Sadie Rose isn’t big on the hair or the costumes, but what makes she of the rest of Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice? I have struggled in vain and I can bear it no longer. Here is her re-view:
Pride & Prejudice
Dir Joe Wright
10 Years Ago I did not see Pride & Prejudice in the theater. Why? Because a brilliant trusted friend with impeccable style told me it was rubbish. And I believed her. A few months later I saw it on the new release wall of Scarecrow Video.
An aside for Scarecrow Video Rental: for non-Seattleites, Scarecrow is the best and largest independently owned movie rental store in the country. It is a mecca for film nerds. It has everything. Even Quentin Tarantino has been known to go there for research. If you like movies (duh, you’re reading this) and find yourself in Seattle, go buy a coffee from their barista and peruse the movie selections. In 2005, Scarecrow was my happy place. Now that I live in Virginia, I miss it, but am delighted to see it is now a non-profit. Long live Scarecrow!
So I picked Pride & Prejudice up off the wall and took it home. I was ready to hate it, hate Keira Knightley, hate the costumes, hate everything because my friend said I would. Lesson here: Don’t listen to your friends. They have a lot of baggage that allows them to misread good work. (But to be fair, she was right about the costuming. We’ll get to that later.)
I recall I enjoyed it, however I dismissed it because the bar was set so low. I didn’t like it enough to watch it again, or chose it over the 1995 BBC version (that I’ve owned for 15 years and have left on in the background for many a cleaning, crafting or sewing day). But I didn’t hate it. I actually really enjoyed Keira Knightley’s Lizzy. I recall thinking Keira made bold choices as an actor portraying a classic character. Some of Keira’s choices could have gone very badly, but somehow worked. I remember being really disappointed that my friend had rejected this adaptation because of preconceived notions.
Speaking of prejudice, I’ve never really read Jane Austen. I know. I tried to read Emma once, but about 60 pages into it I quit because the idea of being a woman in the 19th century pissed me off. These books are all about the rules of being a woman in this constructed society. Yes, I know, Jane Austen is critiquing it. However, I hated the constructs of being a girl in my modern time, so making me imagine being one in 1800 was enough to make me burn my bra. So I put the book down and walked away. I did read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies when it came out because, duh, zombies. I don’t recommend the book, but I do appreciate that it used Jane Austen’s writing so I have been at least exposed to her prose. It also allotted me the knowledge to recognize the famous speeches in every adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. And I do admire and swoon at them. Nevertheless, Matthew Macfayden rushes through every single one he has in this film. On one hand I appreciate him not holding them so precious but on the other hand he’s just throwing these great words away. It’s a hard thing to balance.
Now that I’m mature and sensible and less likely to let my anarchist tendencies run the show, I should try to read her again. This movie inspires that in me. This movie is good. Obviously it’s condensed and modernized, and maybe made for people like me who hate Jane Austen books, but Joe Wright did an amazing job for a debut film. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Why did I dismiss it 10 years ago?
The movie opens on a foggy English morning. We listen to birds chirp and watch the sun rise behind the opening credits. It’s a new day! Then we hear piano music and follow Lizzy as she walks the fields and yard to her house. Here we are introduced to all the Bennets and their messy house. Lizzy is obviously an outdoorsy kinda girl, evident by her being outside the house while her sisters run, play and read inside. Maybe she’s a little wild? There are many visual cues to this idea, of Lizzy loving nature, and being outside of conceived society throughout the movie. Most notably when she walks three miles to see her sick sister, with her hair down, which I’ll talk about in length later.
We receive news of Mr. Bingley’s arrival, we learn that the Bennet girls are unmarried, their mother (who is the worst!) is desperate to marry them all off to wealthy men because without the men they have and are nothing (I mean, seriously, my 15-year-old self is contemplating “is my bra supporting me right now or is it there to help me appear more worthy of men and life and existence in general? I should burn this thing.” Such bullshit, how did woman deal with this?) The scene is good, we see all the girl’s personalities, and I love when Lizzy makes a disgusted childish face as her parents kiss. She thinks she has it all figured out, but she’s about to grow up and embark on a journey of self-discovery. I know, cheesy, but cheese is good.
At the country party we are introduced to Lizzy and Jane and their super close sisterly relationship. In the 1995 version Jane is sooooo dull. She’s a sweet boring doormat of a woman while Lizzy is her cool confident sister. I much prefer Keira’s Lizzy who makes thoughtless faces and teases everyone and doesn’t seem to give a fuck what anyone thinks of her, and in comparison Rosamund Pike’s Jane gets to be this really cool joyfully sweet charming sister. A girl you can totally see awkward but adorable Bingley (and every other man) falling in love with.
At the country party, all the characters meet and greet. Darcy insults Lizzy, which she just can’t stand, so she puts him in his spot in front of his friends and her sister. Which men love. As Taylor Swift says, “Boys only want love when it’s torture.”(yeah, yeah, I know #notallmen, but remember Jane Austen’s preferred writing voice is tongue-in-cheek which, coincidently, so is mine.) And Lizzy likes to torture Darcy (well everyone) with her words. Darcy in return has no idea what to do with a girl like this. Just let her be and see what she does next? Smart man.
