Friday, August 1, 2008

It is a truth universally acknowledged. . .

I have been sick with a cold these last few days, and haven't felt like doing much other than sitting down and watching Pride and Prejudice DVDs. (For all who weren't already aware, Jane Austen is the perfect antidote to a cold.) I've watched P&P'05 (the Matthew MacFadyen one) and P&P'95 (the Colin Firth one). And I've also been reading the book. This is the third time I've read Pride and Prejudice. Or is it the fourth? I can't remember. All the while, my mind has been busily engaged in trying to find the answer to that much-debated question: which is the best screen adaptation of Pride and Prejudice?

I still haven't decided which one is the best, but I do know which one I like the best. My favourite adaption of Pride and Prejudice is. . . (drum roll please!) P&P'05!! Here are a couple of my reasons for liking it better than any other version.

Firstly, the cast. I watched P&P'95 many times before I read the book. (I would probably have been around 10-12 years old when I read P&P for the first time.) When I finally did read the book, I found it difficult to reconcile Jane Austen's description of Elizabeth Bennet's character and appearance with Jennifer Ehle's depiction of Lizzy. Have a look at these lines from the book:

Mr Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty... [however] he began to find that [her face] was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying... he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing...

I don't know about you, but to me this seems to be describing a Keira Knightley-esque figure, and indeed to me Keira is and always will be Lizzy. She really did put in a wonderful performance. It earned her an Oscar nomination for best actress... she didn't win it. Reese Witherspoon won it.

I also have to admit that I prefer MacFadyen's Darcy over Colin Firth's. I know that His Royal Firthness has been idolised and adored by millions of females worldwide, but for some reason I just never "got" the whole Colin Firth thing. The thing is, I've grown up watching P&P'95. In 1995 I was just a tiny little thing. Colin Firth is about thirty years older than me, and so to me, he's always been like a sort of old uncle or an older brother or something like that, but never really 'crush' material. But anyway, as I was saying, I do actually prefer MacFadyen as Darcy. I've always been partial to blue eyes, so maybe that's what it is. ;-)

But I think it's in the supporting cast as well as the two lead roles where P&P'05 has the edge. Several of the characters in P&P'95 - especially Mrs Bennet, Mr Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourgh - seemed to have been over-acted, to the point where they almost seemed to become caricatures, stereotypes rather than real people. The portrayal of these characters in particular was, I thought, more natural and relaxed in P&P'05.

All of the cast seemed to meld together seamlessly. This is something that the actors talked about in video interviews on the DVD - that those who played the Bennets really did become like a family of sorts during shooting. I know that sounds dreadfully cliche, but watching the onscreen chemistry between all of the actors, one almost has to believe it!

The other thing I wanted to highlight was the 'look' and 'feel' of the film.

The director of P&P'05, Joe Wright, would have been used to working with minuscule budgets and making the most of what he had, so when he was finally given the opportunity to make P&P'05, his first cinematic release, you can imagine what the result was bound to be. Breathtaking, stunningly beautiful scenes rich in detail. The scene of the Ball at the Assembly Rooms near the beginning of the film is a good example of what I'm talking about.

Masses of people dancing, talking, eating and drinking. It's an assault on the senses - the music, the heat, the smell - it does manage to convey the thrill and excitement the young Bennet sisters would have felt. (Of course we don't actually feel the stifling heat or smell anything, but the movie makes us imagine that we do - that's the whole point.)

The setting for film is the late 18th century. This is around the same time Austen wrote the first version of Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions, in 1796-7. Most other screen adaptions of the novel have been set in the 1810s, the time when P&P was finally published in 1813.

The variance in historical period is noticeable particularly in the costumes. In 1797, the empire line had only just begun its period of domination of women's fashion. Caroline Bingley wears wears high-waisted empire line dresses, the latest fashion from London. Most of the other female characters, however, wear dresses with lower waists. Also, compare the clothes and short hairdos of Darcy and Bingley with the more out-of-date outfits worn by many of the other men. And also the hairstyles of Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Mrs Gardiner - it's definitely the 18th century!

P&P'05 gives a much dirtier, grittier, and more down-to-earth picture of the world in which the Bennet family lived. I know that this has become a bit of a cliche, but in this instance I think the film really did capture the 'spirit' of the book.

One review at sums it up nicely by likening P&P'95 to a beautifully detailed portrait of the Bennet family and P&P'05 to a dazzlingly colourful impressionist painting, beautiful in it's own right. (For the record, Christianity today also included P&P'05 in it's list of the 10 Most Redeeming Films of 2005. They even put together a Bible study for it!)

You can read some more Christian reviews of Pride and Prejudice here, here, here, here, and here.

But what do you think? Which is you're favourite adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and why?


Theresa said...

"His Royal Firthness" hahaha!
I feel the same as you, Colin is too old... but both Darcys don't compare with the one in the book. Come on, the swimming then meeting Lizzy scene ['95] and the half clad, slow walk on someone else's property [the end of '05] is totally wrong!
After much deliberation I think I like '95 better because of the character development, and the characters are much more like the book. Several of them were meant to be caricatures. I do like the real-ness of '05 though.
Wow, that was a long comment!

The Editrix said...

I agree, neither Firth nor MacFadyen were quite as good as the real Mr Darcy, though they both put in worthy performances in their respective films.

One of the other things about Darcy in the book is that he actually smiles a lot! Looking at either MacF. or Firth as Darcy you'd think that the smile wasn't invented! whereas in the book he smiles quite a bit - mostly at Lizzy.

