BOOK TO SCREEN: Pride and Prejudice (2005)

2005 film poster (image from imdb.com)

2005 film poster (image from imdb.com)

2005, directed by Joe Wright

For most fans, Pride and Prejudice is their favourite book by Jane Austen (mine is Persuasion); it’s probably the best-known of her novels, and has been well-served with numerous screen (mostly television) adaptations. The BBC version of 1995, with Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet and Colin Firth as Mr Darcy has achieved some sort of pop culture reference point as the adaptation for comparison, and indeed it is a very good version of the book, its several hours’ running time enabling the full details of Austen’s plot and characters to be given adequate screen time.

The latest, and only the second, film version (2005), directed by Joe Wright, and starring Keira Knightley as Lizzie and Matthew Macfadyen as Darcy, does struggle to compare with the BBC television version, since its shorter running time means that the secondary plots are only sketched. Mr Wickham’s involvement in both the Bennets’ lives and Darcy’s are perforce limited, which is a shame, because Rupert Friend does a good job with Wickham in his few minutes. However, there are a lot of very good things about this adaptation, which means that I (whisper it!) do actually prefer it to the 1995 version, despite its lesser fidelity to the source text.

Firstly, the casting is fantastic, and (in my opinion) preferable to the 1995 version in all respects. Quite apart from the main characters, Brenda Blethyn makes a likeable and understandable Mrs Bennet – vulgar, certainly, but not cringe-makingly so – Tom Hollander as Mr Collins beautifully conveys his self-regard without resorting to oleaginous parody, and Judi Dench is a wonderfully self-possessed and bossy Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Lizzie’s sisters, Rosamund Pike (Jane), Talulah Riley (Mary), Carey Mulligan (Kitty) and Jena Malone (Lydia) are appropriately young, and serious or giggly as required: Pike is also believably prettier than Knightley, too, and she conveys Jane’s reticence and good nature very well. Claudie Blakley (so good as Mabel Nesbitt in Gosford Park) is excellent and touching as Lizzie’s best friend, Charlotte Lucas. Macfadyen plays Darcy as one who assumes hauteur of manner to disguise shyness, and his friendship with Simon Wood’s Bingley seems very realistic. Knightley is delightful as Lizzie – full of energy and humour, never at a loss for words – and it’s a shame she doesn’t have more scenes with Wickham, since their relationship is never deepened sufficiently to make Darcy’s revelations seem so shocking.

Keira Knightley as Lizzie; Tom Hollander as Mr Collins (image from imdb)

Keira Knightley as Lizzie; Tom Hollander as Mr Collins (image from imdb)

Secondly, the costumes and production design are gorgeous. Wright and his team chose to set the action in the late eighteenth century rather than around 1813, the novel’s publication date, partly to distinguish the costumes in particular from the Regency-style of the 1995 production. The lighting is natural, and the whole production was shot on location rather than on sets, which lends a lovely sense of realism to the film – the “muddy hem” version of Austen.

And thirdly, it’s beautifully shot by Wright and his cinematographer Roman Osin. There is a lovely tracking shot through the guests and dancers at the Netherfield ball, for example, and the locations are used to great advantage – Elizabeth admiring the glories of the Peak District, for example, the imposing stone frontages of several stately homes (Chatsworth, Burghley House, Basildon Park, and so on), and the gardens and belvedere of Stourhead during a rainstorm, where Darcy makes his first proposal to Elizabeth. Wright makes a feature of the outdoors, often showing characters walking along the river, or the mist curling off the grass in the sunrise. I particularly like how Mr and Miss Bingley and Mr Darcy are introduced at the public assembly at Meryton: the crowd parts, and the trio are conducted with some state by the Master of Ceremonies to places of honour: Macfadyen’s height here immediately makes him conspicuous (and later contrasts comically with Tom Hollander’s much shorter stature).

Matthew Macfadyen as Mr Darcy (image from imdb)

Matthew Macfadyen as Mr Darcy (image from imdb)

Deborah Moggach’s screenplay takes liberties with the novel, of course, but there’s enough of Austen’s dialogue to make it feel authentic, and although I’d quibble with how much of the Wickham storyline was left out, the novel wasn’t so hacked about as to end up unrecognizable. I should note that I watched the UK version, and liked the ending; there is an alternate ending, I gather, which got a lot of Austen purists up in arms.

So, this is a lovely (though not an entirely faithful) adaptation of an excellent novel, which is also a beautiful film (as is Wright’s version of Atonement, the only other of his films I’ve watched).

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9 Responses to BOOK TO SCREEN: Pride and Prejudice (2005)

  1. I have yet to see this Ela – I was not entirely convinced by ATONEMENT, for all its style an fine casting, but then I felt the same about the book (I saw the trick coming much too early I suppose) but I would really like to give this a go – if it works on its own terms, that’s all that matters – slavish fidelity to a literary source can be a complete straight-jacket at times!

    • Ela says:

      I really enjoyed it, but the book isn’t my favourite of Austen’s novels, and so I wasn’t bothered too much by the omissions. It’s a lovely looking film, too.

  2. I love this film better than the 1995 version as well. I am not truly that fond of the 1995 one. I don’t care for Jennifer Ehle’s take on Elizabeth–too bland for me! Keira Knightley gets much closer to what i imagine in terms of always laughing and teasing people. And Tom Hollander is absolutely perfect as Mr. Collins.

    • Ela says:

      Tom Hollander is the best (miles better than David Bamber)! I love him in Gosford Park, too. I think all the girls in the 1995 adaptation look a bit old to be early twenties at most, whereas the film is much more realistic.

  3. calmgrove says:

    It’s some time since I’ve seen the film, but will try to catch it next time it’s on the box, especially with your comments about characterisation and 18th-century setting in mind. Knightly was in Atonement too, wasn’t she.

    • Ela says:

      Indeed, yes, which I saw before P&P. The characterisation in general is so subtle and satisfying – particularly for Mrs Bennet and Mr Collins, who can come across very badly if treated solely as comic relief. It’s a while since I’ve read the book, so maybe the film is kinder than Austen was towards them!

      • calmgrove says:

        A year later! Finally saw this and realised my mind had played tricks, I hadn’t seen it before at all, though I had a strong memory of Tom Hollander as the odious Mr Collins. Yes, I prefer this now to the TV series, and approve its setting in the late 18th century when P&P’s original version, First Impressions, was written.

        Hope you’re well, Ela, and the gap in posts not a reflection of bad times for you.

      • Ela says:

        Glad you enjoyed it! Hollander beautifully nails Mr Collins’ self-regard, and yet also makes him the sort of person whom one can see Charlotte actually not minding very much to be married to – David Bamber’s version is not nearly so nuanced.

        The gap in posts is partly down to laziness and partly due to getting back to writing my own stuff again, I’m afraid – and I haven’t read anything lately which has tempted me to return to blogging regularly. Many thanks for your concern, though.

      • calmgrove says:

        Glad all is well, and good luck with the creative writing!

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