The producers of the new adaptation of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE like to boast that their film is the first big-screen version of the book in 65 years. We begin to think there is a reason for that. Two hours cannot really tell the story with any complexity or completeness; it is a Cliff Notes, Readers Digest Condensed Version of Jane Austen’s story, with regrettable “modern” touches that add little of value to the severely truncated story.
However, we have been scolded recently for dwelling upon the negative in relation to this film, so let’s start out with what is good. First on that list with a bullet is Matthew Macfadyen. What a very fine, strapping, juicy hunk of British woof on the hoof. Bring that gaping frilly shirtage over here, sir, and you can leave your boots on. His wounded-Darcy bit reminded us of a sad little kicked puppy, bringing out one’s maternal instinct and wishing we could take him on our lap and zhuzh his hair and say soothing things while rocking him to sleep. (We’re always a sucker for the soup-and-blankie treatment.) He wasn’t given enough to do to develop his character, but just standing there looking handsome works for us.
We enjoyed Brenda Blethyn’s delightfully vulgar turn as Mrs. Bennet. The only problem is that she did not contrast sufficiently with the rest of the Longbourn Hillbillies, but more on that later. We’re not crazy about the Only Sensible Mrs. Bennet Truly Understands The Desperation Of The Situation meme, but it is not so intrusive as to be annoying. Judi Dench rocked our socks in an all-too-brief appearance as Lady Catherine. (An amusing aside: Our second viewing of the film was Over The Bridge in New Jersey, and on the way home, an impertinent Young Person challenged us to drag race on the public highway; apparently many Neon drivers engage in that sort of behavior, but not us, and besides the voiture is in desperate need of a tuneup. We gave the Young Person our haughtiest Dame Judi stare and he slunk away, as the kids say, pwn3d.)
We also rather liked Bingley, despite his goofiness. He was just adorable, and we would like to pinch his cheeks and pat him on the head. He was as cute and likeable as he should be, if not the brightest candle in the chandelier, bless him. And who cared if Jane married an idiot, because she was barely in the movie; it wasn’t like we got attached to her or anything. Tom Hollander was a low-key hoot as Mr. Collins, mainly because they pretty much put Jane Austen’s words in his mouth. Any half-talented actor (and Mr. Hollander is much more than half-talented) could knock that out of the park.
We will also add that all the lovely shots of the British countryside made us nostalgic for England. If nothing else, this film should definitely boost tourism!
So much for the sunshine and daisies.
We recognize that the transition from prose to screen dictates changes in the way a story is told, and that such a long book would require some severe cutting to fit into a two-hour time period. For the most part we didn’t mind the cuts, and we didn’t miss any of the characters that didn’t make it into the film. However, we would have liked to see 15 or 30 minutes added to the running time to further develop a few weak points in the story: namely, the relationships between Elizabeth and her father, Elizabeth and Jane, and, frankly, Elizabeth and Darcy. The transition between beginning attraction and a mature relationship seemed rushed to the point of being inexplicable. Why did Elizabeth change her mind about Darcy? The uninitiated might think it was because she was impressed by the splendor of Pemberley, and that is doing our favorite heroine of all time a disservice indeed.
Mr. Bennet, another favorite, was not a convincing character. His hilarious sarcasm was missing (the snark directed to Mr. Collins was put in Elizabeth’s mouth, to unfortunate effect). His unshaven and slovenly demeanor made us think of him as some kind of creepy drunken neighbor who would corner the young girls and try to cop a feel. Why did Lizzy love him so? He didn’t do anything to deserve it, and the connection of intellect and personality between father and daughter simply wasn’t given time and space to develop.
Which brings us to the Longbourn Hillbillies. The Vulgar!Bennets thing was much too heavy-handed. Did no one ever bring in the damn laundry? And why would it have been remarkable if the pigs had got into the Hunsford Parsonage garden if they roamed free throughout Longbourn? We are not a Miss Bingley to scruple at a muddy petticoat hem after a country walk, but the Bennets seemed to delight in their grubby vulgarity, listening at doors and slouching and licking their fingers at the dinner table. It was unpleasant and unnecessary, it was incorrect historically and textually, and frankly it made us sympathize with Miss Bingley in her endeavors to separate her brother from Miss Bennet. Who would want to have Christmas dinner with that bunch?
We regret to report that Keira Knightley just wasn’t Lizzy. She does not bring any warmth or likeability to Elizabeth Bennet–and that is a failing indeed. Her Lizzy is a vulgar, smart-mouthed spoiled brat in need of a slap. There is none of the sweetness of manner that Jane Austen tells us balances her archness, though she sometimes assumes a sort of smirky wrinkle-nosed grimace that we suppose is meant to be a smile, and there is no indication of why her thinking changed toward Darcy. There’s a lot of soulful staring and standing on rocky precipices that presumably is meant to make us understand that Lizzy is a Deep Thinker, but she doesn’t open her heart to Jane or Mrs. Gardiner or anyone, which on film, without benefit of the omniscient narrator, has to occur for the audience to understand how Elizabeth’s ideas change.
Upon our second viewing, we were ready for the anachronisms and weirdness, so we concentrated more on the plot and dialogue. We came to the conclusion that it wasn’t too bad as long as they stuck to Jane’s words–even with the necessary plot contractions. But as soon as they put in someone else’s words, it became trite, insipid, cringe-worthy. Several important, emotional scenes were utterly ruined for us by these digressions. We do not consider Jane Austen’s prose sacred, but additions and changes need to be of high quality, and here they just are not. It was like putting worn-out denim patches on a designer gown.
And dear God in heaven, the final scene at Pemberley. It was cheesier than the pizza we had for dinner. We burst into laughter and giggled all the way through. If we must suffer through filmed fan fiction, can we at least get some good fan fiction instead of some teenybopper dreck? Normally we love mushy romance, but that was ridiculous.
(I can’t believe that Emma “Alan Smithee” Thompson had anything to do with it, but if she did, no wonder she didn’t want to be credited for her involvement with the film. Em, sistahfriend, whassup with that? I know you’re married to Willoughby now and all, but Judas H. Priest on a unicycle, woman, that was teh suck! Even Marianne Dashwood would have turned up her perfect nose at it!)
On the way home from New Jersey, we missed our turn coming off the bridge, but were able to find Frankford Avenue. Stopped at a red light, we were struck by a building on the left. We could not figure out why it seemed so familiar. Then we realized it was the Holmesburg branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, where the Editrix got her first library card at the age of six. A new library branch was built much closer to home a year or so later, so we only went there for a year or so, but it was imprinted in our memory. It seemed appropriate to see the place where we first learned the joy of books on our way home from this film, because it served as a reminder that if the film was an unsatisfying snack, we still have the book in all its meaty, savory glory. Thank heaven for that.