The 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice surprised me greatly. Having been an ardent fan of the faithful BBC adaptation starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, I strongly believed that no other interpretations were required. I avoided watching Keria Knightley’s Miss Bennet for years until the movie showed up on my Netflix recommendation. I am so glad I gave in.
As an adaptation Debora Moggach’s screenplay remains true to the novel. Key turning points and interactions are verbatim from the book. In other places, extensions and improvisation on text adds immense value to the original plot. For instance, Lizzy’s reaction to Charlotte’s engagement is more frank rather than the contained polite one in the book. The first exhchange of dialogs between Lizzy and Mr. Darcy more pointed and sharp – as Austen had intended if not so much written in words.
More than the screenplay, I believe Joe wright brings out the darkness that lies repressed in the pages of the novel. The desperation of the Bennet’s middle class is apparent in the sweaty flutterings of the mother running around an unkempt middle class establishment. The girls are all pretty but they are definitely lacking in urban sophistication – the gap between them and the Bingleys/Darcys painfully apparent. And has Mr. Bingley not always appeared a little dimwitted – so easily persuaded by his friend and sister to abandon his love. In the movie there is no pretentsion – he is decidedly a simple, bumbling good looking idiot. There is some caricturization of all main characters – as if the layer of Victorian proprietary protecting them has been stripped away. The country dance halls are loud and noisy, the village streets muddy and the dresses of the Bennet not always starched clean.
The English countryside is used to its complete picturesque advantages with the camera often sweeping across meadows and hills. The weather is used to accentuate the mood of the storyline.I love the fact that Darcy’s first proposal is in the rain instead inside the Collins’s cottage. The cloudy foggy day adds to the tormented exchange which again does the job of bringing out the undercurrents of passion only implicit in the novels. Lady Catherine De Bourg’s interview with Elizabeth in the middle of the night is truly outrageous and slightly improbable but it adds beautifully to the urgency leading to the ending.
As in the book and in the 1995 adaptation, Elizabeth of this version also goes through a change of heart when her eyes first fall on the grand facade of the Pemberly estate. Future financial security weighs big on the Bennet girls. It’s also interesting to note that a similar observation is made when Jane confesses her feelings for Mr. Bingley. “Handsome and conveniently rich”, Elizabeth quips to her sister.
In matter of perfmonaces Keira Knightley shines. It is truly her movie – there isn’t much for anyone else to do. Macfayden’s Darcy is more wooden than repressed. I really did not see him as a ‘hero’. All the other big names of British cinema do well to bring the story together.
I highly recommend watching this version. The tone of the movie might bother you a bit but this is a beautiful retelling of a classic with all the focus on the subtext.