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Pride and Prejudice: A Full Review

November 14th, 2005 · 4 Comments

Okay. I’ve had a while to think it over, to determine just exactly what it was I liked and disliked about this film. It wasn’t all dislike. There were plenty of good moments, things that were done well, things it was fun to see on screen that hadn’t necessarily been included in P&P2. It is entirely possible that I am simply too picky. There may be something in what my sister said this morning: that being so familiar with the book could be detrimental, because I notice every little detail, can tell when one person’s dialogue has been altered, or given to someone else. It could be that any of you (even die-hard Austen fans) would like it very well. But in the end, for me, there was more to dislike than to like.

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As an aside, I must say that it was cruel and unusual punishment to play a preview for Colin Firth’s upcoming film with Emma Thompson, Nanny McPhee. It simply served to remind me of what I wouldn’t be getting.

So, lest I become run away with my feelings on the subject, I shall start with the good points. What follows will, of course, be spoilerific.

The Good

It was kind of nice to see the principal actors cast the right age for once. Lizzy looked like she was “not one and twenty” mostly because Keira Knightley is twenty years old. Lydia actually looked 15. The only exceptions to this were Jane (Rosamund Pike is 26), who looked too old, and Georgiana Darcy, who looked too young. Matthew McFayden as Darcy, unfortunately, looked younger than he actually is– Darcy’s supposed to be 28, McFayden is actually 31, but looked about 25.

As an extension of the previous point, some of the casting was truly inspired. Tom Hollander as Mr. Collins had some of the very best scenes in the whole film– I giggled insanely when Mr. Collins tried to get Darcy’s attention, and he was at least a foot shorter than Darcy. He wasn’t given quite enough to do, but what he had he did very well. Judi Dench’s Lady Catherine was very good, but once again she didn’t get quite enough to do. Brenda Blethyn did an admirable job as Mrs. Bennet, and Donald Sutherland’s Mr. Bennet was good, although he wasn’t quite as funny as Mr Bennet should be (of course, this is not his fault). His scene with Elizabeth at the end was truly touching, however.

I really liked the way they handled Charlotte’s marriage to Mr. Collins, although it was necessarily much less detailed than is presented in the book. They were able to show how desperate a situation it could be for a woman to be single and penniless in that period in a relatively short time. The actress who played Charlotte was good, too.

There was one moment, when Lizzy is getting out of the carriage at Pemberley, where Lizzy, struck by just how gorgeous Pemberley is and the absurdity of it all, gives a kind of a nervous giggle. That was a good moment.

There was a cute scene where Bingley was wresting with himself of how to propose to Jane; he bows and says “Miss Bennet. . .” and Darcy bows back and says “Mr. Bingley. . .” :) Very funny.

The scene where Darcy unexpectedly comes upon Lizzy alone in the Hunsford parsonage was also quite amusing, especially how quickly he decamps.

The scene where Lizzy and Darcy dance was done rather well; the verbal sparring was actually quite good, and the dance allowed them both to converse and to have annoying interruptions. Very realistic. Funny, though– the dance reminded me a lot of Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot, which is what Lizzy and Darcy dance to in P&P2. It wasn’t exact, but it was quite close. :P

The cinematography was gorgeous, and the scenery lovely.

Okay. Now for a few nitpicks.

The Bad

Bingley has ceased being “intelligent,” and “by no means deficient,” and is instead portrayed as goofy, stupid, and socially– well, if not inept, then at least awkward. He got a bit of a movie!Ron treatment– he even has (badly arranged) red hair. It’s difficult to see what Jane would see in him. The actor did a tolerable job of the part, but it was written badly.

Wickham is barely in the movie, making the impact of his plot on Lizzy minimal. Also, they have Lizzy pressing Wickham to divulge the details of his relationship with Darcy. Highly improper, and it lessens Wickham’s wickedness. (Aside: Wickham himself bore a striking resemblance to Orlando Bloom– not quite as dark, but very similar features.)

Mary, oddly, was quite a bit prettier than either Kitty or Lydia. None of them were in the movie much.

There was quite a good deal of line-swapping, most of which didn’t make much sense. Mary utters Miss Bingley’s line about balls being much more rational if conversation was made the order of the day, and Miss Bingley (not Mr. Bingley) replies that they would be much more rational, but not nearly so much like a ball. Completely misses the point– Miss Bingley says that line to endear herself to Darcy, who she knows dislikes dancing in general. Similarly, Lizzy interrogates Mr. Collins about his pre-written compliments, while Mr. Bennet simply sits there and laughs. Mary says Lizzy’s “What are men to rocks and mountains?” which makes no sense whatsoever. There were some other instances which I can’t remember now, but– it bugged.

