Don’t Even Bother Arguing: Pride and Prejudice 2005 sucks.

The howls of indignation from fans of the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice have never quite ceased since the day it was announced that there’d be a new film adaptation starring Keira Knightley of the Great Locked Jaw. You can still hear them if you listen hard: the movie is still popping up on TV and being rented by people all over the world innocently thinking ‘it could be good’ or ‘I’ve hated it all four times I’ve seen it, but maybe I’ll like it this time!’ Ooh – I just heard another one!

Her Ladyship is therefore incensed at the presence of people out there who claim to love both adaptations equally or (horror of horrors) to prefer the 2005 version. She declares that such people must either be mad or perverse, and that they pose a serious threat to the prevalence of critical reasoning and good sense. Here’s why.

1. Jennifer Ehle’s Elizabeth Bennet is intelligent, headstrong and independent minded, but never fails to demonstrate that while she is all of these things, she is also a perfect Regency lady. Simply walking out of Mr. Collins’ proposal and leaving the door open creates an ominous silence that leaves every promise of the ticking bomb that’s about to explode. Keira Knightley, on the other hand, feels the need to raise her voice at Mr. Collins and bolt out of the house before dissolving into fits of tears crying ‘Papa, I can’t marry him. I can’t,’ the whole episode followed by a disgustingly overacted and under-sincere ‘Thank you, Papa,’ when Mr. Bennet refuses his consent. Jennifer Ehle just doesn’t need all this shit for her Lizzy to work: she knows Mr. Bennet isn’t going to force her to marry anyone. With Ehle, we know all this instinctively, because she’s a good actress. With Knightley, it’s rammed down our throats like Mr. Woodhouse’s ‘very little bit of apple tart’ in Emma. And then there’s the first proposal scene. Gods beneath us! What grotesque over-acting and throwing of toys out of cots! You’d think Lizzy and Darcy were a twenty-first century couple rowing over a G-string found between the couch’s cushions, before thinking about having make-up sex (though in Matthew MacFadyen’s defense, he does behave impeccably in the face of this onslaught of mediocrity). In comparison, the scene between Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth almost boils over with emotion and sexual tension with neither of them speaking above a conversational tone. This doesn’t only work better because it’s true to the manners of the time. It works because it’s good acting: it’s the holding back; the threat of explosion, the difficulty of self-control. Good acting is simultaneously the most simple and the most complex reason for Jennifer Ehle’s Lizzy plowing Keira Knightley’s into the ground and sowing her with lime. And walking and reading is the most uncomfortable thing in the world. No one smiles while they’re doing it.


2. Pride and Prejudice 1995: just like in the book, the Bennets live in a pretty, modest estate, with a small park, that is suitable for the principal inhabitants of a country village that they are. Pride and Prejudice 2005: the Bennets live in poverty and squalor. The house is both falling down and fronted by a yard/pig sty and the washing lines. Pigs and chickens wander freely in and out of the house. Each room in it is shabby, poorly furnished and looks like the back room of a draper’s shop, with material, ribbons, bonnets and crap strewn everywhere. The Bennets are meant to be upper class who struggle with the social requirement that their money not be earned by trade. This is because they don’t have a lot of cash. They’re not meant to be poor: just poor in comparison with the upper class who can actually afford not to work, and of course with the aristocracy. It would be divine to yell ‘Read the fucking book, morons!’ and be done with it, but the real reason is most probably pure, nauseating dumbing down. Most arseholes who go to the movies probably won’t understand this social divide in the upper class; the Bennets having a little park and Bingley having a massive one isn’t simple enough; so let’s just make the Bennets dirt poor! Problem solved!

3. No Louisa Hurst. Caroline Bingley and her oft-forgotten sister Louisa make a terrible (and terrifying) twosome: ‘better pleased with themselves than what they see.’ The 1995 version’s handling of this was masterful, with Caroline and Louisa constantly gossiping and saying awful, if hilarious things about the country bumpkins they suddenly find themselves surrounded with. 2005 merely contented itself to give us Caroline Bingley flying solo and serving as much purpose as nipples on a breastplate. Two bitchy sisters conniving together is so much better than one bitchy sister hanging around in fancy era-inappropriate costumes and being disagreeable to no one in particular.