The next morning Jane is invited to call on Mr. Bingley’s sister. So Mrs. Bennet (who is THE WORST! I wrote this note no less than seven times while watching the film) sends her on horseback in the rain. Mrs. Bennet doesn’t seem smart enough to have a real plan, but whatever she thought it was, it worked even better because Jane is now sick and must stay at Mr. Bingley’s house for days. Hearing the news Lizzy invites herself over, which seems pretty crass for society, but we must remember Lizzy doesn’t give a fuck. Which is also evident by her wearing her hair down.
The whole hair down thing bothered me so much. It is historically wrong for Lizzy’s station in life. Wearing your hair down in the 1800s is just as bad as hogging the piano at a ball (Mary) or allowing your 15-year-old to flirt with every officer in the room (Mrs. Bennet) or talking about other people’s money (Mrs. Bennet!) or begging someone else to throw a party (again Mrs. Bennet you are the worst! And Lydia is just a mini you). It is so low class! And isn’t Lizzy supposed to be a lot better than her mom? I really hate this decision in the film, but I actually hated all of the costume and hair decisions. But, whatever, I get it, most viewers didn’t take a history of dress class. Lizzy’s hair down is another signifier of her wild-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude, and Joe Wright does show Darcy being floored by seeing a woman with her hair down (practically undressed!) and Bingley’s sister does harshly judge Lizzy for it, as the times would expect (although in the book she also judges Lizzy for her hair, but not because it is down!). Between the hair and Bingley’s sister’s ball gown (also historically, very very wrong. I don’t know what period it’s even from!) I was starting to lose it. AND all the women should be wearing gloves, and why are the men unbuttoned? Where are the Regency curls? Who the hell designed this?!? ARGH!
I had to just stop thinking of the costumes. It could ruin an otherwise good film.
Wright did a delightful job of capturing the electric feelings Darcy and Lizzie have for each other. Wright uses the lens to draw your eye to a touching of a dress, the moment you get caught staring at someone, or the awkward feeling you have after you have held someone’s hand, after you have let it go and suddenly your own hand feels foreign. How do you explain that feeling with only pictures? Joe Wright nails it.
At the Bingley ball, Darcy and Lizzy dance and she insults his reputation with rumors so now it’s his turn to put her in her place. He tells her she knows nothing and I was like, these two hate each other this will never work. Wright uses this moment to make everyone else in the room disappear and they are left alone to dance in silence. I probably wouldn’t have done it this way, it’s a little bit of hand holding, but they are two beautiful people in beautiful lighting, so why not.
Speaking of lighting. The lighting in this movie is gorgeous! Sometimes a little theatrical, but always crazy pretty. Pretty shading, pretty halos on the hair, pretty catchlight in the eyes (which really make Donald Sutherland’s blue eyes unbearably exquisite). It’s all so pretty. I wrote “the lighting is so good” as many times as “Mrs. Bennet is THE WORST!”
The next morning Mr. Collin’s asks Elizabeth to marry him in the poorest way possibly, which makes it easy for Lizzy to turn him down flat. She rants about how they will never make each other happy and runs out of the room. Obviously in the 18th century marrying for happiness is not a thing, especially for a girl with 4 unmarried sisters. It’s rather impulsive and reckless but it’s why we love Lizzy.
Her best friend Charlotte marries Collins instead, and after their union Lizzy travels to see Charlotte at Collins’ house. There she runs into Mr. Darcy again. He conveniently happens to be visiting his aunt, Lady Catherine, who owns Collins’ and Charlotte’s home. Here Lizzy just runs her mouth and says all the honestly dumb things she wants for the mere pleasure of getting a rise out of Lady Catherine and the men of society. Lady Catherine hates her for not following the rules and the men love her for being a rebel.
During Church that week, Lizzy prods Darcy’s friend for gossip on Darcy. She discovers it was Darcy’s idea to separate Jane and Bingley and she is distressed. On some level she must know her family is an embarrassment but she does not like hearing it.
In the worst timing ever, Darcy finds Lizzy after the service, in the rain, while she is processing all the new information. This is the moment he confesses his love for her. Bad timing dude! He reiterates how much her family and position in society sucks but how much he doesn’t care because she’s awesome. Seriously, not the right time for that, man. Obviously it doesn’t go well, Lizzy just heard all this and doesn’t want to hear it again. She lashes out at him and they have an honest but brutal conversation where they both do their best to hurt each other. It’s like a one-upper game, you hurt me with this, I’ll hurt you with that, and lets continue until we hate each other for being so cruel. You can only attack another’s weakness if you know them. They know each other.
Back with her family Lizzy suddenly knows when to hold her tongue. She doesn’t divulge all she has learned about Bingley or Wickham. And is rewarded with a vacation with her aunt and uncle. (“Oh, let’s just go see Mr. Darcy’s house. NBD. Lizzy is going to love the country and the gardens and the marble statues.”) In the book, after seeing Darcy’s stuff, Lizzy suddenly decides she loves him. (Ew, gross, right?) But again Wright (or maybe it was the screenwriter, Deborah Moggach’s idea?) makes a great choice of filming Lizzy enjoying Darcy’s marble collection. It is opulent and sexy and leads her to a marble bust of Darcy where she is seeing him as a possession. It’s true to the source material while also making it a more palatable modern romance. So smart!
