My Year with Jane Austen: “Pride and Prejudice” [2005]

mv5bmta1ndq3ntcyotneqtjeqwpwz15bbwu3mda0mza4mze40._v1_sy1000_cr006741000_al_Movie: “Pride and Prejudice”

Release Year: 2005

Actors: Elizabeth Bennett – Keira Knightley

Mr. Darcy – Matthew Macfadyen

Jane Bennett – Rosamund Pike

Mr. Bingley – Simon Woods

Comparison – “Indulge your imagination in every possible flight.”

So I’ll just preface this entire post with the fact that I’ve never particularly cared for this movie. For me, there are several problems with it as an interpretation of “Pride and Prejudice,” several characters seem to be completely out of character, and…ok, I also really dislike Keira Knightley almost always and this is by no means an exception to that.

I think it’s important to note, when comparing this movie to the BBC version, that the additional length is not a trump card for the latter. It isn’t simply better because it had much more time (though of course this doesn’t hurt it either.) But in this review series, this comparison is directly following “Sense and Sensibility,” a book that was successfully translated into BOTH a longer mini series and a feature length film to great effect. And I would go as far as saying that every other book has a feature length version that is more successful as an adaptation than this one is for “Pride and Prejudice.”

There are good things about it, of course. The cinematography is beautiful, vibrant, and definitely out classes the 1995 version that, not only due to age and time but style choices, is very washed out at times. The score is also dramatic and, combined with artistic uses of weather, brings an increased vitality to the story. I would also say that Rosamund Pike stands out as one of the characters who is better cast in this movie than Jane was in the 1995 version. Her beauty better matched the type of rare good looks that Jane was described as having. There’s also no denying that Keira Knightley is beautiful, too, but Pike’s glowing good looks do put even Knightley to the test, adding to the sense that Jane, not Elizabeth, would be credited as the beautiful one.

But as for many of the other characters, I think they were woefully miscast. Either miscast or their interpretations of the characters were so far from the ones we’re given on page that it feels as if either they or the writers (or both!) didn’t actually read the book. I’ll go into more specifics about the cast in the sections below as most of them neatly fill all the categories.

To end this section on a good note, there were some additions to this movie that were left out from the 1995 one that I liked a great deal. It’s only a little part, but I loved that this Lydia has the bit where she sticks her hand out the window to display her ring when she returns home after marrying Wickham. It’s only a small line in the book, but it perfectly illustrates how unchanged Lydia is by this whole debacle, and I love that it was included here. While I don’t like Knightley or Matthew Macfadyen in their roles, I do like that the movie added the bit of the two of them at Pemberley after they’re married. I wouldn’t have picked this scene and dialogue in particular, but it’s a nice nod to the fact that the book had several pages of story left after the proposal (something we didn’t really see in the 1995 version other than the weirdly-toned wedding itself).

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

Like I said, I don’t care for Keira Knightley as an actress in general, so this was always going to be a hard sell for me. I think she often overacts, and she has a few particular quirks that she brings to every role that I find incredibly distracting. Most notably, her mouth is always hanging open. Once you see it, you can’t stop seeing it! But beyond my personal distaste for her style, I think she was miscast in this role. That, or like I said before, the writing/directing really missed the mark if she was lead to this performance in any way. It feels like she read the character description and all she saw was “independent woman” and completely blocked out “refined and polished.”

Her emotions are all over the place, and even smaller confrontations, like that between Lizzy and Charlotte, feel blown completely out of proportion. And then there’s the proposal scene….oof. Looking at how this entire thing was staged, it’s clear the director was going for a dramatic, powerful scene (I don’t like this take on the scene in general, but that’s not on the actress). But for me, it was simply melodramatic and Knightley’s antics completely lost me. She in no way fits the bill of a lady of her time, all too often presenting Lizzy more like a “Jo March” type character than the respected, accomplished lady she was supposed to be. Lizzy stood out for her wit and sense (most of the time), not for wild bouts of adventure and emotion. Her liveliness was expressed in smaller moments, as typical of a lady of her time. Instead, Knightley translates that liveliness much more literally in a way that undercuts the respectability that is so important to the character, especially as it’s meant to be a contrast to the other three sisters.

