Yesterday I finally got the chance to see the new Pride & Prejudice movie, after having spent several weeks listening to rants and raves and mixed reviews. Now I can be opinionated about it, too, and at great length, for which I apologize!
I’m always fascinated (and sympathetic) to those who take the huge RISK of trying to bring a beloved book into a film. In fact, my critique partners, Therese Walsh and Kathleen Bolton, and I wrote an article on the path taken by the producers of the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy and how we as authors could apply similar methods when faced with the task of revising an unwieldy manuscript.
There are things that must be cut, for practical purposes, and then many things which must be added as well in the way of sensory detail not supplied by the author. And inevitably, these changes will annoy some viewers. So I have a healthy respect for anyone taking on the task of reinterpreting a classic, even if I don’t always agree with the interpretation. How stale a production might be that tried too slavishly to reproduce a book! Rather like a musician merely playing every note the composer wrote, without putting her own soul into the work.
Since we’ve already talked about it, I’m not going to delve too much into details of historical accuracy and fidelity in this P&P. Some things did jar me but I got used to them as there was so much to like, even love, about this film. Anyway, on to my favorite thing about this movie: the characterizations!
First let me say I’m a huge fan of Colin Firth in the role of Mr. Darcy. But I absolutely loved Matthew McFadyen’s different take on it, too. I’ve already heard protests that Darcy was arrogant and not shy, but I disagree. I think of this passage from the book (which was kept in the movie, though slightly adapted):
“I certainly have not the talent which some people possess,” said Darcy, “of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.”
To me this doesn’t smack of a lack of desire to make friends; just an admission of difficulty negotiating tricky social waters. I see this Darcy as a serious young man, who succeeded to wealth and its accompanying responsibilities fairly early in life, and who has already been burned at least once (by Wickham) and possibly by fortune-hunting females as well. He’s too smart to be unaware of Caroline Bingley’s plays for him. I could see that that might add a level of wariness that would make it hard to start up relationships.
At the same time, he’s powerfully attracted to Lizzie’s playfulness, which comes across nicely in Keira Knightley’s performance. She comes across a bit sillier at the start than I expected, but it gave her more room to grow, too. Again, a different but effective interpretation (and I loved Jennifer Ehle in the ’95 version, too). As for the critics who must endlessly harp on her underbite—it’s just plain mean-spirited. She’s very cute and has such lovely expressive eyes.
I was also impressed by the treatment of secondary characters. Rosamund Pike was lovely as Jane (the actress in the ’95 version was not quite pretty enough—I feel mean-spirited myself to say that, but it’s true). Simon Woods was a bit startling as Mr. Bingley—what a buffoon! But also fun. Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennett was an interesting blend of wit and sympathy (I always found him a fallible but sympathetic character despite some Austen scholars’ desire to assign him the role of villain in the piece). And it was no surprise that Dame Judi Dench made a splendid Lady Catherine De Bourgh.
The really pleasant surprises (to me) were the well-rounded characterizations of Mr. Collins, Mary and even Mrs. Bennett. Mr. Collins (Tom Hollander) was delightfully absurd and yet escaped pure pomposity because he was so earnest in his desire to please. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him as he presents that little flower to Lizzie, or when he tries to get Darcy’s attention at the ball. Mary (Talulah Riley), too, was more than a mere pedant; she looked so sad and confused and out of place in that household. Now I really understand why people are interested in writing her story! Even Mrs. Bennett gets her semi-redeeming moment, when she challenges Lizzie to think how she would feel with five daughters to settle in life.
Now as for that controversial ending—I have to say it felt wrong to me. NOT because it added a prologue not in the book, and NOT because it showed a bit of sensuality. I liked that! But it felt rushed and somehow out of order. A friend with whom I saw the movie said it was odd for Darcy and Lizzie to be talking about pet names after they’d clearly consummated their marriage already. That may be part of my problem.
What I personally would have liked to see is more of what happened between the engagement and the post-coital bliss. Maybe a wedding scene. Or maybe even the beginning of the wedding night, with all that lovely awkward tenderness of young lovers, then a discreet fadeout, to keep the rating OK for teens but allow those who want to imagine the rest.
OK, everyone, feel free to agree or disagree. What did you think of what was done with the characters? Did you like the ending? If not, how would you have ended the film?
LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE, a Romantic Times Top Pick!