Category Archives: Pride & Prejudice

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1995)

Okay everybody. I just watched the first half hour of the BBC production again and I have to be honest with you all: it sucks.

The acting is terrible. Everyone recites their lines, like they’re quoting Bible verses, instead of actually acting.

Mrs Bennet is obviously a stage actress because she simply screams all her lines, and she tries too hard to be irritating instead of physically incarnating irritation and superficiality as Brenda Blethyn does in the new one.

Most importantly, Jennifer Ehle is disgustingly sweet. Constantly squinting her eyes and doing her little cutsie face quickly becomes intolerable for the viewer. After a half hour I wanted to stab her in the face but I couldn’t so I just turned it off.

Darcy has to state (to Bingley’s sister) fairly early on his admiration for Lizzy because otherwise we would never know he likes her. And when he says so, it’s a complete shock and we have to take his word for it because there’s literally no evidence till then in the movie to support it.

This is also one of many scenes in the BBC version not witnessed firsthand by Lizzy — one of the best things in the new version is that it is shown totally from Lizzy’s point of view, which contributes greatly to its coherence as a film.

Finally, and maybe this is too harsh for a made-for-TV series, but the camera is 100% static. Everything is a stationary shot. There are also a lot of unnecessary shots. No reason for it to be 5 hours long with this many useless shots.

Quite simply, these two versions of Pride and Prejudice can hardly be compared. The BBC might be enjoyable as an audiobook or as a CD instead of a DVD, but in terms of direction it is a waste of filmstock. Perhaps fun to listen to, even despite some of the bad acting, but torture to watch.

PRIDE & PREJUDICE: Second Thoughts

My grandmother visiting for Christmas wanted to see Pride and Prejudice so I happily offered to take her, eager myself to double-check if my initial praise for the movie was actually sane or a passing fever. But after a second critical viewing, I emphatically endorse my original review and would add that it is in fact a flawless movie.

The only difference I noticed in the American cut of the film is the terribly cheesy final scene in which Darcy calls Lizzy “Mrs Darcy” a dozen times while kissing her. It is the only scene that feels out of place in a movie ripe with suggestion but never explicit. One of the things that struck me this second time was the movie’s achievement of sensuality without a hint of vulgarity.

For a movie without a single kiss (at least not until the last scene in the American version) it is sexually charged with a kind of latent eroticism found only in PG movies like Hitchcock’s Notorious. The tension, longing, even frustration experienced by Elisabeth and Darcy is so palpable that a tacked-on quasi-consumation was destined to be anticlimactic.

Deborah Moggach is my choice for Best Adapted Screenplay. Every line, whether humorous or not, adds to the plot or character development — the snippets of conversation overheard during the long party shots being ideal examples — and the acting is uniformly expert.

Unlike Narnia, with its inartful paraphrases of Lewis’ dialogue — would Aslan ever say something so prosaic as “There must be an explanation”? — P&P never feels like an adaptation. In fact the script feels invisible, a remarkable feat for a novel and screenplay with so many precisely worded and memorable passages.

And unlike Oscar Wilde scripts, whose incessant cleverness almost inevitably reduces actors to reciting their lines without being able to sustain the illusion of spontaneity, it is a credit to the actors of P&P that even the most clever lines and exchanges always seem unrehearsed.

And speaking of actors, everyone cites Colin Firth’s supposedly authoritative interpretation of Darcy ten years ago but, by becoming a professional Darcy in two Bridget Jones movies, Firth ended up identifying himself too closely with the character, retroactively making his original portrayal of the role in the BBC production now seem more Colin Firth than Darcy. Make mine MacFadyen.

The new version is also a masterpiece of editing. At nearly two hours there is not a single unnecessary or overlong scene. I loved King Kong but I distinctly remember a dozen shots that could have been cut with no harm to the movie. Peter Jackson is like the Ron Howard of action epics, and Kong shares with LOTR too much sentimentalism.

But P&P, in which moments of sentimentality might have been understandably excused, never approaches them because every facial expression shown actually contributes to character. Instead of Jennifer Ehle verbalizing (because that’s what Austen wrote!) the thought, “Of all this I might have been mistress,” while strolling through Pemberly, Moggach’s effecient script is silent, wisely deferring to Keira Knightley’s ability to show the thought all over her face as soon as she stands up in the carriage.

