Monday, December 05, 2005

Film: Pride & Prejudice 2005 (I’m not proud. I’m just misunderstood.)

(Photo of MacFadyen as Darcy): Alas, poor Darcy is so "bewitched" by love that he saunters across the countryside without dressing properly! (Or does Director Joe Wright just delight in giving us the "thrill" of glimpsing MacFadyen's chest hair?)

If you don't have preconceived notions about P&P, you may easily enjoy this fiercely romantic film.

However, since I ventured to the theatre with my own pride and prejudices concerning Jane Austen's novel, I find myself greatly perplexed by this 2005 adaptation.

While there is much to praise, I believe the film leaves too much of Jane Austen's comedy behind on the bookshelf.

Where is Her Pride?

Instead of a strong sense of pride or prejudice, Elizabeth Bennett (played by Keira Knightley) exudes a fidgety giddiness with bursts of giggles and bouts of eye-rolling. She might even be mistaken for one of her restless and immature younger sisters. Ultimately, this Elizabeth/Lizzy displays more melodrama than sharp wit; becoming a trembling and gasping virgin at a mere glimpse of Darcy's coattails.

Unfortunately - not only does she appear besotted with Darcy, but also, with herself. Why? Because Director Joe Wright is seemingly smitten with Knightley’s elfish appearance, and too often, the film lens catches her staring at herself in the mirror. She becomes the picture of a pining heroine - better suited for a gothic romance than a romantic comedy. Not once could I forget she is Keira Knightley. The camera, perhaps, would not let me. (Ah, for goodness sake, will somebody please give this gal a bite to eat!)

Where is His Prejudice?

The (ever-sexy) Matthew MacFadyen's depiction of Darcy seems to imply that our hero is not proud at all, but merely misunderstood. His self-conscious manner suggests a shy and brooding man who cannot cope with small-talk or simple conventions - not a proud snob.

In his first proposal, MacFadyen demonstrates more urgent desperation than condescending arrogance. His Darcy, soaking in rain, seems infused with spontaneous passion. So much so that the two lovers break into heated shouting (and out of character). A close-up shot suggests that a kiss would settle all between them; put them out of their hormonal misery.

Without the intense pride and prejudice, the story becomes one of confused misunderstanding, not a journey of self-revelation and subsequent transformation.

Who are these Strangers?

The essential character of Wickham (played by Rupert Friend) is strangely kicked into the sidelines. Although his influence over Elizabeth is instrumental to the plot, Wickham is given obscenely little screen time. We are asked to believe he is charming and persuasive – rather than to witness it ourselves.

I usually depend upon dear Bingley to be reliably agreeable and cheerfully unassuming, but here (played by Simon Woods), he comes across as goofy, even clownish (aided by his fluff of bright, red hair), as if he is a second "Collins," rather than an appealing suitor to sweet Jane.

Collins, himself, played by Tom Hollander, seems downright eerie at the start, and later, appears to portray a tragic and vulnerable social misfit rather than a man who is comically oblivious to the feelings of others. As a result, any mockery of him feels mean-spirited.

Women to Watch!

P&P '05 offers several standout performances. Compared to previous characterizations, I immensely enjoyed Brenda Blethyn’s robust portrayal of Mrs. Bennett. She balances comic self-centeredness with a keen desperation for her daughters’ futures. In her performance, comedy and drama blend comfortably.

In addition, the portrayal of Charlotte Lucas is excellent. Charlotte’s short speech about settling for marriage with Collins is one of the more poignant moments in the movie.

Also noteworthy, Rosamund Pike manages to create a sweet Jane who isn't prim or sugary.

Leaving the Parlor, Leaving the Genre?

P&P '05 is visually striking and stimulating. Images of crowded ballrooms as well as the Bennett household offer a gritty (even dirty) realism that is not often seen in (more staged) adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels.

However, the desire to escape the confinements of the parlor is indulged too far for my liking. Darcy’s first proposal is set in stormy rain (leaning the film, once again, too heavily toward gothic). The director, I suspect, hopes for more drama, but the drama, Dear Director, is in the dialogue, not the atmosphere.

Jane Austens' P&P is not an atmospheric novel. No unexpected midnight guests, no sudden bolts of lightning. Yet, this director seems to strive to transform Jane Austen's "Comedy of Manners" into a "Gothic Romance."