It also bugged when they rewrote Austen’s dialogue, which they do quite often. It’s not like P&P2 (they don’t always use Austen’s lines either), where the rewritten dialogue was at least believable. All the added dialogue in this version sounded extremely modern, out of character, and most decidedly NOT Austen. Some of it was merely bad; most of it was truly cringe-worthy.

There were entirely too many statues and paintings of naked people. One or two instances is understandable, but over, and over, and over again? It was obviously intentionally done. I suppose they were trying to add more sexual tension, but it was, to me, unnecessary and inappropriate.

The costuming in general was disappointing. I don’t mind if they decide to move the period back a bit, but please, let’s be consistent about it. If We truly are going for a more Georgian look, then don’t put half the cast into decidedly Regency fashions. And even in the Georgian period, Lizzy. Would. Wear. A. Hat. Outdoors. She almost NEVER wore a hat (maybe they didn’t think Keira Knightley looks good in one?). And almost every one of the characters had bangs, a big no-no period-wise. Lizzy also appears in public with her hair down or half-down, which is another big no-no. For a production that claimed to do lots of research for the period, it sure didn’t look like it.

And in fact, the manners don’t work, either. Bingley pays a visit to Jane’s bedchamber when she’s sick. With the elimination of Mr. and Mrs. Hurst, Miss Bingley no longer has a chaperone at Netherfield. Both of these things would absolutely ruin a girl’s character, whether in 1792 or 1813. In fact, they breach propriety so often, it doesn’t seem all that big of a deal when Mr. Collins approaches Mr. Darcy without an introduction, and you wonder why they’re making such a big deal out of it.

The tone of the movie overall (and the look of it) evoked the 1995 Persuasion. There’s even a scene of the servants at Netherfield bringing out the white covers for the furniture, just as the servants at Kellynch do. Now, that particular adaptation is one of my very favorites. It uses natural lighting, people’s hair sometimes falls out, clothes are sometimes dirty– it shows reality instead of an airbrushed ideal. But– Persuasion, as a book, is much darker than P&P. It has a more autumnal feel. P&P, by contrast, is much more, as Austen herself put it, “light and bright and sparkling.” Imposing a Persuasion-esque feel onto P&P doesn’t work very well.

Mr. Bennet and Lizzy’s relationship simply doesn’t come across. It makes me very sad, and also makes the ending scene between them make very little sense. Why is Mr. Bennet crying? It’s not like we know that Lizzy’s his favorite child or anything.

Lizzy and Darcy’s characters were both barely recognizable, to me. Early in the movie, Darcy came across as shy and socially awkward rather than proud, and there wasn’t nearly enough contrast between his behavior at the beginning of the movie and his behavior at the end. In fact, Lizzy as much as says that he never was actually proud– that it was just her own prejudices that painted him that way. And the way the movie portrays it, that’s exactly what happened. Which lessens the impact of the love story, IMO. Both Lizzy and Darcy must change in order for their story to work; as it’s presented in this movie, the only person who does any changing is Lizzy. Which kind of offends my secret-feminist soul. Matthew McFayden isn’t bad, but he’s not all that good either. Too much brooding and puppy-dog eyes, and indeed, too much importuning. Behaving in general entirely unlike Darcy, and more like Mr. Rochester or Heathcliff. Lizzy herself has been “modernized,” which doesn’t make much sense to me, as she was already quite modern. This Lizzy’s manners don’t just “border on impertinence,” sometimes she’s just downright rude. She throws Darcy’s words about being “tolerable” back in his face, and insults her mother–not behind her back, but to her face– concerning Jane’s ride to Netherfield in the rain. For some reason, Keira Knightley wears a wig– did she cut her hair? refuse to let it be dyed? I don’t know– and it’s quite a bad wig. Sometimes her natural hair pokes out at the back, even. And it has bangs, which is completely non-period. If they’re going to put her in a wig, at least do one that’s historically accurate. She also has terrible posture. The scene at Pemberley is almost completely different. We hear nothing about how good a master Darcy is, and as his behavior is only slightly different than before, you’re left with the impression that Lizzy’s change of heart comes not because Darcy turns out to be a whole lot better than she thought he was even after the letter, but because he’s rich. The impression is only solidified because Lizzy, in trying to explain why she doesn’t particularly want to go to Pemberley beforehand, can only say “he’s so rich.” Wutevre.

Well, that’s enough of the bad. Now for the truly appalling.

