I’m not going to bother, at this point, watching all five hours of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice movie, as I’ve pretty much got it memorized – no need to pull it out for study purposes. But I got myself a copy of the 2005 version, and watched it last night. It’s been quite a while since I saw it, so it was interesting watching it with an analytical mindset rather than an Austen-fangirl one – more enjoyable, for one.
I’m not crazy about that movie as a whole, but I do like Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth. She’s got the kind of spunk and liveliness that Lizzie Bennet has in the book. But otherwise, it really is Keira’s Elizabeth, not Austen’s. The whole film is more of an interpretation than an adaptation; they take Austen’s story and a fair bit of her dialogue, and then turn it into a fairytale. Even the costuming is only quasi-Regency, with a whole lot of 21st-century-isms thrown in – like, what’s with Elizabeth going to Netherfield with her hair all down her back? That’s the equivalent of walking around in her nightshirt! And the waistlines on those gowns are far too low. Besides, Keira Knightley’s emaciated looks might be our 21st-century idea of feminine beauty, but in the Regency, she would have been considered quite ugly (she would have needed considerably more than her fine eyes, which, admittedly, she’s got, to catch Mr Darcy’s attention).
The whole movie very much plays to 21st-century sentiment. When it first came out on DVD, I watched it with a friend and her sixteen-year-old daughter, with whom I’d already seen the 1995 version. I remember the girl saying that the new movie made much more sense to her. People react the way they would today – Darcy and Elizabeth have a shouting match in the botched-proposal scene, instead of stiffly giving each other “best wishes for your health and happiness”; when they want to scream, they scream, instead of being polite. The Bennet family actually likes each other; Mrs Bennet isn’t really silly, Mr Bennet bitingly sarcastic, Mary pompously conceited and Kitty and Lydia vulgar.
For that matter, Georgiana Darcy isn’t shy, or Charlotte Lucas cold-heartedly mercenary; and Wickham – well, he’s hardly there. This film is rather short on character development, and long on stunning visuals (of which there are plenty – it was a treat seeing this on the big screen). The exquisite depth of Austen’s storytelling is telescoped into a fairly simple boy-meets-girl plot, and a rich-boy-meets-poor-girl at that. The visual contrast between the dark-coloured interiors of Longbourn and the Meryton Assembly and the bright, white-and-gilded look of Netherfield and Pemberley is significant. Not only does Elizabeth walk three miles through the mud to visit her sister, in this version she could step into cow patties as soon as she sets foot outside the back door.
You’d almost expect Darcy to require her to start spinning straw into gold, because that’s what poor maidens who catch the eye of the prince are usually required to do, isn’t it? Oh, sorry, wrong genre. Mind you, after that strange dream-like sequence at the Netherfield ball, where Darcy and Elizabeth suddenly find themselves spinning all alone in an empty ballroom, a lost slipper wouldn’t come amiss. And in the final scene, the film makers certainly give the viewers the “happily ever after” with an ultra-romantic candlelight-by-the-ornamental-lake kissing scene.
Austen is a realist – this movie is a fairytale. As long as you don’t expect to meet the characters and scenes from the book, it’s quite an enjoyable piece of film making.