Or is he indulging our fast-paced society, short attention spans, need for instant gratification and youth-driven market? Is any adaptaption of P&P completely blind to the contemporary audience it seeks to engage?

Elizabeth Bennett as Cinderella?

The final sequence between Lizzy and Darcy has such a corny fairy-tale quality to it that this audience member wonders when Darcy became Prince Charming?

I've long-believed that the strong and sensible nature of Jane Austen's Lizzy will allow her to create a content life for herself regardless of marriage, but regrettably, this Lizzy’s happiness seems to be inextricably tied-up in becoming Mrs. Darcy.

Watch it? Definitely.

Watch it for Brenda Blethyn’s moving and funny Mrs. Bennett (and Donald Sutherland’s touching Mr. Bennett). Watch it for the brief but impressive appearance by brilliant Judi Dench. Watch it for sexy MacFadyen’s portrayal of Mr. Rochester – ooops! I mean, Mr. Darcy! Watch it for sheer romantic and escapist fantasy. Watch it because, despite its faults, the film is superior to most general cinema offerings.

...assuming, of course, you can forebear the clichés of lovers set against sunsets/sunrises, rain-drenched, and yes, wandering about in improper attire!

Recommended Reading

Mercy's review of Pride & Prejudice and Holly's prd & prjdc.

9 repartee:

Blogger Golgotha_Tramp wrote...

I didn't watch this as I knew it would make me angry. I can't believe they shrunk Wickham's part! He was such a good character. Although I'm sure no-one could have played Lady Catherine de Bourgh as well as Barbara Leigh-Hunt in the BBC adaptation.

12/07/2005 10:31 AM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Oh, we can get so indignant about our Austen, can't we? :)

I secretly wish MacFadyen had played Wickham! After seeing him in Trollope's The Way We Live Now, I bet he could have made a deliciously convincing Wickham (and the role would have been expanded for him, of course).

Poor Dench is made to behave outrageously in this version, but she's still a force. BTW, Leigh-Hunt is godmother to Dench's daughter.

Unfair as it may be, it's impossible not to compare this 127 min. version with the 300 min. BBC/A&E mini-series. So, when this film spent precious minutes on close-ups of hands/eyes in lieu of bantering dialogue between Darcy/Lizzy, I longed for the sparkling repartee between Firth/Ehle.

Sigh.

I'll probably feel more amiable toward this interpretation after a few years of recovery :)

12/07/2005 11:55 AM  
Anonymous Holly wrote...

Very insightful analysis. My reaction was pretty similar.

I've finally posted my critique of the movie on my blog, and have included a link to your two posts about it--it's here: http://holly.mclo.net/archives/2005/12/prd_prjdc.html

Hope you don't mind.

12/17/2005 8:41 AM  
Anonymous J.E. wrote...

Excellent review of the movie: full of humour and satire! I completely agree with you (but if you go the P&P boards from imd you will find very few who really would agree to those observations:) It also seemed to me a melodrama movie, more like a soap opera rather than the powerful story that J.A wrote. But anyway, the actors are beautiful/handsome, so it is a nice movie to watch (if you ignore the stupid bits and cheesiness added to it to appeal to a larger audience).

3/31/2006 7:24 AM  
Blogger pendlerpiken wrote...

ahem.

the soppy ending is the american version, the european ends where
Lizzie runs out of Mr. Bennet's study and he says: "If any young
men come for Mary or Kitty, send them in - I'm quite at my leisure"

---or something similar.

one must assume that this ending is added to appeal to another audience
than those commenting here...

6/23/2006 5:32 AM  
Blogger star wrote...

The story follows the main character Elizabeth Bennet as she deals with issues of manners, upbringing, moral rightness, education and marriage in her aristocratic society of early 19th century England. Elizabeth is the second eldest of five daughters of a country gentleman landed in the fictional town of Meryton in Hertfordshire, not far from London.
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2/26/2010 8:38 AM  
Blogger jerson wrote...

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It also seemed to me a melodrama movie, more like a soap opera rather than the powerful story that J.A wrote. But anyway, the actors are beautiful/handsome, so it is a nice movie to watch (if you ignore the stupid bits and cheesiness added to it to appeal to a larger audience).

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