Pride and Prejudice (Keira version) review.

Hmm. Just finished watching the Keira Knightley Pride and Prejudice and am feeling very ambivalent about it. Which I knew would be the case from the moment I heard they were going to be making it a few years back. I’m very devoted to the 1995 BBC miniseries, which was not only true to the spirit and dialogue of the book, but also had the time and scope to give a very long book the coverage it deserved. This was obviously not possible in a 2-hour Hollywood film, so I was just crossing my fingers and hoping for the best. The end result still feels very fast-paced, where we can kinda get character’s reasons and motives, but suspect that a lot of conversations and meetings went on in the backstory when the camera wasn’t on them.

Costume-wise, I did like how the Bennets were very obviously years behind all the fashionable people. Not just in fabrics and trims, like in some other films, but in the actual cuts of their garments. Though now that I think about it, the girls probably would have altered and updated hand-me-downs themselves if they were in any way fashionably inclined, so the fact that this Lizzie let her dresses look as old-fashioned as they did should be taken as yet another sign of her “unconventional” nature. Kind of like the way hipsters shop in thrift stores, only without the emo soundtrack. Huh. That’s true on more levels that I originally meant it to be. Keira’s Lizzie was very broody, internal and prone to fits of “artistically expressive” outbursts. Jennifer Ehle’s Lizzie was more vivacious, personable, and took much better care of her hair 😉 Both interpretations work, I suppose. I still do prefer Ehle’s rosy-cheeked, well-fed, down-home prettiness to Knightley’s doe-eyed, jutting-clavicled, fashionably gaunt sort of look. It’s slightly more believable in a girl of good country stock, and does fill out the pretty dresses so much better. (And this is coming from a Keira fan, I might add.)

And on a side note? What the hell was Caroline Bingley wearing at her own ball? The same Caroline who was supposed to be the height of fashion and always with the most proper facade? Because it looked like she forgot to put on the top half of her dress and had just walked out in her skivvies. For shame, wardrobe people, for shame! True, there was the rare and occasional sleeveless gown around at the beginning of the period. And true, the dresses in the Regency got pretty scanty, I’ll admit, but putting her in a nearly strapless, almost unembellished gown was really uncalled for. Even if the character was a conniving ho. *cough* Anyways.

The film itself was trying very hard to proclaim itself as “THE BIG SCREEN ADAPTATION!” All the actors were pretty. Too pretty, I would say. Mary was a cute round-faced girl whose only concession to the geeky, gawky, even homely Mary of the book was her choice of darkly-hued attire. The same people also seemed to think that the only thing needed to signify Miss de Bourg’s sickliness was to give her a black gown and glasses. (By which reasoning I should be on my deathbed this very minute.) Mr. Collins (PotC:AWE‘s Tom Hollander) was halfway cute and you almost felt sorry for him, which is something nobody should be thinking at any point in a normal reading of the story. Wickham was an Orlando Bloom clone and the only reason poor Charlotte Lucas looked plain was because she was tossed into a pile of teeth-whitened starlets.

Then there were all the moments of grand cinematography, strange transitions, odd lens tricks and assorted other aesthetic choices that would startle me just as I was getting into the story. All very pretty and well-done in their own right, but somehow besides the point. At its core, the story is about a small group of interconnected people having internal struggles in a series of small rooms. It was written in the corner of a crowded family parlor by a girl whose world consisted of confined spaces, small joys, and quiet gossip. The sweeping vistas, swelling musical score and constant weather effects (unless they were taking advantage of local weather. then good on them.) that leave the heroine flatteringly drenched and waif-like, floating ethereally in a sea of verdant countryside? And which seem to happen in just about every other scene? Sort of extraneous. Really. Like the articles in a paper bagged magazine. (Only, erm. Not. The opposite, really. Metaphorically.) I’d rather have had a nice chunk of character development, yo.

So yeah. That’s all I can think of right now, but I felt I needed to get that off my chest. I wanted to like it. I wanted to very badly. But the best I can say is, “Huh. There it is.” with the occasional “Oooh, pretty!” thrown in. I think I’m going to have to rent the miniseries and Bride and Prejudice now to get my head back in a good place with this book. Sigh.

16 Comments:

  1. I think it’s the photography and sets, basically the pure visual cinematography, that I really love about this version. I do like most of the important actors’ interpretations, but I suppose my enjoyment of book-based movies is usually contingent on being able to swallow them as part of a package with the book and not try to imagine if they would be capable of standing alone. The little changes they made to Austenian dialogue in this one were particularly gratuitous and there were so many bits of the plot missing that it’s impossible, I feel, for it to stand alone for someone who hadn’t read it. I suppose they could maybe follow the plot, though, perhaps I’m being slightly uncharitable.

    But anyway! My point is that I love this movie even though it’s so silly because I’m so enchanted by the visual world – the presentation of the Bennett house, the way the light looked, the routes the camera took into everywhere. I’m a Keira fan too, but I think even apart from that her young and sort of teenaged Elizabeth has a refreshing glimpse of the character to offer. The matching Darcy’s confused shyness and stuttering were touching, too, I thought. Tom Hollander was possibly a little too sympathetic, but I love him so very much, and I think that slightly sad unselfconscious villainny that he does is so delightfully appealing.

  2. Hmm. I personally love the big-screen version far more than the bollywood. Have a couple of issues with it, but honestly? I’ve always ha d soft spo for Mr. Collins, because a girl could do far worse than him for a husband. Slightly peeved that they didn’t show just how awful Wickham actually was – though made Lydia much – I dunno, younger in aspect which worked out better for me. Saffy’s version of Lydia was always a bit too adult.

