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4 Stars Movies

What are men, compared to rocks and mountains: Pride & Prejudice

Who doesn’t have great affection for the beloved 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice? But: I daresay Joe Wright’s 2005 feature film adaptation (the one with the ampersand) is my P&P. It may be less faithful to the text, but that’s fine; it’s its own thing. It’s delicious and I adore it.

I think of it as the precision-tooled sportscar version of Jane Austen’s novel; it may lose a lot of nuance, but it is a marvel of adaptation, It perhaps only suffers from omitting too much of the Wickham material, and softening Mr. Bennett’s culpability in the family’s dire situation.

Pride & Prejudice

The cast was selected with laser-guided missile accuracy, and the necessarily highly condensed screenplay makes some welcome adjustments:

  • Mrs. Bennett (Brenda Blethyn) is less broad, and less oblivious to Mr. Bennett’s (Donald Sutherland) teasing, which is tweaked to be more loving than cruel.
  • Lady Catherine (Judi Dench) is less of a cartoon villain, and is instead truly imposing and powerful. She may be wrong, but you can understand where she’s coming from.
  • Lydia (Jena Malone) is more naive than an out-of-control wild child.
  • And one other adjustment that I quite like: this Caroline Bingley (Kelly Reilly) has a begrudging respect for Lizzie (Keira Knightley), recognizing her wit and formidability, as opposed to her all-encompassing contempt in the 1995 version.

Rewatching the 1995 and 2005 adaptations in quick succession, an important (and in retrospect, obvious) point struck me for the first time, despite having also read the novel some years ago. Charles and Caroline Bingsley inherited their fortune from their late father, a tradesman. In other words, they are nouveau riche, not landed gentry like the Darcys and the Bennets. That they look down on tradesman like Lizzie’s uncle Mr. Gardiner, a lawyer, is nakedly hypocritical. Jane Austin bringing the socioeconomic critique!

For those interested in further exploring Austen’s extensive Hollywood career, please consult her official Letterboxd page.

(We watched this on old-fashioned DVD, and it was a very stressful experience: the previews were non-anamorphic, but thankfully the feature was anamorphic. My heart!)

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