had been—which ignores the fact that Jane Austen's Darcy was not supposed to be a winsome personality. In this retelling of the story, he is returned to being a somewhat distant, supercilious character whose first proposal of marriage to Elizabeth is a cold, condescending statement of benefits. But when the two finally come around to understanding each other, he is quite capable of showing the warmth that lies beneath his defensively haughty exterior.
Knightley is full-on the Elizabeth of the book in character, perhaps somewhat livelier and even spunkier to appeal to a young modern audience. As presented in this movie, she's no great beauty, but a somewhat boyish figure who can put on the glam when she has to but generally enjoys playing the satirical critic of social pretensions.
Her milieu, though, has changed from the novel and other adaptations. The time has been moved back to the previous century when the British landed gentry was in its formation. The Bennet home is more like a farmhouse with livestock in the yard and dirt on the floors. The house is generally untidy and the Bennets dine with informality and poor etiquette, all of which makes the initial disdain of Darcy, a genuine aristocrat, more understandable.
It also makes the story of Pride and Prejudice more about class differences and about trying to overcome the barriers between people. Reading Jane Austen or watching some of the adaptations, one might be excused for wondering what the big deal about wealth is. Everyone seems to be comfortable, no one seems to have to work for a living, and yet there is such an emphasis about marrying for money. The change of period in this film helps clarify the economic differences, especially between the nobility (the very rich in its day) and the rural middle class of the time.
The earth tones complement this back-to-basics approach of the film. To my mind the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is the result of brilliant screenwriting, cinematography and direction, with terrific actors to bring this condensed vision of a Jane Austen classic to life in a couple of hours. We don't need much more.
COMMENTARY | MOVIES