§ion=&combo2=&text1=&text2=&SocNetUsername=&SocNetPassword=&authCode=& 7th Decade Thoughts: Pride & Prejudice: The Movie

7th Decade Thoughts

Thoughts about books, politics and history (personal and otherwise), pictures I've taken and pictures I've edited.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Pride & Prejudice: The Movie

I finally saw the new Pride & Prejudice film last night. I can't say that I thought it was a great movie or even that it will stand as a "classic" among the films of that novel. What I did like was the setting. I suspect someone did a lot of research on every aspect of life in the Napoleonic Wars—even the manners, though the little bow and curtsy gestures got irritating if no doubt authentic. The houses and servants and interiors were wonderful though I suspect some were a bit posh for the class Austen was writing about. The chickens and pigs in the yard struck me as very likely, though.

The star, as far as I was concerned, was Donald Sutherland, a different reading of Mr. Bennett but perfectly within the spirit of Austen's text. He was also the only one capable of seeing the humor in the text. I was disappointed in Judi Dench as Lady Catherine. She said some hilarious lines in ways that no one could possible laugh at. She played Lady Catherine like she played Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love—much more appropriate for Elizabeth. But then for humor no one can top Edna Mae Oliver's over-the-top Lady Catherine from the 1940 film. The other disappointment was Mr. Collins who, in Austen, is hugely comic and who was taken seriously in this film. The conversation between Charlotte and Elizabeth about Charlotte's engagement really beats the sociological reality about spinsters into the dirt.

My biggest issue is that the film was played as heavy drama, rather than as comedy of manners. In a way it reminded me of The Great Gatsby film that starred Robert Redford. The filmmakers seemed to think that using the exact words of the famous writer of the book would make a great movie. Characters in this version of P&P said lines that cause me to giggle every time I read Austen, but which were delivered in this film with no sense of the humor at all. Some even came across as garbled rather than witty—such as when Darcy responds to the "stroll around the room" which Caroline Bingley proposes to Elizabeth at Netherfield Park. When Darcy is asked to join them he remarks that they could have only two reasons to stroll, one to share confidences and the other to show off their figures and that in the first instance he would be in the way and in the second he could appreciate their figures more from where he sat. It's as if Matthew Macfadyen got flustered with such a long retort and couldn't possible deliver the lines with the wit intended in the novel.

I didn't see the sense in the changes in the plot. Wickam's role was played down and that interfered with the motivations of the characters. Elizabeth's belief in Wickam played a huge role in her rejection of Darcy, but in this film Elizabeth and Wickam had virtually no relationship. That muddled the runaway Lydia episode too. And speaking of Lydia, the scene where she returns after her forced marriage showing off her "doting" husband, with carriage and footman, is sort of pathetic but also very funny; it was played this film as only pathetic. Similarly, Mrs. Bennett's match-making in the film has more than a touch of desparation, as no doubt would have been the case in that period. But Austen's novel is a comedy of manners, not a sociological tract and Austen made the point about marriage realities with a twinkle not a tear in her eye.The end of the film was simply dreadful and dragged on and on and on. All night in fact as the lovers pace and finally meet (was Elizabeth in her house coat? how scandalous!) and embrace at dawn. Heavy drama, but not in the least romantic.The 1940 film had lots wrong with it, but you must admit that the antebellum gowns were more attractive than the "authentic" Empire styles. That film too took liberties with the plot—some frankly slapstick—but it didn't miss the humor that's put Pride and Prejudice at the top of the all-time bestseller list for nearly 200 years! The BBC miniseries from the 90ies was more authentic than that 1940 film but didn't turn its back on the marvelous Austen wit. Those two very different versions remain my favorite versions of Jane Austen on film.

When I looked up the 2005 Pride & Prejudice in the Internet Movie Database, I found it has a tagline: "a romance ahead of its time". Are they assuming that "romance" is something new?

It also seems to me that "romantic comedy" is pretty looked down on these days. One can't help but wonder if that genre was seen as "not hefty enough" for a serious movie of a classic book. But every romantic comedy ever made has its roots in Pride and Prejudice.
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