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?
7. 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.