Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice
Known as the “Hollywood” Pride and Prejudice or ‘that Keira Knightley one’, this is most likely the most mainstream P&P out there. Putting aside the fact that many people dislike Knightley, or ‘Pouty Mc Pouty’ to quote a most beloved Aunty, there is a beautiful aesthetic quality about Wright’s P&P that doesn’t fail to make me sigh every time I watch this version. There are stunning costumes, some absolutely gorgeous venues and scenery, the lovely Macfadyen as Darcy and Dario Marianelli has composed a lovely soundtrack that has graced my white iPhone headphones as of late. It truly is a masterpiece.
However, it is not without its flaws. As it is about two hours in duration, a lot of minor characters, and some major, have been cut out completely, and a whole bunch of smaller events were also lost in the process. Some sections of the plot happen much closer together than in the novel- such as Mr. Darcy’s appearance at Rosings park compaired with Elizabeth’s arrival. Some changes were, however quite refreshing. Placing Elizabeth and Darcy outside in the pouring rain for the first proposal resulted in quite an intense, charged scene allows the emotions to run high- but it does feel a little inconsistent and staged.
Macfadyen does well as Darcy, but the emotional shift that Austen had intended for Darcy to express (from obvious disdain to unwilling love) is not as evident, and he remains the quiet-but-nice guy throughout, showing none of the severity that he needed in those first few scenes. He is also no public speaker, his words sounding awkward, and his fake stutter in “I lo-, I lo-, I love you” nearer the end of the film feels a bit too contrived. However, he has the brooding good looks that a Darcy needs, and he carries off the period costume extremely well- leaving most of us drooling.
Knightley is beautiful, and whoever did her hair for the film was a genius. She keeps everyone’s attention, and has the lovely eyes that Lizzy should have. Unfortunately, she does not have the maturity as well as the vivacity that I would expect from an Elizabeth. There is something slightly wishy-washy about her that leaves the character, although gorgeous, just below the mark. She has several great Lizzy moments- including her taking on of her fathers words to Mr. Collins “Do these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are they the result of previous study?” as well as her retort to Darcy about dancing being good for encouraging affection, but overall it comes across a bit lack-lustre.
Pemberley itself is magnificent. Although we don’t get a Darcy wet-white-shirt scene anywhere in the movie, we are given a great view of this estate. The grounds, the marble flooring, the painted fresco ceiling, the room full of sculptures… it simply is a breathtaking addition. Similarly, the ‘general splendour’ at the balls are tremendous. Although they are slightly over the top considering the location and what would have been the norm at the time, you cannot do anything other than appreciate the set design.
The sisters seem to have a really great relationship. Elizabeth and Jane are as intimate as imagined, sharing everything, and having one memorable scene where they discuss Bingley under the safety of a quilt. There is a sisterly love between all of the sisters (apparently all the actors played ‘sardines’ to get to know each other) and they are playful and tease one another, but are still very caring, and with a lot of the unrestraint imagined within a household of girls. Lydia is fabulously similar to Mrs. Bennet, and manages to be ridiculous and silly, while believing herself dignified. She fits her character perfectly. Although Kitty blends into the background a little under Lydia’s loudness, Mary shines through, and we often feel sympathy for her- such as when Mr. Bennet stops her from playing the piano, and when Mr. Collins does not even consider her when she would clearly be a good match.
There are some great works of directorial genius in here. Most notably is the (apparently unintentional) filming of Lizzy and Darcy dancing the Letter to Henry Purcell dance alone, when supposedly in the middle of a crowded ball. Adding this snippet into the dance gave the moment so much depth, and such symbolism that accident or not, it was a beautiful inclusion. Similarly, the part where Lizzy spins around on the swing as the seasons change is such a clever and quirky way of showing the progression of time, that it has to be noted here. It was also beautiful to see the other side of working at a rustic farmhouse- working with the animals, in the dirt and so on.
I recently watched this with a male friend (okay, I forced him), and he said: “Kinda an abrupt ending… I was like… that’s how it ends? I want to see the consequence of the engagement… So it just ends like that? No fallout with everyone? I wanted more drama! Well the story wasn’t bad. Ending kinda abrupt. Beginning was painful.” When I asked what was wrong with the beginning he said: “The mother is so so painful and she gets a lot of [screen] time.” And this makes a few good points- however they cannot be limited to this film (he hated the mother in the BBC version… “That’s the whole point! She is *meant* to be painfully over the top!” I explained, and of course the ending is the books ending). Some of us like our happy endings though, and if it was good enough for Austen… then it is good enough for me!
The alternative ending is something which continues to confuse me. Apparently the English audience received the father laughing as the best ending, whereas the Americans preferred the Mrs. Darcy kissing scene. I like both, possibly the former more as it remains true to the time, however the second is nice as it shows a true intimacy between the characters that you rarely see in any version.
In the extensive production notes (well worth the read), Wright says: “I wanted to treat it as a piece of British realism rather than going with the picturesque tradition, which tends to depict an idealized version of English heritage as some kind of Heaven on Earth.” I have to say that if this was his aim, he well and truly failed. After watching this movie I want to live there and to be there. It seems beautiful and perfect. Yes, there is a bit of extra mud around, but it is still so magnificent and idealistic.
Honourable mentions: the ladies white-dress costumes at the Netherfield ball and the casting of Simon Woods as Mr. Bingley.
Dishonourable mentions: The chopping out of characters including the Hursts, Forsters etc.