Pride & Prejudice: Book vs Movie

  • Director: Joe Wright
  • Rating: PG
  • Starring: Keira Knightly, Matthew Macfadyen, Donald Sutherland,
  • Screenplay: Deborah Moggach & Emma Thompson
  • Based on the Novel by: Jane Austen
  • Music By: Dario Marianelli
  • Cinematography: Roman Osin
  • Running Time: 129 Minutes
  • Premiered: November 23, 2005
  • DVD Release Date: February 28, 2006
  • Pride and Prejudice, The Modern Library Classics, 2000, 9780679783268

Synopsis: Sparks fly when spirited Elizabeth Bennet meets single, rich, and proud Mr. Darcy. But Mr. Darcy reluctantly finds himself falling in love with a woman beneath his class. Can each overcome their own pride and prejudice? (Synopsis from IMDb)

Review: Jane Austen’s books are firmly established as the epitome of romantic narratives. Originally published in 1813, Pride and Prejudice is a novel of manners and deals with the issues of upbringing, morality, education, and marriage amongst the landed gentry of Regency Britain. While the narrative is set during the end of the 19th Century, the novel manages to hold generations of reader in a thrall. The book is one of the most popular English language novels, it has sold over 20 million copies. Even today the novel consistently ranks in list of “most loved books” and “best books”. Due to this continual popularity, Pride and Prejudice has been adapted for cinema numerous times, both as straight adaptions and modern updated versions.

Pride and Prejudice is the story of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s five unmarried daughters: Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia.  The story begins right after the eligible and wealthy bachelor Mr. Bingley rents the large estate in the area. Bingley brings his two sisters and his status-obsessed friend, Mr. Darcy, along with him. Austen uses these characters to explore five different types of relationships: Mr. Bingley and the idealistic Jane, the prideful Mr. Darcy and the prejudiced Elizabeth, the flighty Lydia and the conniving Wickham, the obsequious Mr. Collins and Charlotte, and the hysterical Mrs. Bennet and the caustic Mr. Bennet. All these relationships illustrate what a marriage should and should not look like.

Austen’s major theme is the importance of environment and upbringing on people’s character and morality. In this world, social standing and wealth are not necessarily advantageous. The theme is realized through Austen’s examination of the ineffectiveness of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s parenting. Lydia’s lack of morality is firmly laid at the feet of her parents. Kitty’s character only improves after Lydia leaves and she is forced to spend time in her other sisters’ superior company. Also, Darcy was raised to always act in a principled and honorable manner, but he comes across as proud and overbearing.  Charlotte Lucas’ behavior is motivated by economical and societal pressures. Her parents will not be around forever and an unmarried woman is a burden on the family’s resources.

I grew up watching the 1995 A&E mini-series adaption starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. The mini-series is a direct adaption of the novel, nearly all the dialogue come straight from the book. In 2005, director Joe Wright decided to bring Pride and Prejudice to the big screen. The last straight movie adaption was the 1940 version starring Greer Garson and Sir Laurence Olivier.  The 2005 version was adapted by Deborah Moggach and Emma Thompson did some un-credited edits on the dialogue. This resulted in the most abridged cinematic version ever produced.

Wright made several drastic changes that I vehemently dislike. This version is set in the late 18th century, when the novel takes place in the 19th century. While the clothing is more impressive in the 18th century, there was no need to change the time period. What aggravates me the most is the stark societal differences between the Bennet family and Darcy. In the book, the Bennet family is landed gentry with an entailed estate. They were not destitute. But in the movie the clothing, furnishing, and mannerisms of the Bennett clan border upon the peasant class. There was one scene where a pig runs through the kitchen, this would never occur in an aristocratic family’s household.  Also, Lady Catherine de Bourgh drops by in the dead of night and is greeted by the Bennet family in their sleepwear. Neither of these events would have occurred in 18th or 19th century Britain. The societal differences are so stark it is miraculous that Darcy married Elizabeth. Austen probably would have cringed at the first proposal scene where Darcy was a doe-eyed stuttering school boy.

Darcy was not the only character whose personality was re-written for the film. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s relationship is quite affectionate, in the book they were quite antagonistic. Mr. Bingley is comes across as a bumbling fool without a single original thought. Mr. Darcy would never befriend such an empty-headed individual. Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s role in the movie was expanded to the detriment of the narrative. Perhaps the gravest mistake was the portrayal of Elizabeth. This version of Elizabeth is pouty, rude, defiant, and flighty. There is a scene where Elizabeth and Darcy are out strolling in their nightclothes, which would never have happened during this time period. Furthermore, Elizabeth become slightly estranged from Jane and continually keeps secrets from her sisters. She also openly mocks her family, something the original Elizabeth would have never done. Overall, Elizabeth comes across as bold/impatient and resembles the book version of Lydia. This radical change completely ruins the point of the narrative.

The movie also puts all the characters in unbelievable situations. Mr. Bingley would never have visited Jane in her room while she was recovering, especially if a proper chaperone was not present. If Jane had been dressed and Elizabeth was in the room, then it might have verged on okay. But it is not even remotely acceptable that Bingley would visit Jane while she was in bed and in nightclothes. Also, Elizabeth would have never worn her hair down during while visiting Netherfield Park. In the book Elizabeth is aware of social rules and strives to uphold them at all times. Wearing her hair down out in public qualifies as “conceited independence”.

Lastly, Matthew Mcfayden spoke quickly and in a monotone the entire time. The absolute worst scene is where he declares his love to Elizabeth with a fake stutter. There is no emotion in his voice and the effect is about a romantic as mowing the lawn.  Wright justifies his changes because he wanted to focus on the “romance” between Darcy and Elizabeth. But this version only made the romance entirely unbelievable and radically downplayed the one event that caused Elizabeth to fall-in-love with Darcy. Wickham was barely mentioned and this really hurt the narrative. Watch the 1995 mini-series or read the book, avoid this version.


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