Friday, June 18, 2010

Adaptation Corner: Pride and Prejudice

If you haven’t figured it out already, I love films that have been adapted from books. I love seeing how a story is brought to life and depicted on screen. That said, I've decided to start this feature entitled Adaptation Corner. Since it's Jane In June, today I intend to focus on Pride and Prejudice. As may have guessed by my praise of Jane Austen on this blog and the giveaway I’m currently holding, I’m a big fan of adaptations of Austen’s work. Most of her six major works have had multiple films or miniseries made of them. I don’t know if you all are quite as nerdy as I am, but I love to talk about which are my favorite. Many people compare them and I think that two that compete with each other the most are of Pride and Prejudice: the miniseries made in 1995 which at a length of six hours incorporates many details from the novel and the 2005 movie directed by Joe Wright. I feel particularly compelled to examine this film and miniseries side by side because these two movies maintain the original time period and place, whereas Bride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones’s Diary are both set in modern times (if you have not seen these movies I highly recommend both). I originally felt compelled to write this post because I think sometimes Wright’s film is accused of straying too far from the story.

Before I continue, I should make a point of saying that when I watch an adaptation, I’m not necessarily on a quest for fidelity to the original story. If you’re interested in the academic study of adaptations, I highly recommend that you read A Theory of Adaptation by Linda Hutcheon. She talks a lot about fidelity in her book, and I think one sentence in particular sums up my thoughts nicely.

“Adaptation is replication, but replication without repetition.”

I think sometimes modifications need to be made in order for a story to work or be more entertaining on the big screen. I also think part of the point of adaptations is to give the viewer or reader a new perspective on a story.

I tend to think of the 1995 miniseries as something most readers of Austen and women who enjoy attractive men have seen. No doubt it is hard to resist six hours of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. *swoon* That being said, the length of the miniseries allows it to stay loyal to the book because it leaves room for detail. I worry at times that this might steer casual readers away, but for me it is so worth it. I see the countryside that we see in this film as idyllic, charming and picturesque, and the music strikes me the same way. Quaint, yet never trying to overwhelm the viewer or play the dominant role in setting the emotional tone of a scene.

The 2005 film, however is very different. The Bennet household is depicted as rustic and more farm-like, which could serve to emphasize the difference in wealth between Elizabeth and Darcy. I generally think of the landscape of this film as more dramatic and emotional than quaint and that this film relies heavily on nature to convey the emotions of the characters, and I think at times they do a lovely job of tying the music into this idea, such as the scene where Elizabeth stands on the edge of a cliff. I love the fact that you can imagine how overwhelming this must all feel to Elizabeth and contemplate how her place in the scenery could be indicative of changes n her life, but so many elements of the film are intertwined to depict this, and not just Knightley herself.

I think another major issue that is interesting is the sexuality in each adaptation. I imagine that a lot of people would be swift to argue that the 2005 film is far more sexualized, and I don’t entirely agree with this viewpoint. Between its interpretation of the portrait gallery, the proposal scene and the final scene of the film, it is clear that physicality is on Elizabeth and Darcy’s mind.

I think that the miniseries also emphasizes the physical attraction between Elizabeth and Darcy, but does so in a more subtle way. One thing which really came to my notice in my second viewing of this miniseries was the women’s costumes. I had admired some of the dresses before, yet hadn’t given a lot of thought to how they are cut. They may be floor length, the certainly show off other physical attributes. And let’s not forget the scene in which Elizabeth visits Pemberley and her first sighting of Darcy. The next time you watch this scene, be sure to watch Elizabeth’s face and where her eyes travel. Once it was pointed out to me, I giggled rather childishly.

I have saved my favorite part of this post for last, and I think that being as fanatical about Mr. Darcy as I am, I would be remiss if I did not address the subject of how I feel about Matthew Macfayden’s and Colin Firth’s interpretations of this swoon worthy character. I will not try to deny that Matthew Macfayden is attractive. I think the version of Darcy that he plays is sweeter and often more earnest, but I have a hard time thinking of him as assertive. Then again, I also think that this adaptation modernizes the physical affection in this relationship simply by adding more of it, and for me, by the time I reach the end of the film, it gives the entire romance a more tender feel. He doesn’t come across as nearly as bossy and when he and Elizabeth get engaged, his stuttering makes it clear that he’s feeling insecure and struggling with large emotions in strained social settings. The lighting is enchanting and the fact that the sun rises between the characters in their moment of physical and emotional closeness is beautiful. I personally really like him in the final scene of the film, when he and Elizabeth are sitting together. I’m sure some people might say that him saying “Mrs. Darcy” is incredibly cheesy and this is what I thought at first. However, at this point Darcy has made a major violation of his aunt’s wishes and referring to Elizabeth as “Mrs. Darcy” very clearly indicates that she is the mistress of Pemberley and to me, his repeating it further acknowledges that they’ve caused a good deal of discontent.
I’m sure you all have an idea of how this argument will end, since I’ve mentioned several times that I find Colin Firth to be a very dashing individual and for me, he really is the perfect Darcy. He’s a stubborn, smoldering, contemplative Darcy, yet he’s also very assertive and composed. Yet as assertive as he is as he makes his second proposal of marriage to Elizabeth, I can somehow tell that he’s nervous. I like that the viewer can perceive how emotional this is for him, especially because he seems so much more relaxed after he says he yes.

Ultimately, I think these are both great adaptations, but I must be honest and say that I am not without bias. If forced to choose, I would likely pick the miniseries. I think it does a wonderful job of maintaing Austen’s wit and social criticism, and to me Ehle and Firth do an impeccable job of depicting the liveliness and intellect of Elizabeth Bennet and the financially endowed yet ever learning Fitzwilliam Darcy. By the end of this miniseries I usually feel the need to break out the tissues. I feel like I tend to pick up the 2005 film when I want to see Austen’s romance portrayed not through dialogue but through landscape, bodies and music interwoven beautifully together. I think one of the best parts about watching adaptations is sometimes the anticipation of wondering how one of your favorite stories will be re-imagined. It’s not entirely fair of me to compare them, but what I’m trying to argue is that I think that they accomplish similar goals, such as depicting the physical tension between the lovers, yet do so in different ways. I’m able to love both of these stories because for me, they both capture the romance of Elizabeth and Darcy, yet they both do it in unique and unconventional ways.


  1. But oh how I love that scene in the meadow! Even if it never happened in the book!

  2. I think the film excels at the picturesque. The cinematography is stunning, and there is a real visual presence to the film.
    The miniseries excels at everything else. Perfect.



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