'Pride and Prejudice': Book to Film
A film review on Joe Wright's 2005 film adaptation of Jane Austen's romantic comedy, 'Pride and Prejudice'.
Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is adored by readers and literary critics across the globe. Her story is one that has been retold many times (one version even features zombies). But there's one adaption that stands out in particular: the 2005 film directed by Joe Wright.
I'll admit, I had already seen this film adaptation before reading Austen's acclaimed novel. However, after recently diving into this classic literary text for the first time, I have a new appreciation for Wright's adaptation.
For those who are unfamiliar with the narrative, Pride and Prejudice follows Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley), one of five daughters who are seeking husbands. She meets Mr Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen), a cruel, intolerable man she dislikes instantly. But after discovering that she has greatly misjudged him and Mr Darcy amends his pride, the two are united by their love.
This romantic drama remains true to the book, capturing Austen's wit and humour as well as Elizabeth's emotional conflict. Like the original text, the film explores Elizabeth's perspective, rarely straying from her point of view. The screenplay, written by Deborah Moggach, includes complete passages, sassy lines and emotional speeches from the novel itself, proving its loyalty to the iconic text.
Jane Austen fans can rest assured knowing Elizabeth is just as fierce as she is in the book when she stands her ground against the antagonistic Lady Catherine. We can rejoice in hearing Mr Bennet tease his highly strung wife, assuring her that he has the "highest respect" for her nerves as they've been his "constant companion these 20 years." And we thank the filmmakers for not betraying Mr Darcy's sensitive character, as seen when he admits, "I do not have the talent of conversing easily with people I have never met before."
The cast is perfect. The chemistry between Knightley and Macfadyen keeps the romance alive, even when Elizabeth doesn't know what she feels and Mr Darcy remains cold, the audience eagerly waits for their relationship to bloom.
Rosamund Pike is Jane. She plays her with caution, conveying her heartbreak and endless longing for Mr Bingley without seeming too eager or wistful. This is evident when Mr Bingley makes a surprise visit to her home and after announcing his swift departure Jane's disappointment is conveyed only through a slight widening of her eyes. Pike puts Jane's best qualities on display (her selflessness and kindness) without making her sweet nature seem artificial.
Lydia, in all her vainglory, is not overdone by Jena Malone. As readers will be able to attest, Malone's portrayal of the least-liked Bennet sister is so accurate, audiences can't help but roll their eyes at her flirtatious and silly behaviour.
Likewise, Mr and Mrs Bennet are just as they are described in the book – complete opposites. Where one is measured and sensible, the other is nervous and materialistic. Mrs Bennet provides some much needed comedic relief in times of emotional tension, particularly following Elizabeth's great distress at hearing of her sister's elopement.
Wright constructs parallels to illustrate Elizabeth's character arc in realising her true feelings towards Mr Darcy.
Hands are a romantic symbol in the film. From close up shots of playing the piano, to carefully addressing a letter, to running hands over decorative ornaments at Pemberley, they're a clear motif in the film. A motif for a love that could be.
The introduction of this symbol features Mr Darcy helping Elizabeth into the carriage, followed by a shot of him flexing his hand as though he can still feel her hand in his palm. This sequence is contrasted with a scene midway in the film when Elizabeth hastily leaves him at Pemberley. He stands alone as the camera focuses on his hand resting against his side, indicating his attachment to Elizabeth. This motif comes full circle as once Elizabeth has accepted his hand in marriage (mind the pun), she kisses his "cold" hands.
Despite this type of interaction not being described in the book, this symbolism is one way Wright wordlessly exhibits the highs and lows of their relationship.
Shot entirely on location in England, the green, vast scenery allows the camera to present ideas on its own. Loneliness and longing are common themes expressed through wide shots of the rural landscape.
We can see this as Elizabeth stands alone on the cliff edge before she sets off to Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle, shortly followed by another wide shot as she sits against a tree. The framing exemplifies her feeling of isolation as she is separated from her two family members.
Once again, Wright parallels this image with one later in the film as Elizabeth cradles herself under the shade of a tree after hearing of the engagement of Jane and Mr Bingley. Despite her happiness for her sister, she continues to regret her misjudgment of Mr Darcy who has proved himself good and generous.
In this way, the film proves its ability to evoke empathy for Elizabeth as she suffers in both heart and mind.
The camera work and editing manipulate the passing of time to produce several effects. The first we see of this is at the ball in Netherfield when Elizabeth is asked (much to her surprise) by Mr Darcy to dance. The use of an invisible cut to transition between their being the only two in the room and a crowded dance floor highlights their romantic connection – that their love is so powerful they can erase everyone else from the room.
Following Elizabeth being informed of Charlotte's engagement to Mr Collins, she spins on a swing at the Longbourn estate. The montage of her surroundings constantly changing as she continues to spin indicates elapsed time. This illusion underlines her inability to comprehend how her friend could marry for something other than love, even for "a comfortable home and protection."
Lighting is also used to create the effect of passing time through shadows. This helps to convey Elizabeth's shock at Mr Darcy's proposal as she stares directly into the camera, oblivious to his presence. Without the narration in Austen's novel, this is one way technical elements are utilised to reveal Elizabeth's internal battle.
The class divide is clearly outlined through the film's mise en scène. The costume design and production design (which both received Oscar nominations) play an important part in establishing a dichotomy between the aristocratic figures and the Bennets to emphasise the themes of pride and prejudice.
As Elizabeth is led across the polished tiles at the Pemberley estate, the high-angle shot conveys their position in society as being beneath that of Mr Darcy. In addition to this, Elizabeth's white dress suggests her belonging at Pemberley as she blends in with the gallery – something her prejudice has prevented her from acquiring.
This luxurious landscape is contrasted with the inferior Longbourn estate as a large pig is seen walking past an open doorway. This shot in particular, along with those of the muddy outdoors, reinforces the division of class and the character faults that keep the two from marrying. Wright affirms this, saying, "It’s about two people who have the imagination to envisage a world in which they’re able to love each other."
"I wanted a sense of the elements, of mud and rain. It occurred to me that love is an elemental force, and I wanted to set it in the context of the other elements. And it seemed to me that if Elizabeth had a very earthbound existence, then her aspiration for romantic love would be all the more heroic. She’s got her feet in the mud, and she’s reaching for the stars. I think it’s a heroic story."
It wouldn't be right to conclude without commenting on the music which earned composer Dario Marinelli an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score. Beethoven's early piano sonatas were "a point of reference" for Marinelli's score as their "spirit" inspired the tone of music which was to complement the images of rural England and lively ballrooms. The classical music combines sweet and gentle with dark and melancholy to tease out Elizabeth's desires and build the romantic mood necessary to enchant the audience.
Pride and Prejudice will continue to be adored by audiences. Wright's adaptation is faithful to the original material, doing the characters and the intricate yet simple plot justice. It's one that we can assume Jane Austen herself would love. Because her readers do. Most ardently.