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.

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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?

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    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.

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Growing up Austen: a Pride and Prejudice kid wishes the great novel a happy 200th birthday.

Photo credit: www.fanpop.com

Photo credit: http://www.fanpop.com

I can’t recall a time in my life when I didn’t know about Pride and Prejudice. This was entirely thanks to my Mom, an Austen junkie if ever there was one, who was hopelessly addicted to the immortal 1995 BBC adaptation and made it a feature of every holiday and long weekend without fail. I consequently knew the entire thing by heart from a very young age, even though I (naturally) didn’t understand three quarters of the words. But I knew who everyone was, and could point them out and discuss them as if they were my neighbours: there was Lizzy, the girl with the muddy petticoat and the fine eyes; there was Mr Darcy, the sad, tall man; Mrs Bennett, the lady with the nerves who could never stop shouting; Mr Collins, the man who could never stop talking; Lady Catherine, the rude, scary one with the big carriage and Mr Bennett, the one who reminded me of my Dad.

Never to be bettered: Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett and Colin Firth as Fitzwilliam Darcy in the 1995 BBC adaptation. Photo credit: http://4.bp.blogspot.com

Never to be bettered: Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett and Colin Firth as Fitzwilliam Darcy in the 1995 BBC adaptation. Photo credit: http://4.bp.blogspot.com

When I was ten, I tried to read the book for the first time, and that was the moment I realised that I was dealing with an entirely different animal from what I had grown accustomed to watching during the holidays. My eyes kept skipping back through sentences, trying to work out where they had begun in the first place, and my young brain simply couldn’t keep up with the tidal wave of new words that I didn’t understand. There didn’t seem to be anything for me in it. I couldn’t see the scenery, or the houses, or the beautiful dances as easily. I gave it up.

I had better luck when I was fourteen. By then, I had grown up sufficiently for there to be plenty ‘in it’ for me. I was old enough to see, to sense, to interpret, and above all, to recognise my world in it. Lizzy became a role model: a fiercely intelligent, educated young woman determined that she’ll never marry for anything but love, if (and this is a big, remarkable if) she even marries at all. She lives in a world of silly, meaningless convention dominated by the class system and by a society that subscribes to it, and she fights that with her polite, but seething wit. Mr Darcy suddenly became attractive and profoundly sympathetic; an intelligent person turned bitter from spending too much time among fools; not transformed by love, but reminded by it of the person he really is. There were many other things too. Lizzy’s silly mother, younger sisters and the eminently punchable Mr Collins served as a morbid reminder that you can’t choose your family, and Caroline Bingley’s fondness for snide remarks was a testament to how catty some women can be when they feel threatened. In Mr Bennett’s darkly Romantic self-loathing after Lydia’s elopement, I understood how sarcastic and unaffected some men can appear when they truly want to break down, and in Mr Bingley’s dropping everything and moving to London instead of proposing to Jane, I perceived the tragic confirmation of how completely some people control other people, even without their knowledge. And in Lizzy and Mr Darcy’s sometimes-playful, more often volcanic duels of wits, I began to appreciate how much a fleeting glance can mean, and how an angry word can often express the exact opposite. For adolescent me, Pride and Prejudice was synonymous with what is possibly the most important thing to a teenager – rebellion against society – and what should be the most important thing to a teenager – the realisation that we live in a world of appearances, levels and dimensions. People’s motives are so complex. Human relationships are such fluctuating, intricate things. Who can ever truly define what a connection between two people may be, or how that connection may drive them to act in a certain way? If we may follow Lizzy’s example, the best way to survive all this complexity is to observe intently, to use your common sense, and most importantly, to laugh.