But Mr. Darcy has never really been my favourite out of Austen's male protagonists. I've always been more of a Rev. Tilney fan... let's hope that there'll one day be an actor playing Tilney who does justice to the role - JJ Feild in NA'07 was OK but didn't quite hit the spot, I thought.

Oops, this was an even longer comment...

Theresa said...

I agree! Tilney could have been way cuter, however I thought it was well acted.
Actually the beginning of NA07 put my parents off coz the girls were talking about what they read. It was kind of dodgey so they switched it off because of younger members. I was sad as, so watched it later on youtube. It turned out ok, but it's hard to know how far film makers will take stuff ay! They could have made it quite dodge!

The Editrix said...

I watched NA07 months ago on Youtube, when it was on TV in the UK. Suffice it to say I didn't even bother to watch it when it was on ABC1 recently.

Andrew Davies makes me so mad sometimes! There are very few people in the world who can make me genuinely cranky, but HE would definitely be one of them. If you were to ask Davies what he thought Jane Austen's books were all about, he'd say money, sex, and power. GRRRH!! At least he restrained himself when he was writing his adaptations of P&P95 and Emma (the Kate Beckinsale one), but with NA, he put some stuff in there for which there was really no need. I mean, changing Catherine's latest read from "The Mysteries of Udolpho" to "The Monk"?!! Puhleeease...!!

But I'll stop ranting.

*Sighs*...One day there'll be a proper adaptation of Northanger Abbey. And Mansfield Park.

Miss Colorado said...

I found your blog over the Rebelution Attic. I must say I disagree with everything you said. Pride and Prejudiced [the Book] Fits perfectly with the 95 version. This is my very strong opinion on Pride & Prejudiced.

But I really do respect your opinion and you. And have a love you as a Sister in Christ.

ancillamaria said...

Felicitations! We found your blog while doing some research on paintings by Titian. We are enjoying your book reviews. They are among our favorites, too.
God bless
PS...We like the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice. If one reads novels written in the 19th century,one cannot help but note that young ladies did their best to look and behave as gentlewomen. Messy hair and dull frocks at a dance would have been a no-no; however, it would have been fine for the lower classes. Just a quiet observation...

Anonymous said...

I respect your views, but like most of these commentators, I'd have to say that '95 is my absolute, absolute, absolute fave. IMHO, Keira Knightley is so...ugh. I had a few things to say about her in my comment on your review for PandP '80. There are just so many things that I find to be wrong in '05. I also rather detest some of the rather arrogant opinions of some of the people who worked on the movie in the interviews on the DVD. Mrs. Bennet is not supposed to be a sweet lady! She's silly for a purpose!

Don't get me wrong, though. I love the book PandP, and that means that I have to like every adaptation of it. I almost hated '05 the first time I saw it, but now I see a lot of redeeming qualities in it. Still, though, A LOT of it annoys me, especially that dreadful Hollywoodized sentimental ending!

Hope I didn't offend you there. Just my opinions. :)


Annette Piper said...

OK, I know this post is a year old, but Austen is timeless!

I actually prefer the 95 version - and a big part of this is the faithfulness of the mini series to the novel. I rather liked the Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth combination (although I'm constantly disappointed in Firth's promise as a romantic figure - he exudes the right amount of angst and confusion and depth - compared to the culmination of that passion which he doesn't seem to be able to portray as truthfully. Yet, he will still be MY Mr. Darcy!)

I found the 05 adaptation, definitely that - an adaptation - barely withstanding scrutiny as to the accuracy of the story which someone who knows the novel so well looks for in a film version. However, it was a very attractive stand- alone story. The emotion was palpable and I was touched by the ending sequences. Kiera Knightly I think is a tad over done, seemingly appearing in everything in recent years, but that's just a personal opinion!

I can't see a review of Lost in Austen - have you done one yet? I thought it brilliant and such a good spin on the P&P story.

Katherine said...

I agree with you about the portrayal of Mr. Collins, Mrs. Bennet, and Lady Catherine being more realistic and natural in the 2005 version. The cinematography was what really made me like this version as well as the music.

But I still enjoyed the 1995 adaptation more. Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle aren't exactly how I imagine Lizzy or Darcy but I agree with their portrayals more than I do with the 2005 adaptation.

That being said I must add that Matthew Macfadyen is one of my favorite actors, I just didn't agree with his portrayal of Mr. Darcy.

I went into a bit more detail on my opinions of the 2005 adaptation in my blog.

I found your blog when I was looking through the followers list for Old Fashioned Charm

Anonymous said...

oh my god! i must say that great minds think alike! i really thought the characters of mrs bennet, mr collins and lady de Bourgh were quite exaggerated! they almost were like... comical! it was ridiculous i tell u! and colin firth! omg, he was more rude and proud than shy and having a of false pride which mathew did commendably, as it was more like mr darcy! even towards the end i expected him (firth) to be a softer to lizzy, overflowing with love and all, but... nada. zilch. there was nothing there! i was quite disappointed with firth as darcy cos he my fav "prince charming" of all... well maybe after Flynn Rider! =D
but i think both the lizzies were quite perfect! i mean, seriously. but jane in 95 version was not prettier than lizzy in 95, unlike the keira knightley version! overall, i believe 2005 cast was amazing! but they should have been there in the BBC version 1995 since it included all the details of the book!