The other night I finally watched the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, so instead of finishing the book review I’ve slowly been working on over the last few days, I decided to write a film review instead. Then I realised that whatever I wrote would inevitably involve comparing the film to the novel, rather than discussing it as a unique entity, so be prepared for some more rambling than proper reviewing. Split into separate parts because I have a lot of thoughts. May contain spoilers, but to be fair, the book is two-hundred years old, so.
Pride and Prejudice was my first foray into the works of Jane Austen. It’s one of my mum’s favourite novels, and I read her copy of it, complete with notes that she’d written when she’d studied the book in high school. Since getting my own (super pretty) copy of the novel, which I had to include a picture of, and rereading it a few times, Pride and Prejudice has become one of my favourite stories. With every reading of it I enjoy it more, and there’s something genuinely wonderful about picking up more details and complexities as you get to know a text better. Jane Austen’s novels are all wonderfully crafted, with plenty of subtleties, clever humour, observant satire and magnificently complex characters, and if it isn’t clear already, I’m a bit of a fan.
I could quite easily make this post entirely about how much I love the novel (or Jane Austen’s writing in general). But as for the movie, even though there were a number of elements I really enjoyed, it wasn’t nearly as impressive. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from it having heard mixed reviews of it, but on the whole, I felt a little underwhelmed.
Now, I totally get that “adapting” is a pretty major part of book to film adaptations. I understand that in the process of fitting a novel into 2 hours will involve making a few changes – skipping scenes, adjusting the pacing, maybe even removing the odd characters, stuff like that. I don’t have a problem with that, really. It did result in the film feeling more rushed than Pride and Prejudice ought to be, which meant that there wasn’t a sufficient amount of development and depth for me, and it felt like every complication was resolved a little too quickly. I appreciate that every plot point was there and present, and that you’ll never have a perfect match between the page and the screen, but the real problem I had with this version of Pride and Prejudice was that so many things that were inherently important to the plot, especially the development of the relationship between Elizabeth and Mr Darcy, were altered in this film. But more of that in part two!
It seems that what a lot of the changes came down to was the desire to make the film appeal to a wider audience. Unlike the BBC miniseries, which I adore (and is impressively faithful to the original novel), there’s a sense with the movie that it’s intended to appeal to those without a particularly strong knowledge of the original text, and so it becomes a much more of a straight-up romance, rather than containing the satire and social commentary that is an integral part of Jane Austen’s writing.
As much as this aim to reach a wider, more indifferent-to-Jane-Austen audience may have meant that more people were (and continue to be) exposed to the story, perhaps fostering an interest in Jane Austen’s work, I do feel like it results in something being lost. Rather than having the amount of subtext that the novel has, the movie aims to be simply entertaining, rather than insightful.
Instead of allowing – daring, even – the audience to reach their own conclusions and form their own judgements, as the novel does, the film is a lot more black and white. This is clear in Elizabeth’s exclamation, “Jane is shy!” and Charlotte telling Lizzy not to judge her for marrying Mr Collins, with much of the novel’s rich subtext being made obvious.
In the case of Charlotte Lucas – who I personally find to be one of the most intriguing and under-appreciated characters in Pride and Prejudice – her decision to marry Mr Collins is more complex than I think can translate well onto screen. I do like that the film is sympathetic towards her, but I think it does over-simplify her character, and we lose one of the early instances of Lizzy’s prejudice affecting her judgement of others. It is not only in her relationship with Mr Darcy that prejudice plays a role – having turned down Mr Collins herself, she is unable to comprehend how anyone else could consider marrying him, and being the heroine, as readers it is easy to agree with her. It is all to easy to condemn Charlotte for her actions in marrying the boorish Mr Collins, which the film does touch on, but we don’t get the same sense of Lizzy and Charlotte’s relationship being deeply affected by what happens. There’s a lot happening in this plot development – Lizzy’s prejudice, Charlotte’s cunning, opportunities for women who were not seen as beautiful, marriage as a means of security – which I feel the movie either misses or is too heavy-handed with. This happened throughout the film, and while it maybe makes the story more accessible to people who are more interested in romance than satire, it was a major part in my feeling underwhelmed.
Ultimately, the story told in Pride and Prejudice is not one that is easily turned into a two hour film, and aside from feeling rushed, we also lost a lot of the subtleties and complexities that are so important to the novel. In part two of this block of rambling, I’ll focus more so on the characterisation of Elizabeth and Mr Darcy, and their relationship as portrayed in the film.
What are your thoughts on this adaptation of Pride and Prejudice? How do you think it compares to the novel and/or other adaptations? Do you think it’s possible to stay loyal to an original text whilst trying to appeal to a wider audience? Let me know!