J. & C.'s Movie Reviews

Our Notes on Movies Made Public

Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Posted by J on November 21, 2008

“This is not Jane Austen,” says C.  She is correct, though the plot is faithful to Jane’s book.200px-prideandprejudice-movieposter But having studied this movie shot-by-shot, we can easily declare it a well-crafted movie.  In terms of applying film technique to an early nineteenth century plot, the movie is a classic.

Austen diehards like C. will undoubtedly have issues.  Some of the actors may seem miscast, or at times inept.  We refer especially to Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennett, whose interpretation of Bennett as a low-key mumbler seems to be different than the sarcastic jokester that Austen had in mind.

Likewise, the movie veers towards a kind of kitsch romanticism that the book never approaches.   But of course it does; it’s a movie, and they all do that.  Consider that Austen’s book is concerned with virtues and manners, with educating readers on the degrees of appropriate conduct and sentiment.  In the book, the first thing that Darcy and Elizabeth do after getting engaged is to talk about what was wrong with how they previously acted, particularly with their manners.  Darcy even goes into a psychiatric evaluation of his childhood, and how that childhood programmed him to act prideful and conceited “in practice, though not in principle.”  This is not the kind of thing that couples do ten minutes after getting engaged, but oh well, it’s a Jane Austen book.

This movie, however, focuses on Elizabeth’s internal emotional state and projects that turmoil onscreen.  There are two or three short dream sequences, one of which has her standing on the edge of a cliff, the wind threatening to blow her off.  The scene in which Darcy famously gives Elizabeth a letter likewise focuses on Elizabeth.  That encounter here is as much fantasy as fact, as much Elizabeth’s baffled, emotional interpretation as a coherent, realistic sequence of events.  This movie is not Jane Austen; it is a romantic fantasy.

Despite this, this version of Pride and Prejudice aims to be the most realistic of all film versions.  The opening sequence swoops through the Bennet household in one take, in which we see the animals in their front lawn and the laundry strung out in front of the house.  Later, at the ball, we watch perhaps a hundred people happily dance, though we can almost smell the sweat and stink of the place.  The sets, when we reach Lady de Bourgh’s and Darcy’s estates, are elaborate and realistic.  Someone spent a lot of money to make what we see look like early nineteenth century England.  Even the ladies appear to have gone lightly on the makeup.

About this film’s craft.  Everyone should notice the extraordinary long takes, in which, for example, the camera swoops through the entire scene of the ball.  This is unusual, perhaps unprecedented for Jane Austen period movies, but it aims to relate the connected intricacies of the English social world.  In that way it is faithful to the book.  Jane is not much one for detail, but she is one for relationships.  Here, the camera has found a way to visually demonstrate those relationships.  In that way, we guess this movie is like Jane Austen.

Entertainment: 8

Intelligence: 8

Morality: 10

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