To give props where props are due, I think Knightley does the best in the more comedic moments in the script. In particular, I always laugh at the part where she’s just heard the news of Lydia and Wickham’s “elopement” and is pacing in and out of the scene. Like in”Bend It Like Beckham,” Knightley is at her best in a comedy role rather than a dramatic one. So, too, her stronger moments in the original “Pirates of the Caribbean” were also centered around comedy. As that series progressed and the character moved in a more serious direction, Knightley’s performance followed a similar dip in quality.

I already mentioned Rosamund Pike as one of the standouts in this movie. She fits the bill perfectly for Jane, and unlike Knightley, her interpretation of the character felt more grounded in the time period of the movie.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

Matthew Macfadyen definitely brings a unique take on Mr. Darcy. I get that he wanted to distance his performance from Colin Firth’s, especially considering how iconic Firth’s take on the character had become over the years, but I’m also not a fan of this interpretation of the character. Between Macfadyen’s take on the character, making Darcy seeming to simply suffer from excessive shyness more than anything, and the styling that has his hair all over the place and him looking like a general mess most of the time, I felt that the entire thing didn’t read Darcy at all. He definitely reads as a generic romantic hero, but Darcy he is not.

During the first proposal, readers (and viewers) should feel equally justified in Elizabeth’s righteous anger towards Darcy as she does. At that point in the story, her opinions seem solid and Darcy’s behavior is atrocious. But here, with Knightly getting right up in his face reaming him one over, I just felt sad for the poor, pathetic Darcy that Macfadyen gave us. It’s not the type of role reversal that does either character any favors in the long run.

I also hate, hate, hate this version of Bingley. I’m not sure if this was the actor’s decision or just the writing, but I have the exact same problem with Bingley here that I do with how Ron is presented in the Harry Potter movies versus the book. Both adaptations took a character who is all heart over head and reduced that down to a bumbling fool playing almost entirely for comedic value, completely at the expense of the character, leaving both as nothing more than caricatures. How are we to believe the friendship between Darcy and this dunderhead?

Again, one of the few moments where I think these versions of the characters do well are in the overtly comedic moments. Particularly, I like the scene where Bingley is practicing his proposal. It’s light, funny, and does a good job portraying the friendship between them.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

I have mixed feelings about Rupert Friend’s Mr. Wickham. On one hand, he’s much more good-looking than the 1995 actor, so it’s easier to understand Elizabeth being so quickly and thoroughly taken in by him. And everyone else for that matter also being enamored by him! But he also seemed too young. Obviously there doesn’t need to be a huge age difference, but I need to buy that this is a guy whose has already gone far enough in life to have tried to seduce a 16 year old and is now moving on to different strategies. He just seemed a bit too fresh faced for that aspect of things.

Judi Dench is fantastic as Lady Catherine. I like the 1995 version of this character, but in a comparison between the two, it’s easier to understand how others could be intimidated by Dench’s version of the character. The 1995 version of the character was more ridiculous seeming in all of her pomp and ego. It’s almost impossible to not take Judi Dench seriously, and it’s very believable that people would be quelled by her sheer presence. The way her visit to Longbourn was staged added drama and made her come across as truly sinister.  Like the broken record I am, I again had problems with Knightley’s take on this scene, but Dench killed it.

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

I genuinely think that if this had simply been a historical romance completely disconnected from the book, I would have enjoyed it a lot more. Again, Knightley was always going to be a problem for me, but that’s neither here nor there. Her acting aside, there’s no denying the great chemistry she has with Macfadyen. And if I wasn’t so distracted by how far off these characters are from what we were given in the book, I think I’d really appreciate the love story that’s presented.

