Pride and Prejudice - Austin would be proud
| I have to confess, that despite its legion of fans, I am not in love with 1995ís BBC adaptation of Jane Austinís masterpiece Pride and Prejudice. Yes I understand that itís the inspiration for Bridget Jonesí Diary and has millions of women of all ages wet for Colin Firth but I always found the thing too stuffy, and stuffy is not what a Jane Austin adaptation should be.
Austinís work, which I discovered and fell in love with in undergrad, is subversive and bursting with frustrated energy. The BBC miniseries, while entertaining enough, and long enough for that matter, is rigid, overly formalized and too prim and proper. You never really understand the passion between Darcy and Lizzy.
Thatís why Joe Wrightís new film adaptation starring Keira Knightly is so refreshing. This Pride and Prejudice is bursting with joy, anger and lust. Itís set in a lived in, rugged period England and not a set piece as seen in other adaptations. This has more in common with Emma Thompson and Ang Leeís spirited Sense and Sensibility than anything Masterpiece Theatre has ever produced.
There is a wonderful West Wing like scene in the ball that brings the energy of the story to focus. I use this comparison due to the way the camera moves through the crowd, following characters as they walk through the set, dropping off and picking up as they move in and out of focus. The whole scene is one take and itís remarkable.
Knightly is to be praised. She handles the leading lady role with ease and adds just the right spark into Lizzy. I think I have always related to Darcy and his disdain for humanity, desperate to be saved from miserableness by a strong willed love. Here, the passion between the leads is palpable although impossible for most of the story.
Okay, the film does rush things a bit. While the BBC adaptation was a little long, this Pride and Prejudice tries to pack too much of the story into just over 2 hours. Pride and Prejudice has too much going on to fit into just one movie and this is the filmís main weakness. Wickhamís subplot is all but lost (except for the important bit with the sister) and most other things happen far too quickly. Also there isnít enough of Dame Dench in a role that could have been a show stopper if only given a bit more time.
Still, the screenplay manages to capture the romance of the language. The characters speak in beautiful prose and argue like master debaters, quick witted and smug.
I think the thing I most love about Austinís work is her deconstructionist tendencies. If there was a ever a time we needed these ideas more itís hard to imagine it. Pride and Prejudice captures that rebellious spirit and thatís all I ask from an Austin adaptation.