Lizzy sees Darcy in the house and runs. He runs after her and we have a lovely scene where Keira gets to play both pride and humility at the same time. I love when actors get to work with two opposing forces. It’s always so interesting and difficult, and creates a relatable feeling.
Darcy performs some romantic jesters that involve securing men take care of the woman in Lizzy’s life. It’s patriarchal but obviously a big deal 200 years ago. These “romantic” jesters by Darcy toward Lizzy create a rumor that spreads to Lady Catherine. Lady Catherine comes storming in, in the middle of the night (which is also historically unrealistic, but whatever the movie is almost over.) Lady Catherine confronts Lizzy and tries to make her promise to never marry Darcy. Of course Lizzy refuses because she still doesn’t give a fuck what Lady Catherine thinks of her and knows she’d have it all (love, respect, passion and money) if she married Darcy.
Lady Catherine storms off. The next morning (probably not really, but it feels like the very next morning) Lizzy goes for her morning walk only to run into Darcy! They confess their love for each other as the sun rises on another new day and you feel as if they are beginning a grand story. Because Wright essentially started the movie in the same time (dawn) and place (field.)
Before the two can run off into a sunset they must spend the day convincing Lizzy’s family that this is a good idea. Keira Knightley gets to quote some classic Jane Austen and Donald Sutherland gets to be the best dad ever. Everyone lives happily ever after.
It’s a good movie and a smart modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. On this viewing I noticed what felt like three sluggish moments. They were three moments when Lizzy is alone as time passes around her. They work as beats between acts but I’ll once again wildly speculate (it’s my thing) that with all the other smart shots and intelligent choices, Wright used them visualize Lizzy’s inner self-realizations.
The first is directly after Charlotte tells Lizzy she is marrying Collins. In the scene Charlotte tells Lizzy off a little, for being foolish and not thinking of a woman’s future in this society. Pretty much “Grow up! Stop being a child.” Then we watch as Lizzy sits on a swing (so childish) as rain and time move around her.
The second is after her fight with Darcy. She is literally reflecting on herself in the mirror as the rain stops, the sun sets, and the candles come on around her. She has just learned that not giving a fuck has consequences for her family and her beloved sister, Jane; that the pride and prejudice of herself and others has hurt her and the people around her. Which changes her actions for the rest of the film: she holds her tongue with Jane, stops saying every little thing that pops into her head, and councils her father to think before sending his youngest daughter on vacation with officers. She actually calls it dangerous. Younger Lizzy would have not thought anything of it, she probably would have made a face and let it go.
The last is Lizzy standing on a cliff taking in the world while the wind whips around her. It’s a little cheesy, maybe unnecessary, but again beautiful. It seems to represent her desire to see the world and have mobility (the wind). Maybe it’s the moment she realizes that to achieve her core desires of freedom and being her own person she will have to work within the system around her. Which means actually being someone else’s person (Mrs. Darcy) but having a mobility and freedom that most woman in 1790 couldn’t even dream of. Which may also be why the movie ends in a super lovely-dovey scene where Mr. Darcy calls Lizzy Mrs. Darcy over and over and over again. She has achieved her goal, and we as an audience are happy for her, even if we think they should just stop.
So 10 years later, the movie holds up. The costumes and hair are bad, I could write 1,000 words on that alone. But the rest is beautiful. The acting and character choices are far more interesting to me than the BBC version. The lighting is art in it’s own right and maybe my favorite part, because I’m weird like that.
On the word “quite”:
I just learned that in England when someone says something is “quite well” they are saying it is “mediocre,” while in America we use “quite” interchangeably for “very.” So it was amusing when Darcy calls Lizzy’s piano playing “quite well” and everyone chuckles. He’s teasing her back, finally! Would not have known that two weeks ago.
Ask a woman about her preference on Darcy and most I know lean toward Colin Firth’s adaptation in 1995. It was a phenomenon at the time. Firth Fever hit hard. However now I’m a little torn. On the one hand I love Firth’s Darcy because Lizzy changes him as much as he changes her. He starts as a truly snobby ass and ends realizing he shouldn’t make assumptions about people. As an actor he get a character arc, which is important. In comparison, Matthew Macfayden’s Darcy doesn’t get an arch. He seems genuinely shy and misunderstood and overly generous throughout the film. His performance is vulnerable and guarded at the same time. Which is, as I’ve said before, something I love to see actors do. Act opposing ideas. So, on a personal level, I really liked Macfayden. And when you only have two hours to tell someone’s story you can’t examine the pride and prejudice in all the characters. However I do like Firth’s for showing emotional equality in the sexes (gotta love some feminism), and for being true to theme and source material. And for actually reading the book. (Macfayden didn’t, but neither have I). It’s a hard choice to make.