The “Kiss Controversy”, and over-sexualisation of Pride and Prejudice

If you haven’t seen the 2005 Keira Knightley (Joe Wright) Pride and Prejudice go and watch it now.  Then, on the DVD, check out the extra alternate ending.  Also known as the American/US ending.  This blog post will include spoilers of that ending, so if you want to wait until you have seen it, stop reading now.

Otherwise, this is the ending that started it all:

The public response to it at the time was pretty crazy.  I, for one, will say right now that I’m a little bit of an Austen purist (particularly when it comes to the sexual side of things) and I disliked this version.  However, responses to the youtube video have said things like: “I wish jane austen would have put this kind of ending” (Flora5389), “this scene it’s fantastic!!” (sprizzisprazzi1) or “Ah Jesus  this is ridiculous. As much as I loved the movie, this is like sugar vomit at the end” (Krivak).  So the views are most certainly mixed.

But does adding sexual suggestions, as well as the physical actions, detract from the storyline itself?  Certainly, there is something admirable in the way they keep their hands to themselves (go to any club or pub and you will notice how much of a rarity that is these days) and it’s great to see something that transcends a physical level.  But does this mean that adding any sort of an overtone would change the true meaning?

Sky News keyed into this debate, and created a very interesting, if short, news report about it that I definitely recommend watching:

Even in the BBC Pride and Prejudice 1995 version, stage directions included that Colin Firth, as Darcy should imagine he has an erection at one point.  Obviously, this isn’t going to be a huge part of the film itself and is more a characterisation element, but it does bring some of the sexual tension in Pride and Prejudice to light.  So, do you need to see them kissing to get that tension? 

The other point that comes out of this- are American’s more smoochy than the British?  Macfadyen (2005’s Darcy) said: “The Brit’s hated it.” when referring to the alternative ending that adds another 8 minutes to the film.  I’ve heard that people who are less familiar with the book and era preferred the ending, because it felt more “complete” and “whole” and fulfilled all their expectations, but most Austenites were displeased.

You would also be wrong to say that this only happens to Austen (I see added sex-scenes all over the place) but it is certainly very obvious in Pride and Prejudice when it gets cheesed up giving the whole piece a “heightened sense of the sexuality of the lead characters in mind”. Brian McFarlane said: “that sexual attraction is more potent than class or wealth” and Andrew Davies: “the central motor which drives the story forward is Darcy’ s sexual attraction to Elizabeth”.  All of these sexual tones caused the BBC mini series to be “advertizing itself as “a six part adaptation of simply the sexiest book ever written” (qtd. in Flavin 67).” (Profit and Production: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice on Film- Katherine Eva Barcsay, 2006).

If you want to read the script of the ending (well worth it) then check out this blog post from ‘My Pride and Prejudice’.




Filed under Discussion, Movie Review

15 responses to “The “Kiss Controversy”, and over-sexualisation of Pride and Prejudice

  1. Interesting post! Being from America I never knew that this was added material. It is a little bit sugary for my tastes, but without it, I may have felt the movie incomplete.

    • thatjennie

      I sort of agree. The ending in the UK version was when Mr. Bennet laughs… it felt a little odd. (I have a feeling they planned to keep the US ending all along, and changed at the last minute?) It would have been better to have some sort of contrived wedding scene or to end with Lizzy and Darcy standing together or something. Still a great movie though!

  2. Sally Gee

    I belong to a group who are fans of Austen, and this film, and we’ve had similar discussions, with mixed opinions. Some love the ‘romantic’ ending, some agree that it’s too schmaltzy. What all of us agree on is that something was required beyond ending it with Mr Bennet. The story revolves around Elizabeth (and Mr Darcy) and should end on them in some fashion. We’ve even had fun writing alternative endings that might have been more to our tastes.

    But as to the “American” ending. I think overall the 2005 film was respectful of Austen, not sexing things up in the way Andrew Davies typically does. That kiss scene at the end takes place after Darcy and Elizabeth are married — an event that Austen did not (and would not) write, but it makes it far less egregious an infraction to think that they would kiss and ‘coo’ a bit. (It is not the kissing I object to as much as the schmaltzy dialogue between them which I find somewhat out of character even between newly marrieds when the newly marrieds are these two.) I find this less out-of-character with Austen’s canon than the wet-shirted-lake-scene in the 1995 mini, quite frankly; again because at this point, the characters are married. (Historically, Mr Darcy would never have walked about in the open in his underwear, which is what his shirt — wet or not — would have been considered.)

