Screen Adaptations: Pride & Prejudice
‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’
Pride & Prejudice (2005) is a world of sweeping countryside bathed in golden sunsets or the hazy light of the morning, no doors are opened without the eavesdropping Bennet sisters falling through. Their world is candlelit and grand, in their own small ways.
This more recent adaptation tells of Austen’s beloved tale where Lizzie Bennet (Keira Knightley) and Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFayden) provoke, tease and eventually fall in love. While not the truest adaptation of the book (this title is easily given to the BBC’s 1995 version with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle) it is hard not to fall in love with this clever and elegant 2005 version. However, Knightley’s Lizzie is strong and witty and full of spirit, in my opinion she effortlessly captures the essence of Elizabeth Bennet. Her head stuck in a book from the moment we meet her, reading First Impressions (the original title for P&P) and my heart stayed with her ever since.
There are scenes in the film that seem to have been put there purely for their beauty. Take Mr. Darcy’s first proposal, under the gazebo in the rain. He claims to love her ‘most ardently’ but nothing is ever simple for the couple. Her pride and his prejudice get in the way for them, and an argument ensues. But with the rain and thunder in the background, Mr. Darcy and Lizzie so close to one another, it’s easy to forgive the fact that it isn’t quite ringing true to the book.
The crowded balls are beautiful. Grand halls lit only by candlelight paints the picture of another time altogether. The camera finds its way into the thick crowds that are attended with anticipation by the Bennet sisters and moves with them while they have breathless, broken conversations as they whirl past each other. The score, composed by Dario Marianelli, is just as breathtaking, full of beautiful pianos that accompany the scenes perfectly. One of the most powerful moments is when Lizzie and Mr. Darcy are dancing and the world falls away around them, until it is just them and the music.
When Lizzie visits Pemberley the beauty cannot be hidden. The sweeping shots capture the artwork and Lizzie’s enraptured face as she takes in the grand sites, snippets of conversation can be heard in the background but they filter in and out as if we really are in Elizabeth Bennet’s head. All she can focus on is this magnificent world that is so different from the Bennet household. This scene in the book was always one of my favourites, and I loved the way it was portrayed in the film. Mr. Darcy’s tenderness for Lizzie is so clear here, she tells him how fond she is of walking and he simply replies with ‘yes, I know’. It is these moments where it is hard not to fall in love with Mr. Darcy and Lizzie’s relationship.
The use of natural light and golden hour throughout the film is something that I always find myself coming back to every time I re-watch it. It sets up the mood of the scene, the gloomy rainy days contrasting the brightness when the sun shines, it aids the viewer in understanding the feelings of the characters on screen.
The moment of all moments comes when Lizzie and Mr. Darcy meet once again, in the fields in the dewy morning light after the formidable visit of Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Judi Dench). With the birdsong and low fog Lizzie leaves the comfort of home, searching for something, though she is not sure what. And then she sees him, walking through the fields to meet her, dressed more casually than we have ever seen him and the swelling piano kicks in. They make amends as the sun rises, declarations of love and honesty are made. The sun filters between them as Lizzie takes his hands, foreheads pressed together in a moment of intimacy and love. The dawn of a new day and the start of something new.
The film does make changes, but overall, I think it is the most beautiful adaptations that has been made of Pride and Prejudice and for me it was the adaptation that made me want to read the book in the first place. Not the usual order but for a fourteen-year-old, it took the film to light the passion I now have to Austen and the classics. It made the world more accessible to me and despite not being 100% accurate, I think film adaptations need credit for that. Nevertheless, I return to this film and let myself get swept away in the gentle nature of the late 18th - early 19th century, into the dreamy antics of Mr. Darcy and the light that I find along the way.
by Gemma Oxley