Thursday, August 10, 2006

Watching Pride and Prejudice (2005, Joe Wright)

I was fighting long and hard and eventually the alter-ego part of me that wanted a final proof of Keira Knightley's abyssmal acting abilities (you know the story: just another talentless but beautiful young actress) got the better of me. However, I was up for very enjoyable two hours. Please join me in scrutinizing all the aspects of the film.

The first thing one notices in the film is that the film-makers have taken much liberty with the material at hand. It's an adaptation rather than a film version of the book. In the book the Bennets do have a farm, but it is not physically connected to their house. The film makes the village a completely rural place that is considerably less sophisticated than the town, which is a gross over-simplification. Whether the script-writer and director thought that the modern cinema-goer is unable to understand the distinction between the lower and higher class (as it was in Austen's day) is anyone's guess. One of the most powerful messages Austen conveys with her writing is that rank counts for nothing when it is not refined by extensive improvement of the mind. This is underlined by the fact that e.g. Lady De Bourgh is very self-centered and simple-minded despite her elevated rank, extensive property and superb connections.

Also Lizzy and Jane's manners with their incessant giggling do point out the fact that they're very vivacious and young, but they almost fail in establishing the difference between them and the rest of their family. Their manners hardly ever appear sufficiently dignified (even less so with Lizzy's wandering about Darcy's home and her listening at the door) and at times their laughter isn't only unguarded but downright rude. Whether this is a sign of the producers' lacking understanding of the manners of the day or their desperate attempt to make the film likeable among the modern audiences is beyond me. (Additionally: the books are still widely enjoyed and immensly popular just as they are, with their old-fashioned manners and extreme politeness, so why would one establish that the material needs to be modernized?)

Some cuts, naturally, were expected when you're making a 300 page novel into a two-hour film and they somewhat improved the film, for example having Bingley have only one sister worked very well, but the downside is that for a newbie, the plot and all its twists and turns are hard to follow and at moments the actions of certain characters seemed feebly motivated, just because the film-makers could not afford the time to offer extensive explanations. The pace of the story is incredible - and it's not always a good thing to do this in a romance. Surely, an action film benefits from pacing, because it builds suspense, but here some of the scenes were rushed and failed to create a sufficient impact. Jane Austen's writing is universally liked and admired because of the characters she portrays and the wit with which their personalities are described; a six-hour mini series has a definite advantage over the film, simply because it has more time to establish the characters.

But by cutting the plot they left out many interesting characters, violently adapted the scenes and degraded the language to suit the understanding of the regular "pop-corn-fun" movie-goer.

While Mr. Collins was decently portrayed, I felt he was not absurd, over-bearing and pompous enough to be thoroughly disliked. Generally, the acting was good, but I didn't have high expectations, so it easier to be satisfied. I can claim that Knightley (Elizabeth) is a far better actress than I estimated her to be, although I don't think the Oscar nomination was completely in place - this, afterall is an award for outstanding achievement in the field - not for doing your job properly for a change. Macfadyen (Darcy) improves on you once you see him in action, although the change in his feelings (with regard to Elizabeth) is not as pronounced as it should be. But there are evident early symptoms of his affection for Lizzy, which I liked, because it gives enough of a hint to the audience to keep its interest. I especially liked Donald Sutherland as the father, Brenda Blethyn as the mother and Simon Woods as Bingley, who in my opinion is the first to really capture Bingley's amiable, warm, but easily persuaded nature.

The film boasts a wonderful and absolutely enchanting musical background and inventive, fresh camerawork (lots of smooth, circular movements). I also liked that the film ended without the kiss (or wedding) between the two main characters, because it resisted the convention while keeping the scene effective. (Don't you just hate that only once the characters kiss at the end of a romance you really "know" they're going to be happy together?)

The film suffers from lacking the Austen spirit, because it fails to capture the attitudes and manners of the time; BBC mini-series did a much better job of bringing forward the actual spirit of the era. I should also bring attention to the fact that the two renditions of the novel are very different and that by no means is the film only a short version of the 1995 mini-series (Jennifer Ehle, Colin Firth). Also there are far too many coincidences, Knightley is startled too many times just a moment before something important happens. I wish they found some different solutions to writing those scenes. Some of these moments are effective (Darcy's first proposal), but the quantity of these moments makes you feel "deja-vu" all the time.