    And, it is my belief that Austen did include sexual tension and attraction in her book — but would not explore it openly. Just one example, I think, helps… when Darcy finally proposes the second time and Elizabeth accepts him, “The happiness which this reply produced was such as he had probably never felt before, and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do. Had Elizabeth been able to encounter his eyes, she might have seen how well the expression of heartfelt delight diffused over his face became him; but, though she could not look, she could listen, and he told her of feelings which, in proving of what importance she was to him, made his affection every moment more valuable.” What expression do you think this ‘violent’ and ‘warm’ act took, that Elizabeth would not be able to see his face??? What would be a ‘sensible’ reaction to finally winning your mutual hearts’ desires? Austen clearly wrote of some physical contact at this point, whether as a purist you want to believe it an embrace rather than a kiss, or whatever works. But that’s passion, folks; that’s sexual tension. And there are more hints of this throughout the writing. Not salacious, but of two young people attracted to each other, and not only an attraction of minds.

    I tend to be something of a purist, but I guess not wholly enough for the ‘wholly’-er-than-thous. I don’t enjoy fanfiction that throws a lot of physical intimacy in and calls it “romantic” — that’s not true to Austen if your “fan fiction” is meant to honour her. Certainly she would not have written that explicitly, nor would she have her characters act in an overt physical/sexual manner, against the accepted behaviour of the time. But to suggest that the feelings of passion and sexual tension aren’t there in the writing is to go too far in the other direction.

    So now that I’ve had that rant, in the end I guess I’d say I wasn’t totally satisfied with the kiss ending because it was too sugary; but I liked that there was some kind of ending beyond Mr Bennet… because we needed to see that loving closure between Elizabeth and Mr Darcy as the “end” of the story. Austen certainly did give us that, if only in brief recap. (What I really would have enjoyed is the scene of them sitting on the hill discussing when they fell in love.)

    Oddly enough, they did film wedding scenes but then didn’t use them. (You can find screenshots of it out there.) That would have been fine with me — just some closure of the film that covers closure of these two lovers and the personal growth they had to go through to get to each other. But given the ending we saw, I’m not offended by the kisses and I hazard to say that Austen may not have been either since her characters were married and in private at that point.

    • thatjennie

      I think your point about them being married when the scene takes place is a very good one. However, even the other married couples in Austen’s novels are never described as having kissed. I guess it is nice to have a little insight into their married lives, and I completely love your idea of having them on the hill- or perhaps even sitting with a book together laughing at how wrong they were before.
      I think the BBC version certainly sexed up the book in some instances, but it was in a less overt way than the 2005. The scene in the ’05 version where Lizzy and Darcy are in the rain for the first proposal and their lips are really close is just a bit much for me.
      I did, however, like the little Bingley moments (where he touches the material on Jane’s dress) as I felt that they were fitting with his character and situation.
      I would be really interested to know what you made of the latest Sense and Sensibility (’08?) with the kiss between Willoughby and Marianne, as well as the opening scene. I have my own reservations, but overall I liked the version.
      I think Austen purists do tend to go too much towards the chaste side of things, but I myself enjoy the tension in PandP- and I find that it benefits and seems stronger because of the restraint and moral code defined by the time.
      My only other criticism about the ’05 kiss is that it takes some of the mystery away about Darcy and Lizzy.
      I’m going to dig out the wedding scene shots (I’m thinking that there would have been difficulties in making it authentic but I’m excited to see them).
      Thank you for commenting, those points were very insightful.