The Ugly

WhiteTrash!Bennets. It was oh, so much worse than I was expecting. Not only are the chickens roaming freely in the yard, but a pig is led through the house at one point. A house that is filthy, has a compost heap piled up against it, has paint peeling off the walls and mis-matched furniture in various states of disrepair. The Bennets cannot afford even a tablecloth at meals, apparently. None of them seem to bathe regularly, which wouldn’t bug me so much if it didn’t appear that every other character in the darn show does. Mr. Bennet especially looks like an alcoholic who has allowed his family to go to wrack and ruin. Lizzy doesn’t behave as a “genteel, prettyish sort of girl,” she behaves like someone just out of the barnyard, which, considering the state of Longbourn, isn’t so far off in this film. Ugh. Makes me upset again, just thinking about it.

Miss Bingley wears an appalling white spaghetti-strap dress at the Netherfield Ball. It looks like she forgot to put her dress on, and showed up in her corset and petticoat. Ugh. Oh, and they’ve apparently added the rank of Colonel to the Navy, because Colonel Fitzwilliam wears a dark navy blue coat, complete with epaulettes. He could have passed for Captain Edward Pellew. Yiiiiikes.

Both proposal scenes were terrible. In the first, Darcy just blurts out his explanation of why he separated Bingley from Jane. Which I wouldn’t mind so much, but then he refuses to explain what was up with Wickham, leaving that instead for the letter (which was much shorter). Make up your mind– either he needs to write the letter to explain all his actions, or he can explain them at the moment, leaving out the need for the letter. Makes no sense. Darcy also wasn’t nearly insulting enough to her, which made it seem like she got mad at him for very little reason. Oh, and it takes place in the rain. Gah. In the second, you get such lovely, gag-inducing lines from Darcy as “You have bewitched me, body and soul,” and “I love, love, love you.” But only after Darcy walks through the early-morning mist (for about a minute, to the accompaniment of swelling violins) in quite the state of undress. Lizzy’s still in her nightgown here, also. Then she kisses Darcy’s hand, and they lean in, forehead to forehead, as the sun rises behind them. Gag. They do not kiss, which seems to me to be quite the late acknowledgement to the notions of propriety of the day, and completely unnecessary as, you know, they’re both in their pajamas. Neither of them bother to change clothes or comb their hair before asking Mr. Bennet for his consent, either. Way to make a good impression, Darcy. Of course, Mr. Bennet is so badly dressed himself, I guess it might not matter.

Lizzy does NOT confide in Jane. At all. She doesn’t tell her about Darcy’s proposal. She doesn’t tell her about Wickham. She doesn’t mention meeting Darcy in Derbyshire. She doesn’t tell her anything. I was quite angry about it, actually.

The last, oh, 20 minutes of the movie were way too rushed, and time was compressed so badly that it doesn’t make much sense. Mr. Bingley and Jane get engaged in the morning, Lady Catherine makes her visit in the middle of the night (how did she hear these so-called rumors, if no one even knows about Jane and Bingley yet?), Lizzy and Darcy both spend sleepless nights thinking about each other, and meet in the dawn to become engaged. Less than 24 hours elapse between the two engagements.

The absolute worst part of the whole movie, though, was the super-cheesoid ending. Chamber of Secrets was bad, but I think this one was worse. I understand that the Brits weren’t subjected to this ending. Count your blessings. It shows Lizzy and Darcy at Pemberley– Lizzy is in her usual state of unkempt dress. Darcy’s in shirt and breeches, no stockings. Lizzy’s sitting down next to a standing Darcy, caressing his bare calf. They discuss what they should call each other, as Darcy has been using “my dear” and it reminds Elizabeth of what her father calls her mother when he’s irritated. She suggets “Lizzy” for everyday, “My Pearl” as a term of endearment, and “imperious goddess” for very special occasions. “What about Mrs. Darcy?” he asks. “You can only call me Mrs. Darcy when you are the happiest man on earth, blah blah blah.” At which point he calls her “Mrs. Darcy” about 87 times, kissing a different part of her face every time. I had to put my popcorn down so I wouldn’t throw it at the screen. Ugh, ugh, ugh. Did someone get paid for writing that dialogue?

So, this review has now taken me three days to write. In the course of the writing, I came to a realization. One of my favorite authors is Robin McKinley. A few years ago I picked up Rose Daughter, which is a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.” Most of you know that McKinley’s first published book was Beauty, which was also a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.” I adore that book. So I was a bit wary of another version of it, even by the same author. But I read Rose Daughter. It was okay. I enjoyed it well enough, but not enough to buy it and read it over and over again, as I have done with Beauty. I finally decided that had I read Rose Daughter first, I would have liked it a lot more. But since I had already read and adored Beauty, this new retelling seemed less than perfect.

