Saturday, January 21, 2006

Pride and Prejudice: An Austenite Review

I have a confession to make.

I am an Austenite.

You know, one of those people all the movie critics talked about in their reviews of the new Pride and Prejudice that would supposedly pick it to pieces for being inaccurate. On the whole, they portrayed people who love Jane Austen's splendid prose as petty, humorless, librarians who probably spend their free time poring through magazines looking for grammar mistakes.

The reality is, I only point out the differences in the movie from the book because the way it was in the book was better.

Well, to them I will just say that tonight I will be going to the movie theater to see Pride and Prejudice for the third time. It will tie my record for how many times I've seen the same movie in a theater. Phantom of the Opera is the co-holder. But that's all my cousin's fault...which is a subject for another blog post.

Anyway, I liked this latest incarnation of Pride and Prejudice, with it's beautiful photography, lovely understated music, and excellent performances from most of the cast.

Just in case you didn't know, there was a mini-series done by BBC on the same book with Colin Firth as the one and only Mr. Darcy, and Jennifer Ehle as the self-assured, witty Elizabeth who is more than a match for Darcy. You can tell it was made by people who loved and above all, really understood Austen.

Naturally, I wasn't expecting the movie to measure up to the mini-series, but I found you can't really compare the two.

The movie tries to take the elegant, but constructed style of Austen and shake it up to make it into something more modern looking and sounding.

Yes, sounds like a good thing on paper, but the point they're missing is that what makes Pride and Prejudice so good is that it is Austen. If you mess with the dialogue, you take the whole heart out of the thing.

In the original, you have a group of (yes, I will admit it) formal characters all conversing in witty repartee, and by the time you're done "keeping it real", you have a bunch of teenage girls either running around wild or not saying anything at all, one very stilted and out-of-place guy and his bumbling friend who can't phrase a sentence without tripping over his tongue, and they are all talking over each other at such volumes, and behaving in general as if they had never heard of manners in the first place.

The place this really irked is the first proposal scene, where they dilute the glorious declaration of Darcy's feelings, "In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed, you must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you." to a long rushed sentence, where we don't get to catch half of what he's saying, ending with "I love you. Most ardently."

The only thing that saved it was Matthew Mcfadyen's wonderful delivery. He stands there in the pouring rain (another liberty) and looks just like the proverbial kicked puppy, so when he utters lines as lame as that, we believe that it's because he really is At A Loss. He turned in a solid performance as Mr.Darcy, and considering whose shoes he was filling and what he had to work with, he really did a fantastic job.

I wish I could say the same about Keira Knightley. She really tries, and sometimes hits the mark, but when you see her on the screen you think "Oh, there's Keira Knightley...I mean, Elizabeth."

She's got a funny quality about her, she's too sharp and sarcastic, too much lively and not enough class. She wears her heart on her sleeve and says whatever happens to pop into her head. Which is just not something Elizabeth would do.

I guess the ultimate problem with her performance (or the director's interpretation, rather) was that it makes you wonder what on earth the cultured Mr. Darcy sees in her.

But Elizabeth aside, several of the supporting character's are pitch-perfect, even better than the mini-series.

Claudie Blakley plays Charlotte Lucas, Lizzy's best friend, and was just right. She shares Lizzy's fun-loving personality and keen wit, but not her beauty. The ending to her story, shows the harsh shallowness of those times, where only beauty and birth secured your place in the world.

Tom Hollander as Mr. Collins interpreted the part much differently, more sympathetically and less the revolting prideful prig, that he was in the mini-series. Surprisingly this works just as well, and I almost like his performance better.

The other Bennet sisters are a mixed bag. Jane, played by Rosamund Pike, was perfect. She was delicately lovely, maternal and made of sugar and spice, just like she should be. Kitty and Lydia, were a bit dissapointing. Lydia lacks the inherent naughtiness of her mini-series predessecor, and goes overboard trying to compensate while Kitty really does nothing but giggle.

Mary Bennet was a charming surprise. Talluah Riley was great. Even with such a tiny character to play, she left an impression on me as the only other decently human girl in the house, but sadly left out by all her sisters.

The Bingleys were well done, Kelly Reilly as Caroline does the snotty, rich girl to an absolute Tee. A pleasure to watch. Simon Woods plays a goofier Bingley, but with such a lovable good-naturedness it works.

Mr. and Mrs. Bennet were...less than they could be. After the histronics of Mrs. Bennet in the mini-series, anything else is an understatment, but Brenda Blethyn does a good, realistic job with the character. Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennet, though, has left me still wondering where the casting director's brain had got to.

Not only does he really not do a British accent, but he's such a lumbering, useless presence, it's painful to watch. Granted, it works somewhat in the story, but so opposite to how Mr. Bennet was written. But, *sigh* it's only a thing that would matter to an Austenite.

Now that I have rambled and rambled until your brain must be leaking out your ears, I will say:

Yes, it has it's flaws and you will have to sit up and listen if you want to know what is going on, but it's worth the effort for this spirited attempt at making Austen "accesible" to people who wouldn't sit through the book.

4 Comments:

Blogger Rabenstrange said...

Wouldn't you be an Austenette?

Anyhow, I've been planning on exploring Jane Austen's novels.

I was thinking I'd begin with Emma but your post makes Pride and Prejudice sound like it would also provide an acceptable starting point.

Any recommendations you might have would be appreciated.

10:51 PM  
Blogger quirkychild said...

Austenette...I like it.

Good for you, you're taking on Austen! Most people I know would rather have a root canal, than read any of the classics.

But which one? Actually Emma and P&P are both my personal favorites of Austen's work. Maybe P&P a bit more...it would make a good starting point, it's shorter than Emma, and I like the characters best.

I think Elizabeth Bennet was Jane Austen's own favorite heroine of all her books. But I warn you, once you start reading, you'll have to read the rest of them.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Rabenstrange said...

I started Pride and Prejudice this evening and have found it very satifactory. I'm already close to 1/4 of the way through it.

Thank you for your recommendation.

1:17 AM  
Blogger Christy said...

See, I've been avoiding this movie. Mainly because my sister, a fellow Austinite *wink*, said she was badly disappointed. I'm waiting for it to come out on video. *laugh* Thanks for your comments...I have some hope for the movie now. *chuckle*

6:22 PM  

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