  3. D.isaster

    Hey, I just love Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice is my favourite book, just like the movie. But, I’m from the Czech republic and I just have found out that there is an alternate and romantic end! To be honest, it really touched me ‘coz I love the movie and I didn’t know about the end until now… I just can’t wait when I buy or download (trust me, I’d rather buy it) the US version… And yes, it contradicts with Austen’s version a bit (ok, maybe more than a bit), but why not? I know that Austen is all pure and so, but I like the tension between the main characters….
    What I don’t really like are the wedding still, that’s excessive in my opinion, because, just like Jennifer said, it takes more than just some mystery away about Lizzy and Darcy…

  4. lektra

    Jane Austen never married and had no frame of reference for how young marrieds behaved. I hated the wedding scene in the mini series — mostly because I did not warm to jennifer Ehle. I loved that Knightly never wore a bonnet and wore her hair down — so natural and yet rebellious. I loved that Darcy only showed smiles when with his sister in his own home where is was most comfortable. And I loved this ending because the repeated saying of her name was “code” for HOW happy he is with her and her own delight in his letting her know he was happy with that smile of hers was very intimate as was the way she touched him. The UK ending is not true to the book either, so either way you have an alternate ending.

    • thatjennie

      Sorry, perhaps I should have clarified a little. When I meant “alternate” ending, I meant the alternate ending for the 2005 film, not for Pride and Prejudice in general, just that there is the “alternate” ending as an extra on the DVD.
      I definitely agree with your point re: wore her hair down, I liked that and thought that it suited Lizzy. I did adore Jennifer Ehle though.
      I think the Mrs Darcy etc name thing was also quite cute, but I just can’t see it happening between the couple. Although, of course, that’s all personal interpretation. Thanks for adding your opinion, some really interesting points!

  5. I love the book, but I always felt the ending was a little abrupt.
    Therefore, I adored the glimpse into their married life. And although it was a little mushy, I was still completely delighted that they kissed. (Several of my friends practically had fits when they failed to kiss during both proposals. So yeah, they were REALLY happy with it.) Overall, I absolutely LOVE this movie.


    And seriously EVERYONE in this movie was just so perfect for the roles. Even though characters like Mr. Collins and Georgiana didn’t have the physical appearances described in the book (both were supposed to be tall and broad), I actually liked them better the way the were in the movie (just fit right).

    And I love that Georgiana isn’t extremely awkward and shy! Teasing, sweet, and adorable Georgiana was PERFECT!!! Seriously all the changes were for the better!

  7. YoungWriter

    I really liked this movie version. I read the book, saw this, and THEN I saw the BBC version. I can’t bring myself to dislike it even though I agree that the BBC was much more true to the actual book.

  8. mery

    I dont know why purists hate the film. it was a little hollywood but the way people hype up p&p, everyone’s expecting a great romance, as opposed to the book where there is barely any passion involved, so of course they had to do that. keira knightley fits my elizabeth more than jennifer ehle who i find unattractive and unlikable, and i didn’t like her voice. and i read the book before watching any movie version. i guess i just automatically modernize things–and characters–in my mind

  9. I like the last scene

    I recently read the book and saw the movie, and thought the movie was great. I think although the last scene wasn’t true to the book, I feel like that’s okay. I don’t agree that the mrs. Darcy thing was completely unlike Elizabeth. Although it was a bit cheesy, I can imagine them having a similar conversation. However, I thought the scene was a bit drawn out. He didn’t need to say Mrs. Darcy THAT many times. This gave the scene a much cornier feeling than it need to have.

  10. Su

    I am a proponent of the alternate ending. Simply because it was a relief. Not for me to see them kiss (I could perfectly imagine that) but for Mr. Darcy played by the wonderful Matthew McFadyen. In the last scene, where he leaves the room and waits outside after talking to Mr. Bennet, there is this look in his eyes full of expectation. Yes, a pleasant one, but still somehow tensed up. So the US version gave me what I needed to feel lifted up for Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. However the implementation can be discussed since it is a matter of taste how sugary one likes his cup of tea.
    (Excuse my English, no native speaker)

  11. WildKat

    I have not even known about this controversy before today, even though this adaption of Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite movies.

    Now I am terribly sorry I have watched this “alternate ending”, which I refuse to call “long version”…because the entire cathartic result of the emotional tension and its perfect relief in the final two scenes, was ultimately BUTCHERED!

    Only Americans could kill Jane Austen in such a way, only to have their Disney-type closure in the form a pathetic little “big O”. I hope I can erase this TERRIBLE ending from my memory.

  12. Bambi

    I love this version of Pride and Prejudice. The alternative ending completed the feel-good love ending. Period!

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