That’s how I feel about this film. I know we should not compare P&P2 and P&P3, that I should take P&P3 on its own merits– but I can’t help it. If there were no P&P2, I would be able to overlook most of the things about this version that bugged me. I probably would have enjoyed it a lot. But since there has already been a film version so nearly perfect as P&P2 is, a version where so many things were done so very right (and there are still some things that bug me about it, make no mistake), it’s hard to take a movie where things which could have, with just a little extra effort, been done right– weren’t. I simply cannot love it in the same way I would have, had P&P2 not existed.

Other people may (and do) disagree with me. I would still recommend that every Austen fan see it, because there are some truly good moments, and it’s quite possible that you will love what I cannot. But I won’t be going to see it again right away, at least not unless someone else pays for me, and I won’t be buying it on the day of its DVD release. If I want a shortened version of P&P to watch, I’ll stick to my Mormon version. It may have also played fast and loose with the story, but at least it stays true to the characters, and true to the spirit of the novel. For me, that’s what’s important, and that’s where I see P&P3 failing.

Tags: Fandom · Jane Austen

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Karen L. // Nov 14, 2005 at 5:45 pm


  • 2 Mags // Nov 14, 2005 at 8:52 pm

    Good review–pretty much everything I thought. There’s a lot of lapses of logic in the contractions.

  • 3 Susan // Nov 28, 2005 at 4:50 am

    Well said – good review – I agree with a lot of what you have said. But it was the time frame that they had to stick to that distorted the content of the movie. Matthew Macfadyen was very good I thought, with the right look – but was not given time to develop the character properly. Keira was Ok but too thin to be playing Lizzie. Too much giggling from all the sisters. Totally agree about her hair – it was very bad to see those bits of her own hair under the wig. The Bennet home was a pigsty.In the book Lady Catherine walks through the Bennet house opening doors and commenting favourably on the rooms. She couldn’t have possibly thought that about that house.
    Donald Sutherland was far too slovenly, unshaven and untidy for Mr Bennet to be real.
    Again – I feel the time frame allowed set the tone for this movie and it has missed the boat. But for all that I still quite liked it.

  • 4 sissoed // Nov 30, 2005 at 5:05 pm

    Excellent, excellent review — I have spent the last hour or so reading a bunch of reviews on-line, having now seen the movie twice (American version ending), read the book, and seen the BBC 1980s version (but not the 1995 TV miniseries version) and your review is the best. I was particularly interested to confirm that the animal-ness of the Bennett place (“white trash Bennetts”) was historically not accurate. I also compliment the commenter above (Susan) who notes with excellent logic that the book itself disproves this image, by having Lady Catherine deliberately examine the house and praise it. Moreover, in the book (as I recall) the Bennetts have the higher-class persons to dinner at least once, which those persons would never have done in a virtual barn-house such as this movie presents (and in fact, in the movie, that dinner is omitted; the higher-class persons never come there except at the very end). Thus even if the movie-makers had had some legitimate basis for claiming generally that families such as the Bennetts could have animal-filled homes (and your post below shows they did not), clearly Austen’s Bennetts DID NOT have such a home. Thus, while I felt that the animal aspect gave dramatic contrast to the film’s different classes, thus likely making the film more accessible to larger audiences, it was very contrary to the book.
    Readers here may also be interested in the following point, first brought to my notice by a reviewer on (Homa Sayyar) of the 1980s BBC version, that Mr. Bennett deserves much blame for his failure to use his intellect to ensure that all his daughters were properly brought-up. As I read the book I particularly kept this point in mind and was surprised at how frequently Elizabeth makes observations along these lines — for example, faulting her father for revealing his contempt for his wife (not the happy couple this 2005 movie shows!) and in particular for thus exposing her to the contempt of her own children. That Austen observation struck me as quite acute: have we not read within the last year of so of studies that show that a good predictor of whether a marriage will last is whether either partner feels contempt for the other? And are not divorced parents constantly told not to bad-mouth the other parent to the children, thereby exposing that parent to the contempt of his or her children? (Ironically, though, I find this point not actually supported in the book itself, because there is nothing in the book to make us feel that any Bennett daughter feels contempt for the mother, let alone that such contempt was the explanation for poor behavior. It is the father’s general lack of attention to his daughters, rather than contempt for their mother, that explains the failings of Lydia and Kitty). Homa Sayyar said no film or TV version had made the point that the father’s failure of duty to his children led to all the problems, yet had the Bennett daughters behaved properly, Darcy would not have separated Bingley and Jane (Eliza thinks this many times in the book after she gets Darcy’s explanatory letter) and everything would have proceeded differently. This 2005 movie, by making the Bennetts a happy couple, and by making their lives so earthy, attributes the poor behavior not to the father’s failure to parent properly as he ought, but apparently just to happenstance.