4. Mr. Wickham. I love Rupert Friend as much as the next fan of The Young Victoria, but when it comes to Pride and Prejudice, what a straw doll! He’s flat and prodigiously boring, sticking to one tone of voice and one facial expression, and his flirting with Keira Knightley in the ribbon shop scene is one of the most cringeworthy things I’ve ever seen (but then it takes two dreadful interpretations to tango). In the BBC version, one is as shocked as Lizzy is to hear Darcy’s story of the whole escapade with Georgiana, and once the little shit (Wickham, not Georgiana) reappears on the scene, it’s all one can do not to aim a brick at the TV and hope it hits him: what obsequiousness and syrupy-sweet arse-kissing! How infinitely punchable he is. On the other hand, the idea of Rupert Friend’s Wickham attempting to extort money from Darcy, trying to elope with Darcy’s sister when it doesn’t happen and then having the misfortune to be forced to marry Lydia, who has no money, is so incredible that one can’t help feeling he must have done all these things by mistake or while sleepwalking.

5.Mr. and Mrs. Bennet being in love. Seriously? The whole point of their relationship is to demonstrate how even the most intelligent person (in this case, Mr. Bennet) can find himself chained for life to a complete fool simply because of a hasty marriage brought on by physical passion. They’re meant to be hopelessly incompatible! Their marriage is a disaster! Austen is making a point here: think with your brain, not with your penis! So why change it? Why?Why? Is this something a modern audience can’t process?


    6. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner being so boring. They’re meant to be loveable, wonderfully likeable, sensible people that show how not being upper class (they’re merchant class) doesn’t have anything to do with being a good person (contrast this with Lady Catherine). Hanging around them for such a long time plays a major role in Darcy becoming less of a classist twat. In the 1995 version, they’re adorable: Mr. Gardiner with his enthusiasm for fishing, Mrs. Gardiner so sweet and all-observing. In the 2005 version – boring. Boring statues that act as filler characters so Lizzy can have an excuse to be in Derbyshire. That, regrettably, is the main problem with this movie: ruthlessly compromising on character to achieve…what, exactly?

pride-and-prejudice-97. Turning Mr. Bingley into a dunce. Sure, he’s meant to be really outgoing, sometimes overly-enthusiastic kind of guy, but not this awkward, stuttering wimp who behaves like an extra in a Tim Burton movie. Bingley is always driven by a very strong moral compass and a determination to treat all people well that is admirable, not worthy of ridicule. He’s also exceptionally well-bred, so all this social awkwardness bullshit not only betrays a lack of knowledge of the book, but a lack of knowledge of the era.

8. The final scene between Lizzy and Mr. Bennet during which she divulges Darcy’s role in Lydia’s marriage. In spite of its vomit-inducing bad acting, lack of sincerity and cringeworthy dialogue, WHY would Lizzy tell Mr. Bennet when by her own admission, ‘[Darcy] wouldn’t want it.’ It. Makes. No. Sense. It’s a deviation from the book that serves no purpose, not even explaining to idiots…

Her Ladyship wishes she could continue, but fears she will compromise both her mental and physical health by doing so.

Don’t watch this movie. The pain and the annoyance are simply not worth it.


19 Comments Add yours

  1. The 1995 version with Ehle is brilliant though. It’s tough to beat 🙂

    1. ladygilraen says:

      He he, you are much more tolerant than me! I would argue that there is no reason for anyone to attempt to beat it: it’s the ultimate adaptation that will never be bettered.

      1. richard cohen says:

        quite true.i have never enjoyed watching any film or television as much as i have enjoyed watching jennifer ehle in pride and prejudice.
        she is a gift.

  2. Never say never. If they can remake it with the original cast in HD, that would great.

    PS, what’s the deal with Donald Sutherland playing the Mr Bennet!?

    1. ladygilraen says:

      One often gets the impression that the casting director was smoking something for most of his hours worked, so perhaps this is not surprising.

      1. Yeah, that only works for Quentin Tarantino movies and perhaps Danny Boyle.

  3. Naycee says:

    One criticism of the 1995 version that I loathe is that Jennifer Ehle was “too heavy” to play Elizabeth because Elizabeth was supposed to be active and athletic. No, just no. Just because you’re athletic, doesn’t mean you can’t have curves. There are plently of female athletes today that are both fit and curvaceous. (Ex. Gina Carano, Hope Solo, Anna Kournikova, etc.)

    I thought Keira Knightley’s Lizzy was just too damn rude. Yes, Elizabeth is quick-witted and feisty but she’s also easy-going, classy, and playful. While watching P&P 2005, I just wanted to enter the screen and throw a tampon at her because she seems like she was PMSing all the time. I usually like Keira’s acting, but her Lizzy, like I said, seemed to have her time of the month every day.

    1. ladygilraen says:

      This is very true! Thank you for commenting!