If you don't feel like spending the time it takes to read the book or watch the BBC mini-series (6 hours), then you could as well watch this film, which is throughly enjoyable, but keep in mind that it is not a religious rendition of the original Austen's plot.


posted by Nadezhda | 13:04


Blogger jin said...

Hm, I guess I'll have to see this film.

Blogger Bo said...

Helo Nadezhda. A great film review in many ways you wrote.

I am into Pride and Prejudice, nothing can save me. It feels hip to me, even though it's from around 1800. I enjoy it in this order: the novel, the six part BBC TV-series, and the new film with Keira Knightley.

I back up this two things:
. the performances are enjoyable, surprisingly also from lovely Keira Knightley, although her other appearances: Pirates 1 and 2, Love Actually are not - but I don't think she was given enough space in these films, everything goes too fast and feels bad, as does her appearance. (I must emphasize Pirates 2 here, which is a bad bad film. It was a torture for me to watch it through. The world really doesn't need such films. - But they are already "polishing" the third part for the next summer release ...)
.. the film is at times loosely based on the novel, however, the majority of it is a faithful adaptation in my opinion, it doesn't move away neither from the original text (it uses fewer words) neither from the feeling of Jane Austen. Original departures are also nicely done in my opinion. I don't think a better film adaptation can be made that easily. This is very good.

Your English however is very ... high and complicated. It hasn't been that high (and complicated) till this review or perhaps I hadn't read you for too long. I was using a dictionary all the time. :) This is also good of course.

I recommend seeing this film, especially seeing it to any other films with Keira Knightley (most especially those awful Pirates 2 - and I paid quite some money for seeing that ...).

Blogger Nadezhda said...

Jin - are you interested in the plot or are you an old fan of Austen and never revealed that particular information about yourself? :)

Bo - well, the same plot twist was used so many times in so many stories (after Austen published it first) that it is but natural to feel it being contemporary.

I did hear about Pirates2 being horrible. I do not intend to see the film as I didn't see the first part, either.

Yes, they use fewer words, but the mini-series uses actual quotes from Austen and here script-writers have adapted and changed much of the dialogue. I didn't get the same feeling of propriety (quintessential to 18th century)watching this film as I did watching the series. I don't mind that they have Lizzy packing Jane's bags and such (the original parts are quite good ideas and nice new takes on the plot), but I do mind that this film feels as if it was set in 1920s not 1800s.

I don't feel my English has changed apart from the fact that holidays - blog-wise - are definitely over and it's time to get down to business and write some more serious posts.

Blogger Belgothiel said...

I'm planning on seeing that film soon. Having watched the mini-series I find them very impressive and enjoyable, so I hope the film won't disappoint me.
I read Austen's Emma and I must say that her writting really put a spell on me. I couldn't lay if off until I read it - it was 5 am by the time I'd finished.
I'm also looking forward to reading Sense and sensibility. Hope the holidays don't run out too swiftly!

PS: Your english here was defenitely more complicated than in your previous posts :) But I like it because it makes me learn :) - my english is still "waiting to be improved".

Blogger Bo said...

I left some thoughts about Pride and Prejudice way back on March 24th on my blog, from where I must copy and paste this ...

This is a feel-good film. It rises and sets with a rising sun.

... for anybody who's thinking about seeing the film.

Blogger Nadezhda said...

Belgothiel - Emma is wonderful! I'm glad you've read it. Sense&sensibility is in my opinion a slightly "weaker" book; the plot is well-crafted and all, but I feel Austen just doesn't work her magic (as well) in this one. And there's no better way to improve your English than by extensive reading!

Bo - I did read that entry of yours as well as commented it. :)

Blogger Belgothiel said...