Though Dickens adaptations can be artistic — as Polanski’s Twist was this year — they always lack an ultimate level of realism because even when the sentimentality is removed from his stories, most of Dickens’ characters remain inherently comical. Joe Wright’s P&P, however, is both artistic and realistic in its vision of Austen’s England (even though Bingley’s hair is too perfectly mussed with Bryl Cream). His film is tightly plotted and perfectly executed, making it in my opinion the best Austen adaptation ever, if not one of the best-ever period pieces, period.

PRIDE & PREJUDICE

I decided to take one for the team and audit the new Pride & Prejudice. I was expecting not to like it but despite myself actually found it a faithful adaptation of Austen’s novel.

Perhaps the most notable difference from previous versions is that the Bennet family is shown to be definitely lower-middle class, as they are in the book. Their clothes are on the dingy side and no one’s hair is perfectly combed, if not a bit greasy. In fact the first local ball they attend likewise seems more realistic than in most period pieces, full of average-looking people playing dress-up in clothes that might not be fresh from the cleaners.

Consequently, the Bennets’ house is just large enough for a family of seven, but not spacious, and it is even a bit shabby and unkempt. The house in fact is a reflection of the Bennet family: often indecorous yet completely oblivious of their appearance to others. The regular impropriety of the whole family, led by Mrs Bennet but sometimes including even Mr Bennet, is depicted throughout the movie in obvious as well as subtle ways, usually to the embarrassment of Lizzy but nevertheless accepted by her, sometimes too much so.

In the BBC adaptation the Bennet family’s unseemliness was portrayed too innocently and played for comic relief, making Darcy’s criticism of their faults seem a bit heartless rather than the accurate, if badly expressed, observation that it should be. But here, the foolishness of the Bennet girls and especially their mother, however well-intentioned, is absolutely pathetic, making you disgusted by them at the same time you pity them.

In stark contrast to the Bennets’ impropriety and the disorderliness of their home is the perfectly proportioned manor at Pemberley, whose architectural principles seem to reflect the moral stature of its proprietor. The structural order is appropriately translated by the cinematography, which introduces Pemberley House by at least four consecutive shots of Peter Greenaway-like symmetry.

The cinematography throughout the film is “quiet” but interesting, and there is a very effective long shot moving about a party that economically reveals great insights into the members of the Bennet family and their interactions with the other partygoers. Another memorable party scene shows Lizzy trying to juggle two conversations while dancing a minuet — all before her obligatory verbal jousting with Darcy (look, they’re dance-fighting!).

I went into it fully expecting to hate the originally-a-hottie-turned-professionally-haughty Keira Knightley, but I ended up liking her character or at least sympathizing with Lizzy in contrast to her ridiculous family. My only criticism of Knightley’s performance would be that she made Lizzy look too young. Admittedly I get the story confused with Little Women, but it was hard to believe Lizzy was the second oldest when one of her younger sisters claimed to be 27 [my bad, it was Lizzy’s friend Charlotte Lucas, not her sister].

Matthew MacFadyen plays Darcy a bit more straight faced than Colin Firth, but he didn’t have much choice, since any more facial expression on his part would seem too imitative of Firth’s aloof natural sneer. By the end of the first act I had totally accepted him as Darcy, if not displacing Firth outright in my mind. He never emerges from a pond or any other body of water, but for the final scene he does seem to materialize out of the fog (which I suppose is a kind of airborne body of water) with his shirt conspicuously unbuttoned.

Lady Catherine is somewhat too obviously played by Judi Dench, channelling her Lady Bracknell of three years ago. I wished that Knightley played Lizzy’s final confrontation with Lady Catherine a bit more passive-aggressively instead of letting it escalate so quickly to the raised-voice stage, but it is only a two-hour movie. The other climactic confrontation, Darcy’s first proposal, is handled fine.

Donald Sutherland was the biggest stumbling block originally, and even by the end he still stood out the most in a movie with mostly unknown faces, but his performance did not hinder the movie. The Bennet girls are made to look so average-looking that I didn’t even recognize Jena Malone (Donnie Darko) as Lydia. Brenda Blethyn deserves special mention as the intolerable yet pitiable Mrs. Bennet, and Tom Hollander invests Mr. Collins with an earnestness that never betrays the comic relief he provides. For such a well known story, it is a remarkable accomplishment that every character feels like a real person and never a caricature, something that can’t be said even for Polanski’s commendable adaptation of Dickens this year.

At the start of my review I thought I was going to say “it was a good adaptation but I probably won’t see it again soon.” But now, after thinking about it a bit more just while writing this review, I already want to see it again.