    2. Frankie says:

      Agreed. I read the “too heavy” remark in The Telegraph and thought, what on earth are they talking about? Ehle was absolutely gorgeous in that adaptation, and in the scene where they bid farewell to Lydia and Whickham (as they leave for Newcastle, the best city in the world, not that I’m biased!), you can see how toned her arms are and how slender her waist is. This is a neat contrast with Jane’s Classical appearance; Susannah Harker looks like a lovely Hellenistic statue next to the sprightly Lizzy, who always looks ready to be off on a long walk into Meryton, or a hike up the hills of Derbyshire.
      So yeah, I’ve ramble on a bit, but in conclusion, Jennifer Ehle is perfect as Elizabeth Bennett and anyone who thinks she’s in any way “heavy” needs their eyes testing.

  4. shaunagh61 says:

    I think that adaptations of brilliant novels need the words that made them brilliant in the first place. The 2005 film seemed to avoid some of the memorable dialogue while the 1995 mini series drew heavily upon Austen’s dialogue and hence was brilliant.

  5. Patricia says:

    There’s a noticeable lack of refinement and Regency-era conversational expression in the 2005 version. The costumes are too plain for an upper-middle class family who can afford servants. This version lacks the credibility and finesse of the 1995 series. The language was dumbed down too much to appeal to modern audiences. It takes time to develop believable characters you can empathize with, and that is one reason a series works better than a movie for some books. The comical creepiness of the 1995 Mr. Collins is unbelievable!

  6. richard cohen says:

    my enthusiasm for the 1995 version unfortunately only connected with jennifer ehle and perhaps colin firth.

    another thought,was it necessary for 1995 lizzie bennet to tell her father that darcy was the best man she ever met.rather cruel to her parent and not in original version.

  7. Dorothy says:

    I agree with your article. She does say in the novel that she is a ‘gentleman’s daughter’ – yet to portray her living in such poor conditions! The first ball in the 2005 movie has the entire party crammed elbow to elbow and barely able to move! Is this supposed to be their idea of what balls in Austen’s time was like? It also seems that the director really can’t decide which era P & P hailed from: some scenes remind me of the 18th century (i.e. the way Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s hair was done). I only watched a few clips available on youtube to figure that this is not a version i’d like to watch.
    Ehle’s Elizabeth was fantastic. I loved her arch manner; it matches the way I view her from the book. There’s a scene in one of the balls where Darcy (Firth) observes that he is admiring Elizabeth’s very fine pair of eyes, and the camera immediately pans to Lizzy spiritedly talking with one of the officers, eyes all aglow. Thought that was superbly done, and very much in keeping with the book.
    All in all, can’t see how people can think 1995 is at parr with the 2005 version, let alone superior

  8. Elena Borowski says:

    Dear lady blogger. You are brutally truthful about the 2005 version…How can anyone hope to beat the 1995 BBC’s brilliant confection: the delightful musical themes, the acting, the period appropriate costumes, the scenery, the editing and casting are all excellent. I have heard it said that the actress chosen to play Lydia is too old for the part of a 15 year old…but I find she played her part well because the direction was brialliant for her as well as for everyone else. The 1995 version simply has no rivals. I watch it whenever I need a pick me up. What a satisfying production!

  9. Suzanne Sakaluk says:

    The only part of your argument I don’t agree with is that the Bennet’s live in poverty and squalour in the 2005 version. Everything proves the opposite. They are old money as opposed to new. The house is part of a working farm. The actual building has the farm offices attached to the main house (hence the dumb pig scene). Their furnishings are expensive (Chinese cabinet, piano, art) but old. They employ a cook (one of most expensive servants at the time). Even the dog is an expensive breed, for gentlemen only. I think the depiction of how 6 women would live together is realistic.

  10. Feline says:

    You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you. 

  11. Alison says:

    Alas…..comments hold true in 2018!
    P&P 2005 -excruciatingly bad….. I hardly know where to start.
    The characters speak their lines like they’re doing a preliminary read through of the script; Knightleys acting per se; the depiction of the Bennetts living conditions (- reminiscent of the medieval feudal system than 19th century provincial life). The initial dance were Lizzie meets Darcy resembled an agricultural labourers jamboree than a company of middle class country demi monde- no gloves, ladies?!! ; no formal introductions??
    I thought Tom Hollander did an exemplary job in his depiction of Mr Collins- brilliant acting… the one positive in the movie.
    There are those who will prefer this adaptation but not me. I hated Downton Abbey too, more or less for the same reasons I detest P&P 2005. Im probably an old curmudgeon.

  12. Tesya says:

    Couldn’t have said it any better. There is just one small detail worth mentioning. I believe at the very end of the book Lizzie makes sure to mention Darcy’s help to Mr. Bennet to earn more brownie points for her hubby. Her father even jokes about it by saying he was at least free from the obligations of repaying her uncle.

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