Naturally when you get into your mid-twenties, laughing becomes even more important, because as a young woman in the 21st century you find yourself confronted with the same issues facing Lizzy and her sisters, even though you make your own money and ideally get to choose your own profession. There are good, intelligent men who go to waste marrying beautiful, silly women. There are the great aunts and the drunk old ladies who come hobbling (or alternatively, stumbling) over to you at parties to demand why you’re not married; thanks to the recession, you find yourself obsessively counting coppers like poor Mr Bennett; the workplace abounds with unintelligent Mr Collinses paying obsequious respects to discourteous Lady Catherines, and your social life always features at least one crying Lizzy being passed tissues by a kind but terrified Mr Darcy who really wants to kiss her. Our relationships are no less complex that in Austen’s day and her rules apply more than ever. Observe intently. Use your common sense. And laugh. Because Austen is life – an ever fresh and ever changing reading of the same great book.

Each time you read Pride and Prejudice, you find new things. Every little episode you’ve lived through in your own life since the last time you read it has an effect on how you read it now. Austen’s exquisite extended sentences act like millions of tiny delicate gates all over the narrative that gradually open up and lead you to the great scenes that you know are there, but whose origins in every seemingly immaterial thing the characters say and do will seem different whenever you open the book. Each time you read Pride and Prejudice, you read it for the first time.

Happy birthday, Pride and Prejudice. Thank you for everything.

Literary playlist for mildly eclectic bookworms.

For those of us who like to listen to our books, but don’t really like audiobooks.

A Song of Ice and Fire (George R.R. Martin) – The Howling (Within Temptation)

Fallen asleep from our vanity, might cost us our lives
I hear they’re getting closer
Their howls are sending chills down my spine
And time is running out now
They’re coming down the hills from behind

When we start killing
It’s all coming down right now
From the nightmare we’ve created,
I want to be awakened somehow

When we start killing it all will be falling down
From the Hell that we’re in
All we are is fading away
When we start killing…

a-song-of-ice-and-fire-al_b33dfThis song is great as being evocative of any kind of battle scene, but the way it captures each aspect of the infinite number of titanic battles that take place in GRRM’s monumental saga is so dazzling you can almost believe the song had been written with these books in mind. The lyrics, as well as the beautiful, warped battle cries that constitute its refrain, perfectly capture the red mist that descends on those possessed by bloodlust, as well as those unfortunate enough to witness the fields of blood, and the smell and the sound of men dying without the comfort of this primal state, so that something inside them shrivels and dies as well (‘all we are is fading away’). The song creates a world saturated with mistrust and the howls of both men and wolves, two things that readers of A Song of Ice and Fire understand all too well.

Gormenghast (Mervyn Peake) – One of a kind (Placebo)

The back of the class is where I was
Keeping quiet, playing dumb
Can’t you see these skies are breaking?
Cos the back of the class is where I’m from

0156This book is an allegory of society as it was between the two world wars: hierarchical, monarchist, rigid, dying, and Peake’s villain Steerpike comes straight from the gutter, but has ambitions for the top. To accomplish this, he will deceive, humiliate, kiss an infinite number of asses and ultimately, murder (an awful lot of this), all without once getting his hands dirty. He prefers torture of a more psychological sort, long, drawn-out, agonizing, the assassination of each region of a person’s mind, isolation, or just plain old starvation, each time remembering that he’s better than all of them, but would never have been allowed to be if he had chosen a different life. So in a way, his life is murdered by society, and in revenge, he murders society back, dismantling it one bloody gash at a time. When you listen to this song you can almost hear the monstrous little demon scurrying from one roof of the castle to the other (he’s a climber), being everywhere at once, a kitchen boy in the midst of the powerful people and taking such a perverse pleasure in the game till he has to run somewhere private to scream with delight, since ‘on top of the world, you get nothing done.’

Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë) – Fire and Ice (Within Temptation)

You run away
You hide away
To the other side of the universe
Where you’re safe from all that hunts you down

But the world has gone
Where you belong
And it feels too late so you’re moving on
Can you find your way back home?

Mar11a5This is a song for a fugitive, for the underscore of her life. Jane succeeds in making a new life for herself when her irresponsible but completely justified departure from Thornfield ends in that little squid St John offering her a job as a teacher. But let’s be serious now: while Jane does manage to make a new life for herself and even to prosper, she still has a specter chasing her and bursting through the door at night and during quiet moments (I will not say ‘calling across the moors,’ even under torture). She is far from Rochester and there’s no chance of him finding her, but while her whole life is now her pupils and her new life keeps her safe, she wants to return to him, even though she thinks she never will, because going to him is the same as going home.

