Apologies for the delay, the common cold with extra fatigue kick kept my brain and I from delivering a particularly promising post over the weekend, so I will do my utmost to give you a double whammy post to make up.
Any interest and/or tolerance of Pride & Prejudice is due, largely, to the 2005 adaptation by Joe Wright, and the promise of my colleagues from SLC to make good on one of my more rash oaths. That is, that I would never watch it without a bottle of wine. Once the DVD was out, I was summoned to their house where their flatscreen and a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc waited for me. And it wasn’t that bad. (It has also since become a tradition we like to call Pride, Wine, & Prejudice.)
Since then, I have read the book for a second time (for class), and watched the BBC adaptation (due to a mixup when I asked for the DVD myself). I’ve never seen the Olivier adaptation, so I’m afraid I can’t give my full analysis, but I feel like the film, executed by Wright, easily trumps that of Simon Langdon (the BBC one with Colin Firth). Why? Because there is so much to be missed.
Langdon gives his audience every single word of the book — within reason. Not a single moment or jibe (from the characters) is missing. Every beat of every act is laid out before you to enjoy. And I’m sure if you concentrated really hard and limited your distractions and bathroom breaks, you could read the whole of the book in the time it takes to enjoy the iteration featuring Colin Firth’s floating head
Wright remembers (as many of us seem to forget) that Austen’s second work is a comedy. And you may cut in the interest of time, but you never cut funny. Not only do you never cut funny, if you can add funny – you keep it. As a result, characters go missing, time is compressed (as it often is as we only see in the movies), lines are reassigned (Mary takes on some boorish lines that belong to Lizzy in the book), and that which made you smirk in text, can at the very least elicit a chuckle when laid out in plain view. I shall discuss each of these elements: lost characters, compressed time, reassigned lines/roles, and the visual joke to explain what makes Wright’s vision of Hertfordshire such a success.
The first characters the avid Austenphile would notice missing are Louisa and Mr Hurst. While Mr Hurst is carried off perfectly by Rupert Vansittart (awesome name, that), best remembered by American audiences as the guy Hugh Grant meets up with in the Boatman right before he meets Andie Macdowell in her room in Four Weddings and a Funeral, in the BBC version, he and his wife are not missed here. You know why? They weren’t that funny. Caroline Bingley can carry on flinging herself at Darcy without their help. And Louisa’s one remarkable line about Elizabeth’s skirt being “six inches deep in mud,” is carried off so well by Kelly Reilly, best known to American audiences as the prudish girl from England in L’Auberge Espagnole, that personally, this viewer doesn’t miss Mrs Hurst for a single moment. The Phillipses are also absent, leaving the Bennets with only one family to claim as their extended relations beyond Mr Collins (more on him later). Again, they are not lost. While Mrs Phillips proves to be a confidant of both Jane and Elizabeth regarding the men in their life, especially Whickham, she contributes little to the story, and to give them one family, the Gardiners, to both house Jane in London, and take Elizabeth along on their travels, is just more convenient.
Compressing time is another simple “just because it’s easier” move. Not only that, but it raises the stakes. While Jane is convalescing at Netherfield, it seems as if she arrives one day, Elizabeth the following, Mrs Bennet and the younger sisters visit, and then their arrival seems to speed Jane’s recovery along quite quickly, reminding the audience just how awkward and off-putting their mother really is. (Side note: I am so sorry I cannot speak more about her.) The other great example of this comes at the end of our tale: Jane accepts Bingley’s proposal. That night, Lady Catherine arrives at Longbourn to tell Elizabeth to refuse any proposal from Darcy and well, we know how that goes. By bringing Lady Catherine to the estate at such an “unacceptable” or at least, unsociable time, it makes her arrival carry even more weight than when she arrived in the evening and Elizabeth shows her the grounds. It also makes Darcy’s renewed proposal at dawn all the dreamier.
Where was I? Line-reassignment. Personally, I’m a huge fan because occasionally these changes can tell the audience something about a character or situation they would get from a paragraph of very internal text. When Mr Collins dines with the Bennets and discusses the compliments he pays Lady and Miss deBourgh, the responses from Mr Bennet and Elizabeth are taken from those originally belonging to Mr Bennet alone. For fans of the book, this can be taken to better demonstrate the kinship between Lizzy and her father, and for those who are watching it for the first time, this relationship is well established through their similar snide remarks. Mary is a character who picks up many lines belonging to her other sisters. In the novel, I often imagined these lines (especially those belonging to Elizabeth or Jane), to be delivered with a healthy grain of salt, best illustrated with the line “What are men compared to rocks and mountains!” You know she means it, while Lizzy would snark. So much of Mary’s character is written internally in the novel, these moments better illustrate just how boringly pious she is. (Piously boring? That could be a six of one, half dozen of the other sort of situation, could it not?)
And finally, that above all else. The visual. I’ll admit Wright’s P&P contains so many single moments that convey pages of painstaking emotional upheval, I know I’ll leave some out. My personal favorite is the moment Elizabeth first sees Pemberley. The audience is given a shot of a low horizon with the sound of a carriage’s arrival. It stops. Elizabeth pops into frame, looking at something beyond the camera, and then lets out a nervous laugh, covering her mouth. Then steps down. Her aunt and uncle rise out of the coach, aghast. In the book this feeling is best described when Elizabeth panics at the sight of Darcy, wondering how best to relate her feelings at seeing his home. Austen takes time to describe what Wright shows us in a few seconds, the feeling of: “Oh God. I could live here by now. What.”
And I’ll offer one final moment of visual brilliance, again featuring our friend Mr. Collins. He appears in a moment of, what a former colleague would be too eager to describe as: comedy of disproportion. At the Netherfield ball, he recognizes Mr Darcy as his patroness’ nephew. He approaches him from behind, and tries twice, to address Darcy. This works beautifully because Tom Hollander (Collins) is short – average height, while Matthew Macfayden is quite tall. When Collins attempts to clear his throat, every time, I keep thinking/hoping he’s going to knock on Darcy’s back like a door. Alas, he only clears his throat and Macfayden turns to stare poor Hollander down. It’s beautiful.
(Also, I just looked it up. Hollander and Macfayden are 5’5″ and 6’3″ respectively.)
Anyway, I have more than fulfilled my superpost promise, and apologize for my loquaciousness, lack of clips (I may add in later), and neglect of mentioning “the hand thing” that m’colleague so adores.
Thank God, P&P is over, I’ll be writing more, and on schedule next Monday when we discuss The Real Thing, by Tom Stoppard.