Hm, so I should probably read Pride and prejudice first :) I'm so enthousiastic about reading Austen. She's amazing! Her writing reminds me of the melody of England. I don't really know why but I somehow expect that when I get there, the atmosphere will be quite as in Austen's books...
But first I need to do some Nietzsche and that will take me quite a lot of time. :)

Blogger Nadezhda said...

Belgothiel - I think you should... :) I don't believe England is still what you describe - (maybe some more remote parts of the countryside are), but mainly it is not.

Maybe you could read two books at the same time? Nietzche for intellectual stimulation and Austen before you go to sleep for relaxation?

Blogger Belgothiel said...

After spending some hours on Nietzsche I must say that this is a defenitely a piece of advice to take! :)
So much to do, so little time. But reading before going to bed became my favourite lullaby... or at least one of my favorites.

Anonymous OmegaBlue said...

Well you should really see the series not the film. The series is well to put it short, the actors are better and much more fit to the role. I strongly recommend it.

Blogger Nadezhda said...

Omegablue - I'm not usre whether your comment refers to me, but here goes anyway: I did see the series many times and I prefer it over the film. Just that this post is a review of the film, not the film and the series.

Belgothiel - though I seldom read philosophers I find it easier to read them a few hours at a time and not all day long. Having some time to ponder on the read material helps me understand it better. And anyway reading difficult material before going to sleep is a sure-fire way to put me to sleep instantly! :)

Blogger Belgothiel said...

Hehe; I was reading N. for too long yesterday and it didn't really do me any good: I felt asleep and had a kind of nightmare! :) So, as you say; I should start with reading it only few hours a day...

Blogger Nadezhda said...

Maybe you should ask Aljoša, the author of a wonderful blog on philosophy, (link in my sidebar under "Nočna beležnica") how he approaches N. and his colleagues as maybe my method applies only to people who seldom read such books and derive little pleasure from doing so. ;)

Maybe if you also kept a reading diary for N. - to jot down his main thoughts or quotes and such - it might help you to be more in contact with the reading material.

Blogger Belgothiel said...

Oh, here it is - I almost missed this comment.
I'm now cheking Nočna beležnica, thans for that. About keeping a diary for N. - I've already started with that, in a noteform, and perhaps I write some of his problems on my blog. There's so much ideas to discuss on which might interest some of the readers. To deal with themes like that I find it much easier to understand things.

Blogger Nadezhda said...

Oh, great (about the notes on N.)! I wasn't aware you were already doing that. Sure, if you find it interesting, why not write about it on your blog? I'd love to read your thoughts!

As for Nočna beležnica you hav Aljoša to thank (for writing it) not me - I'm only the messenger. :)

Blogger Wonder Woman said...

I have watched P & P 3 times in 3 days since I bought the DVD, and it's definitively not the last time I watched it.

Some comments though: I found it enjoyable, esp. since I'm a fan of the romantic 18. century movies and stories. This movie lasts only 2 hours but by the amount of the events that happen it feels like a whole evening - and I don't mean that in bad sense. I hate the usual movies when the love stories just seem to happen "all-at-once", it just goes too fast. But in this story! Wow! They meet, they like each other and deny it to themselves, then he confeses, she freaks out and yells at him and at the end - there is still a happy ending! The scenes that got my heart beating faster: the moment Mr. Darcy first saw Lizzie, it was so obvious she caught his attention and yet he played cool afterwards; when mr. Darcy helped Lizzie to enter the carriage; their quarrel, though Lizzie seemed to be too arrogant at times...

What I also liked in the movie: the dances!! I felt like having my prom again :)) The scenery was superb and the music likable. I also found the scene where Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy practice how Mr. Bingley is going to propose to Jane very amusing, I just thought: "Yeah! This is exactly what they do!".

And about the ending, it seems like the cinema played the US version with the kiss, on the DVD the story ends where Papa gives Lizzie his approval and she leaves the room. The US ending (with Mrs. Darcy Mrs. Darcy Mrs. Darcy...) is in the bonus area.

All in all, it enters into my top 10.

I am considering reading the book now, but I fear it is going to be like Sense & Sensibility - I left the book half-read because I just couldn't read more than a couple of pages at once. And all I could do was compare it to the movie (which I seriously like) and search for differences.

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