Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Best Three Austen Adaptations- Pride and Prejudice (2005)

I am one of those arguably annoying people who really, really love Jane Austen and could go on about her books and the adaptations of her books for days.  So I feel it is only fair, that if I’m going to start talking about her I should do so in small snippets.  This topic was inspired by discovering a new favorite adaptation just last night.  Which just goes to show that there is no such thing as too many Austen adaptations! NOTE TO FILMMAKERS: Please keep making them! 

NOTE TO READERS: As I started writing this I realized that I really can go on ad nauseum so I've decide to split into three  posts.

Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Directed by: Joe Wright 

 Starring: Keira Knightley and Mathew MacFadyen

I thought I'd start with what I suspect to be the most controversial.   I actually prefer this adaptation to the much-loved 1996 BBC mini-series starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.  Don't get me wrong, I really really like the 1996 mini-series and I do prefer Jennifer Ehle's Elizabeth Bennett to Keira Knightley's along with Julia Sawalha's crazy Lydia.  But there are SO many things I admire in Joe Wright's adaptation that I have continued to follow his directing career (Atonement, Hanna, Anna Karenina, The Soloist) and count him as one of my favorite directors.  So what do I love about this adaptation?

1) The dirtiness.  The Bennets are meant to be several steps below Darcy and Bingley on the social and financial ladder and here they really look it.  They have servants and a large house but the house is worn, their hair inexpertly coiffed, their dresses of an inferior fabric.  And they re-wear articles of clothing.  The contrast is very clear when in other productions, they were more concerned with making everybody look fabulous, which I appreciate, but I also appreciated this different take on the Bennets.

2) The near perfectness of the stories shortening.  I think Joe Wright achieves admirably in just over 2 hours what the BBC took over 5 hours to tell.  There are some moments of exposition awkwardness and we maybe lose a little Wickham but for the most part everything's there and it doesn't feel rushed.  Not that I mind spending five hours watching Austen but I was impressed how well this shorter version worked.

 3) The lush romanticism.  The score of this movie is astonishingly beautiful and romantic and adds to the atmosphere immeasurably.  The initial proposal scene here practically bursts with passion.  And how can you forget the image of Darcy walking across the fields through fog, knee high boots and shirt collar open in the penultimate scene.  Sigh...

4) The little things: Joe Wright does a number of things that some might find gimmicky but I truly love.  The continuous shot during the Netherfield ball scene is probably the most fantastic example as the camera circles the party highlighting all the Bennet's foibles.  Later in the ball, towards the end of Darcy and Elizabeth's dance, all the other couples in the room ever so briefly disappear highlighting the intensity of focus between these two people.  Time passing while Elizabeth twirls on a swing and watches the farmyard around her change.  Focusing in on Darcy's hand as he flexes it after seemingly nonchalantly handing Elizabeth up into a carriage.

5) The characters.  The wonderful characters here are of course Jane Austen's but there are some interesting things done with the script, and acting/directing choices that I think really make these characters come to life.  First of all there are several scenes shot in such a way, as well as some unscripted moments of acting, that really make the Bennets into a crazy, loving family in a way that I think is unique.  The girls tussling and raucously trading chores for a coveted piece of clothing, them huddled together eavesdropping as their parents talk of the new neighbors, Lizzie and Jane whispering and giggling under the covers after the assembly.  There were moments where I actually felt for and understood Mrs. Bennet (played well by Brenda Blethyn) which is a miracle and we even see some moments of true affection between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet (they do have 5 children together after all!).   I think one of the DVD extras highlights that the Bennets operating as a real family was something Joe Wright really focused on and perhaps even had the cast that make up the family spend some time together outside of shooting to become really comfortable and close with one another.

6) Mr. Darcy.  This could be lumped in with #5 but he's important so I'm pulling him out for special consideration.  I LOVE Mathew Macfadyen's portrayal of Darcy and prefer him infinitely to Colin Firth (blasphemy!).  It drove me crazy when the movie was out, that everyone kept talking about how brilliant Keira Knightley was and practically no one even mentioned poor Mathew.  I'm probably going to piss some people off by saying that the character of Darcy is wonderful but he's also a bit of a problem.  His transformation from snotty, jerkwad to kind, generous lovable Darcy is rather abrupt.  Darcy's portrayal in this adaptation deals with this problem quite well by emphasizing that while Darcy is certainly a snob, the perception of his pridefulness is dramatically exaggerated because he is rather socially awkward, shy and reserved.  So it makes sense that when Elizabeth shows up at Pemberly, his manner is so altered in response to: 1) her admonishing him that if he is to overcome shyness and awkwardness he must practice at conversing and being more sociable and 2) his realization from her refusal of his proposal that his reserve has lead to her having wildly false ideas about him.   Mathew Macfadyen plays this Darcy so well and gives him a slight vulnerability that makes Darcy a little more complex.  

7) The proposal scene.  Both of them.  The first proposal is almost hot with the heaving tension between them as they drip with rain.  Then the second and final with its early morning quiet, the intimacy,  both of them informally attired, Darcy stuttering over his ardent declaration of love - its just - guh...  Are the scenes a little over the top.  Maybe.  Would Jane approve?  Hmmm... possibly not.  Did I still rewind and rewatch these scenes over and over and over again once I got the DVD.  Yup.

So what did you think of this adaptation of Pride and Prejudice?  What did you like or dislike about it?  What is your favorite adaptation of Pride and Prejudice?

Next up... Sense and Sensibility.



  1. The score. Oh, I adore the score to this movie. I agree with everything here, especially the dirtiness - that was something I thought of too the first time I saw this. I just can't get enough of this version of P&P. It is by far my favorite adaption!

    1. The score and the dirtiness - both very awesome! I just really appreciated that the differences (besides Mrs. Bennett's gauchery) between the Bennetts and the Darcys and Bingleys of the world were made very visibly apparent.