North and South (Elizabeth Gaskell) – The Enemy (Mumford and Sons)

Give me hope in silence, it’s easier, it’s kinder
And tell me not of heartbreak, it plagues my soul, it plagues my soul
We will meet back on this road
Nothing gaining, truth be told
But I’m not the enemy, it isn’t me, the enemy.

north-and-south1In its incessant repetitions of the word ‘nothing’, we see the kind of self-effacement that Mr. Thornton feels after Margaret rejects his proposal of marriage: he’s angry and heartbroken, and Margaret acted with uncharacteristic unfairness and lack of intelligence, but he still believes that in spite of it all this, he was rejected because he was not good enough. He has spent his life trying to better himself, studying the classics, paying his workers better, looking after their health, and yet because he is brusque towards them, and a tradesman, she believes he is capable of no emotion but greed and cruelty. Worst of all, the poor man keeps coming back for punishment and in the first line quoted here ‘Give me hope in silence, it’s easier, it’s kinder’, there are echoed the whispered words of a lone dark figure watching a carriage drive away in the snow: ‘Look back.’* The song’s primitive instrumentals and raw vocals show someone trying to master a medium of expression he half knows, without realizing that it isn’t him who has to change – it’s her.

Northern Lights (Philip Pullman) – Adiemus (Adiemus)

Northern-Lights_novelLyra rides Iorek Byrnisson across the ice – above them is a sky so complex, so beautiful and so deep that this majestic praise song could have been written for it. In its intervals Iorek tells Lyra to look up, and dotting the landscape of the northern lights are witches riding to war. It’s a glorious, shouted out hymn to the beauty of the world about to be torn asunder by the wings of angels.

Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen) – All this and heaven too (Florence + the Machine)

Words were never so useful
So I was screaming out a language that I never knew existed before.

13182844_225x225-75In this case, I will take the liberty of using an excellent ad that ITV ran a few years back for their Jane Austen season that explains this better than I could ever hope to do:

‘There is an honesty behind a glance, a meaning behind a touch, and faith cried with a tear. There are lies behind a pass, importance in a whim, and deceit sealed with a kiss. There is hope behind a gesture, value in a token, and unspoken love delivered with a smile.’

The Bloody Chamber (Angela Carter) – Haunted (Evanescence)

Watching me, wanting me
I can feel you pull me down
Fearing you, loving you
I won’t let you pull me down

img072smThis collection of short stories abounds with women conscious of the sexual danger they place themselves in. In some of them (The Earl King), the narrator knowingly risks both her life and her freedom by giving herself to the person most capable of taking them from her, in a place where no one will come to help, the Earl King’s forest resembling a rustling, independent-thinking labyrinth with no structure and no walls, all wildness and darkness, like being indoors. In others (The Bloody Chamber), the narrator could have run ages ago: now that she can’t, she discovers her own predilection for the more horrific aspects of sex and disgusts herself because of it. With twisted, gothic voices as contradictory as the narrator’s attitude to her own trap, Evanescence gives us the sound of darkness both natural and manmade, the desire to run, the desire to stay.

The Millenium Trilogy (Stieg Larsson) – Thoughtless (Korn)

All of my hate cannot be bound.
I will not be drowned by your thoughtless scheming.
So, you can try to tear me down,
Beat me to the ground,
I will see you screaming.

IMG_5523This song should be Lisbeth Salander’s anthem. Closer to the fearless cry of a human voice than a tune, this song is as dedicated to righteous vengeance as Larsson’s avenging angel who maims, kills and terrifies not just for herself but for the whole of her sex. Korn surf wave after wave of brief calms and intense storms, of deadpan stares and small smiles. Lisbeth’s life.

