Note: this originally appeared as a guest post on Evie's older blog A Period Drama Fangirl and I'm reposting it here with her gracious permission. (Thank you, Evie!) If you'd like to see the original post/comments you can click here or go to my original link post here.
Hello everyone! We’re going to be discussing the ’05 P&P with Keira Knightley and, before we get started, let me just put out a qualifier. I’ll be offering some thoughtful criticism in the following, but I DO have friends and relatives who really like this film, so please take it all solely as my own personal opinions and preferences. :) Now let us begin!
Point #1: Accuracy to the book
Some of this spills into the following points as well, so here we’ll talk mostly about accuracy in the character portrayals and script.
First off is the pacing. This is a little interesting. At times it seems to move very slowly (with plenty of sitting and swinging in the barnyard) before it will suddenly speed up–skipping through various plot points. It was also filmed using more modern camera angles and coloration. Throughout, my general impression is that they were trying to inject a higher level of tension and drama into the story. After thinking it through, I’ve come to the conclusion that this sort of approach simply doesn’t sit well on P&P. Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey, for instance, are more melodramatic–allowing for more artistic license in the drama direction–whereas P&P is much more of a candid social commentary.
Along with this is the modern behavior. I won’t say much about the casting per se (as everyone has different tastes), but the modern behavior is undeniable. All the girls–including even Jane (who is still quite sweet)–are very giggly and very prone to posture problems–slouching and bouncing, and lying sprawled on beds and couches. There is also (particularly on Lizzy’s part) some very flagrant disrespect. On this point in the book, Darcy (acute critic that he is) specifically states in his letter that Jane and Lizzy had exempted themselves from the general censure: “…let it give you consolation to consider that, to have conducted yourselves so as to avoid any share of the like censure is praise no less generally bestowed on you and your eldest sister, than it is honorable to the sense and disposition of both.” Which admission he does make here as well in his first proposal: “Pardon me, you and your sister I must exclude from this.”
The rewrite of Darcy’s line above is not, in itself, a heinous offence (though I think the original is far better), but another–more serious–problem is the occasional giving of one character’s lines to another. I’m talking a line of Miss Bingley’s given to Mary, Miss Bingley then responding with one of Mr. Bingley’s humorous lines (made sarcastic), and then Lizzy standing up for Mary. Needless to say, it rather messes with the character development.
And then there’s the eavesdropping. Everyone eavesdrops…even Jane. In the book, after Lydia’s disclosure regarding Darcy, we learn that, “Jane’s delicate sense of honor would not allow her to speak privately of what Lydia had let fall.” Listening at doors is stretching her character just a little too far. The listening at doors at all is also simply rather ludicrous, especially as (again) the book specifically states they didn’t do it. When angling for Mr. B’s proposal, Mrs. Bennet breaks up the card tables and takes Kitty upstairs out of sight and sound; and after Lady Catherine departs from Longbourn in high dudgeon, it isn’t until Lizzy goes upstairs that, “Her mother impatiently met her at the door of the dressing-room.”
By their handling of all this, the filmmakers were obviously trying to catch the bumptious energy and curiosity of the Bennets as well as the social tensions of the era and bring it across to modern audiences. And that’s no easy feat–as our world’s perceptions and sensitivities have changed so much from when the book was written–but it shouldn’t be done at the expense of compromising the story.
Point #2: Accuracy to the period
Hertfordshire was one of the principal market counties of London, providing fresh produce to the city, and in the book we are told Longbourn was a journey of twenty-four miles (less than half a day’s journey) away. This farmyard setting is most certainly brought out in the movie. Only problem is: setting-wise it’s not quite accurate. This is in the days of gentlemen farmers (think Mr. Knightley), and those living directly on/working the farms were generally tenant farmers. The Bennets owned a farm and it’s not specifically stated in the book whether or not they lived directly on it, but a few things can be inferred by their occupations–which would have been very different if they had. For reference, think of Harriet Smith’s adventures with the Martins in Austen’s own Emma–or the social hierarchy/daily activities of characters in George Eliot’s Adam Bede or Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. If the Bennets lived directly on the farm they would have been doing the work around it to some extent.
The fashions seem to be a mix of eras (about four at least):
and 21st century.
It’s reasonable to assume Mrs. Bennet might have been wearing older dresses (i.e. Georgian)–except that she comes across as very fashion conscious (particularly when it comes to “long sleeves”). With the exception of the Georgian and Regency dresses, most of the waistlines tend toward a Romance-era look (c. Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters).
Another big fashion issue is the loose hair. In the period, we know, for instance, that they almost certainly didn’t wash as often as we imagine. But socially, there were still things that were and were not done. A good woman would not have been seen publicly in the streets with her hair down or hanging messed around her face.
All in all, I feel they were almost trying to create a “fairytale” setting–not tied down to any particular time. The main problem is that they don’t exactly cue you to interpret it that way, so most viewers seem to go away thinking they’ve now, “Seen what the Regency period really looked like.”
Point #3: Accuracy to Austen’s themes
My final point is actually one of my biggest issues, but I’ll just touch on it briefly. It basically comes down to what the foundation for a relationship between a man and a woman should be. This is a huge theme in the book, illuminated by all the different couples: Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, Mr. Collins and Charlotte, Darcy and Lizzy, Bingley and Jane, and, of course, Wickham and Lydia. To me, this version focused much more on emotional and physical attraction, and less on the meeting (or clash) of minds. Of the two main couples, this particularly came out on Darcy’s side–and almost completely so in the relationship between Jane and Bingley (the other exemplary couple whose courtship we see).
If there was ever a story that emphasized the respect and clear-headed evaluations to be considered when looking at a marriage, P&P is it. Near the end of the book, Lizzy begins “to comprehend that he was exactly the man, who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. It was an union that must have been to the advantage of both.” “Gratitude and esteem”–discovered through all the ups and downs of their story–is the foundation for their love.
You may have started seeing how two of those ‘Famous Lines’ fit into this: “You have bewitched me body and soul” followed by, “Your hands are cold.” There’s nothing actually wrong with either (aside from not being Jane Austen), though the first one definitely belongs more to later 19th century literature…Mr. Rochester, perhaps??? As for the second one: I know people think, say, and experience all sorts of down-to-earth things at extraordinary times, so that’s not the problem.
Now, of course, in a romantic relationship between a man and a woman there’s all sorts of natural enchantment and bewitchment going on. But (as I mentioned above) as a story, P&P by definition places much more emphasis on a different aspect. The aspect of two people who are willing to see and correct their shortcomings (i.e. in this case, a fair amount of pride and prejudice on both sides) and who then respond each to the other in humility, gratitude, and love. And that, along with willingness for self-sacrifice, is a strong foundation for a marriage.
So, there are some of my thoughts on the ’05 P&P. Thank you all for following me to the end of them! What is your opinion of this adaptation?