Reading update: Pride and Prejudice

I’ve long been a fan of the 2005 film version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, almost as long as I’ve been a fan of the novel.  I actually can’t remember when I read Pride and Prejudice for the first time, but it was much later than I rightly should have.  I believe it was my senior year of high school, the same year, coincidentally, that Pride and Prejudice the movie starring Kiera Knightley was released in theaters.  However after falling in love with the book, I was  apprehensive to see the movie;  I mean, the magic of Austen lay within her words.  No film representation could surely do it justice.  I knew there was a BBC miniseries starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, but I had seen clips of it online and thought it boring (I know, *gasp*).

Suffice it to say, when I finally rented the movie a year later, I was absolutely stunned at my foolishness.   There’s so much I love about this movie, it’s hard to know where to begin.  First, there’s the traditions it has carved into my life.  I don’t re-read the novel as much as I would like, but after I finish, it’s imperative I pop in the DVD before starting something new.  Then, there was the countless hours my college roommate and I spent watching and re-watching the movie every semester.  It was our reward at the end of finals.  It was our brief respite after a hectic week.  It was something to do on a Friday night when we didn’t feel like going out.  All joking aside, we seriously watched and discussed this movie at least once a month, usually more.  Even now, nothing is more relaxing than settling down with Mr. Darcy and Lizzy Bennet on the big screen.

Now, many Austen purists have found fault with the film, chiefly concerning all that was omitted or changed for the purposes of the movie (which is, after all, only 2 1/2 hours).  These same naysayers usually hold the BBC miniseries in high esteem for it’s adherence to literal veracity–no conversation is left out, no assembly overlooked, nothing altered whatsoever.

The only problem I have with this argument is that if I want to experience every detail of Austen’s novel, I’ll read the book.  The benefits being that I can enjoy every interior monologue, every passing feeling, every observation of Lizzy and the third-person narrator (by the way, Austen was one of the first to use dramatic irony in English prose).  I can also make little discoveries I hadn’t noticed before.  For example, I was struck during this re-reading by the little value Austen places on romance in marriage.  True, Austen admitted Pride and Prejudice was her most “romantic” novel, and the relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy is evident of this.  But the romance is so subtle, and is interspersed with Elizabeth reflecting on how she and Mr. Darcy are suited for each other; they complement each other, serve as each other’s foil, and at a time when marriages were arranged, illustrate how two people can achieve marital bliss.  No part of this “connubial felicity” involves falling head over heels in love with someone.

That being said, reading Pride and Prejudice never fails to give me butterflies in the pit of my stomach.  I love the story for all that it is, but like millions of women before me, especially love the romance between Lizzy and Mr. Darcy.  I also love Pride and Prejudice for its ridiculous characters, light-hearted portrayal of the English countryside and humor.  This is where the 2005 film finds its strengths.  While the BBC miniseries relates every line just as Austen wrote it, the 2005 film captures Austen’s spirit and wit.  The film shows us how a family of five daughters might interact during the early 19th century: laughing, bickering, moping, chattering, freaking out, being silly.  The film takes classic characters we already know, and makes them real people.

Occasionally, this task has the director and writers taking liberties with Austen’s original text.  Take, for example, Matthew McFayden’s Mr. Darcy.  However, I find McFayden’s Darcy to be particularly endearing and more humanizing than Colin Firth’s BBC portrayal.  Sure, Mr. Darcy doesn’t stutter while he’s proposing to Lizzy the second time.  And tagging him as “shy” is probably a gross generalization of his character.  Plus, I can see why some purists might have a heart attack watching Darcy first propose soaking wet in the rain, then all shirt-unbuttoned while Elizabeth stands there in her nightgown.  OK, the whole sexual tension is very un-Edwardian.  I get that.

That being said, though, I can only respond by asking how this is any different from other books that are turned into movies.  Events have to be changed to serve a film’s time frame.  I love The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series, but I certainly didn’t expect their movies to be exact play-by-plays of the novels either.  Certain events are changed or exaggerated in order to convey certain emotions to film audiences.  Films don’t have the luxury of prose.  The background information can’t drag on for pages at a time, and interior monologues have to be cut short or translated into conversations (because movie narrators can get a little creepy).  The rain scene serves as a metaphor for Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s stormy relationship (sorry, pun definitely intended).  It also heightens the experience and leaves viewers with a more lasting impression than if they watched how it actually happened (them, in a room, acting rather civilized, not yelling).

Plus, watching Matthew McFayden and Kiera Knightley yell at each other dripping wet is way sexier than watching anything the BBC produces.  I know it’s lame, but I can’t get enough of the aesthestics of this movie.  I really like looking at this Mr. Darcy (can’t say the same for Colin Firth…sorry!), and I think Kiera Knightley is absolutely gorgeous.  Plus, the production values are through the roof and I could listen to the soundtrack every day for a year.  So while my love for the Pride and Prejudice movie may be a guilty pleasure, it’s my guilty pleasure.  And if it has anything to do with my favorite book of all time, then all the better.

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One thought on “Reading update: Pride and Prejudice

  1. Pingback: Fin: ‘Northanger Abbey’ « Paperback Fool

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