Kick Ass: Elizabeth Bennet

Kick ass is a new series of stuff I’m going to be writing in praise of people from TV who, well, kick ass, from BBC to HBO and everyone in between. I will start with a classic.

jennifer-ehle-pride-and-prejudice-jennifer-ehle-16177700-1986-1980Name: Elizabeth Bennet
Show: Pride and Prejudice (1995, BBC)
Played by: Jennifer Ehle

Elizabeth Bennet is the heroine of every thinking woman from about the age of five and up (it’s about then that kids can put DVDs into players by themselves, isn’t it?). Lizzy is the second (and by far the most intelligent) of five sisters who don’t have the right to inherit any of their Dad’s shit because of a loathsome thing called an entail that happily doesn’t exist anymore, so the only major expectation Lizzy and her sisters have in life is to get married and have kids, though that probably won’t happen either because her Dad isn’t exactly rich. So, while her dotty and scatterbrained Mom devotes her life to humiliating herself in any kind of way to get her daughters married, and her younger sisters have nothing but what Lizzy calls ‘love, flirtation and officers’ on the brain, Lizzy pledges that she’s not going to just marry any arsehole for the sake of getting married and that ‘nothing but the very deepest love will induce [her] to matrimony.’

If somebody was writing this story in the 21st story, they’d probably turn her into some kind of bookish version of Arya Stark so as not to confuse viewers. Refreshingly, however, Lizzy manages to maintain these extraordinary views while still being graceful, polite, witty, sensible and perfectly ladylike. She knows how to tell idiots off in a way that is so seethingly well-mannered that the average person would probably prefer a simple ‘fuck off’ to one of her tirades. She also engages in a number of very admirable activities, like scampering about the country because her sister has a cold and improving her mind by extensive reading. She’s a compulsive people-watcher and prides herself on being able to read people a lot better than that black market copy of Tom Jones that I’ve always suspected her of hiding underneath her pillow. She adores her Dad, as well as her elder sister Jane, whom she admires deeply for being able to think well of everyone and for always trying to find the good in people, no matter how repulsive they may be. Dear Lizzy finds the latter impossible for a number of reasons, the most poignant of which is ‘the more I see of the world, the more I am dissatisfied with it.’ Furthermore, instead of shutting up or turning red as a beetroot when in a tight argumentative spot with Mr. Darcy, she either throws his shit right back at him or simply smiles enigmatically, something the divine Fitzwilliam doesn’t quite know how to respond to. And then there are those absolutely delicious scenes with Lady Catherine (who is by all accounts a snobbish pain in the ass) in which Lizzy stuns the great lady and delights us with numerous examples of respectful irreverence, from politely refusing to confess her age to kicking Lady Catherine out of the house. All of this is accomplished with the demeanor of a highly-bred woman who would almost certainly have had her own salon had she lived in Paris rather than in Hertfordshire.

One of the many great things about Jennifer Ehle’s performance as Lizzy is that she portrays all of these things the way Miss Austen meant them to be portrayed and understood. Lizzy is a perfect Regency lady, but without any of the silliness, naivety and willful lack of education or desire to improve that often bear the brunt of Miss Austen’s satirical side. Lizzy’s intelligence, education and naturally outgoing personality have led to all the characteristics described above. Fortunately, however, they haven’t turned her into a stereotype: she is what this kind of person, belonging to this class in society, would have been at that period in time, something that Ehle plays to perfection and something that later interpretations of the character just don’t seem to understand, probably because in the 21st century we have difficulty imagining independent thought and general awesomeness wedded to dresses, curtseys and good behaviour.

There is something irresistible about an intelligent woman who never forgets her manners. She’s smart enough to know when she’s surrounded by fools and annoyed enough to know that she can’t put up with them with too long, but as a child of her time, she knows that being taciturn and insolent will probably land her in the same boat as Mr. Darcy, who shares both her intelligence and her intolerance and isn’t shy to express either one, making him a willful social exile on more than one occasion. For Lizzy, staying put is a lot more fun. It’s through her politeness and her wit that the Mr. Collinses of this world find themselves shaking their heads long after she’s gone, unable to ascertain whether they’ve been insulted or praised.

(Image credit to http://satoriandsilence.files.wordpress.com)