This movie is simply beautiful to look at, and many of the more dramatic images are connected with important moments in the development of the romance. For a “Pride and Prejudice” retelling, I don’t like the overly dramatic rain proposal scene. For a generic romance though? It’s gorgeously shot. And the long, drawn out moment when Elizabeth and Darcy meet in the dawning morning towards the end? Lovely to look at, though perhaps a bit too long. I also really enjoyed the Netherfield ball scene, especially the long single shot that sweeps through many different rooms catching small moments with all of the characters.

As a romance story, all of these moments come together well. The actors have great chemistry, and if they were original characters, their personalities and the conflict, misunderstanding, and slowly built love story would all come across very well. I can just never escape the comparisons and how off they both felt from the original characters. I suspect, however, that this movie is much beloved by viewers who haven’t read the book or only read it once or twice. And I think a lot of that appreciation goes to how well the romance plays out.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

This movie definitely presents a different take on Mrs. Bennett, Mr. Bennett, and their relationship. Essentially, it’s much more kind to them all than the 1995 version or the book were. As I said in my review of the book, there really isn’t anything given on page that would hint that Austen was offering any true commentary on the plight of mothers with only daughters and very little income to justify Mrs. Bennett’s actions. She’s comedy all the way at best, and at worst actively hinders her daughters’ chances. Here, the movie goes out of its way, even offering up direct lines from Mrs. Bennett herself, to attempt to redeem some of the character’s antics. Overall, I’m fine with this, I guess, but I think it’s yet another example of this movie drifting away from the actual book characters in an attempt to make the movie more palatable to the average movie goer. I think this can be seen here, in the adjustments to Mrs. and Mr. Bennett (making them both more likable and their marriage better overall), and in the Elizabeth we are given who is definitely trying to check a more modern box of an “independent woman.”

I also want to touch on Tom Hollander’s Mr. Collins. This Mr. Collins is much easier to take than the one we saw in the 1995 version. Yes, he still has his ridiculous moments, but he’s nowhere near as smarmy as the Mr. Collins of the previous film. In this way, it makes Elizabeth’s even stronger negative reaction to Charlotte’s agreeing to marry him even more off-putting. This Mr. Collins is by no means the worst of the worst, and her extreme distaste to the union does in fact seem very judgy and snobby. The book definitely offers up this scene as an example of Elizabeth “not making allowances for differences in temper and situation” as Jane says, but *sigh* again this scene is way more dramatic than that small moment was in the book. It actually makes Lizzie quite unlikable, which is never a good thing for your heroine.

Fun facts – “Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”

I wrote this section of the post last. This is important to note because you’ll have already read the part where I specifically mentioned the scene of Lizzie pacing in and out of the room when trying to deliver the news about Wickham and Lydia as one of my favorites. Turns out, Emma Thompson was brought in for a re-write of the script, and this was one of the specific scenes/directions that she gave. I knew I liked it for a reason, and it makes sense, then, that it stood out for me in this movie (one that I overall don’t particularly care for), given how much I liked Thompson’s script for “Sense and Sensibility.”

Also (again, just researching this bit after writing the rest of the post already), apparently the practice proposal scene was supposed to be much shorter and was lengthened because of how funny Simon Woods was. So…I think the takeaway is that I don’t really like the original writing/directing of this movie. And the parts that I did like came from other places!

Romola Garai auditioned for the role of Elizabeth. She was later cast as Emma in the 2008 version of “Emma.” She also played alongside Keira Knightley in “Atonement.” Keira Knightley also appears with Tom Hollander in the last two “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies in the original trilogy.

Best Movie Gif/Meme: “I dearly love a laugh.”

The one part of this movie that has stuck the most with me over the years is this delivery of lines by Tom Hollander as Mr. Collins. I find myself quoting it pretty regularly. Pretty much whenever we have potatoes for dinner. This, and the lines by Sam in “Lord of the Rings” also about potatoes. There’s something about the way both actors over-enunciate the word that makes both sets of lines immensely quotable.

In two weeks, I’ll review a modern adaptation, “Bridget Jones’s Diary.”

2 thoughts on “My Year with Jane Austen: “Pride and Prejudice” [2005]”

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