    Though for the fashion, the director purposely set it several years earlier than it’s conventionally thought of, so Caroline Bingley’s empire-line dresses are the very cutting edge of fashion.

    And please tell me you haven’t inflicted on yourself the US ending. The screams of horror that happened when I watched that couple of minutes of tripe rang throughout London.

  3. Great post! I loathe the Keira version as an abomination unto nature, particularly because Keira has a habit of absolutely trashing her lines by spitting them out far, far too quickly and failing to enunciate. I thought it failed generally as a piece of cinema and not just as an Austen adaptation, my eyes were practically rolling out of my head at the climax when they STRODE ACROSS A MISTY FIELD TO EACH OTHER AS THE MUSIC SWELLED AND THE SUN ROSE .

    Ahem.

  4. Sorry for the double posting — the first version had all kinds of early morning typos that I felt compelled to fix 🙂

    Visually, it was *very* pretty. That’s the one thing I definitely agree on. I could pretty much put the thing on silent and be completely happy with it that way *g*

    I wish I could accept them as part of the package as well. I usually go to see these things with people who haven’t read the books, so I start worrying about whether or not the adaptation will float for them. I actually try give a fairly large allowance for film adaptations, since I know that they usually necessitate a lot of reworking of the plot and dialogue to be more suitable for the media. Still, a lot of the stuff in here just seemed gratuitous and it bothers me that they either changed it or added it instead of spending the time on actual character furtherment.

    And yes! I think the reason I was annoyed with this Lizzie is partly because she was a very *young* one. I always figured the character to be in the last couple years of her teens or early twenties, based on her self-possession and intellect. That, and the fact that there was no real “teenage” phase until relatively recently, so she would have been expected to handle herself like an adult. But all the sulking and flailing and twitching just made me want to cringe for her.

    The short coverage of Darcy didn’t do him any favors, either. We’re left with only a hastily narrated version of his backstory, and it just seems like he’s a bumbler who spends half the movie throwing money at his past mistakes to get the girl. Sigh.

  5. I think I’m fond of B&P mostly because it was unrepentantly fluffy. And because it was an AU-sort of adaptation. It’s hard to analyze anything too deeply when there’s a boisterous song and dance number going on *g* I’m just a huge fan of musicals in general. And maybe, on a less superficial note, it just speaks more to the minority-in-a-western-land part of me than something set in an ethnically homogeneous 1800s English countryside. *shrug*

    Have to agree with you, at least for *this* version of Mr. Collins. He was just too cute and clueless to be really repellant. You just ended up feeling sorry for the poor guy.

    Yes about Wickham — he was on screen for a grand total of, what, one minute? We get the rest of his story as exposition for other bits. And I don’t think he even gets to see Darcy more than just that one stare. Makes it kind of hard to build up any sort of feeling about him.

    Lydia — younger does work, since that’s how she was written. Still, I always felt that Austen’s idea of “younger” would equal the modern late-teens airheadedness (where girls just want to drink, go clubbing, and do some inappropriate groping in dark corners) rather than the early-teens foolishness (which involves sighing wistfully and buying lots of glossy magazines with names like “PoP!” featuring life-size tear-out posters of teen idols). Just because there really wasn’t an official “teenage” phase then as we allow today, and they would have been expected to act like women if they were out in society and going to balls looking for husbands. Women with fluff for brains, surely, but miniature adults nonetheless. I suppose the choice in acting would work for a film adaptation that’s trying to be understandable for a wider audience, though.

    Thank you for the clarification on the year it was set in, that makes a lot more sense. I was just thought that they were trying to emphasize the rural setting. The extras definitely were wearing a lot of transitional fashion (still lots of corseting and some skirt fullness going on in the women, men in a mix of different coats instead of just the waist-cut tails). Then again, sometimes you just have to grab what’s available at the costume house when you have that many extras *g* Lord knows how many times I’ve had to fudge dates when bigger productions cleaned out most of an era. (*gives National Treasure II the evil eye*)

    Lizzie’s clothes are still either a bit too old-fashioned, or a bit too new (almost into the Romantic era), compared to her sisters, but I’m going to just give up on trying to make any sense of her. I think the costumers might also have been cutting the waists on her dresses a bit lower to allow for her very long torso and lack of bosom.

    Caroline, though — nothing wrong with the waistline, I just didn’t like how much arm she was showing. The thing barely had straps — they must have been less than an inch wide. It looked a lot like the bodiced petticoat that women normally wore as an underdress, rather than an actual ballgown. There was no decoration on it other than the gathering at the bustline. It might have worked a century later. In the film, though, that’s giving a lot of license even for early Regency, when the “look” was still being defined. They were just leaving the very voluminous Georgian period, after all, when even the idea of a “chemise dress” would have had sleeves. The only reason the sleeveless Victorian ballgowns showed up later in the century was because of the way paved for them by the short puffed sleeves of the Regency. The (very) few sleeveless gowns around during Austen’s era were fairly thick-strapped, a couple inches or so. That dress just made me squirm.

  6. …and US ending, you say? If you mean the last few minutes where they’re sitting on a stone trampoline at Pemberley, spouting lines out of a bad soap opera at sunset, while I was alternately clutched at my horrified eyes, pained ears and gaping mouth? And just generally twitching in complete and utter uncomfortability for everybody involved? The ending which my selective memory has since relegated to the deepest, darkest reaches of my subconscious, to wither away in obscurity, for the sake of my future sanity?

    Nope, never saw it, don’t remember a thing. It’s all kind of fuzzy. I think I might have passed out. Let us not speak of it again. Ever. Really. 😉

  7. STRODE ACROSS A MISTY FIELD TO EACH OTHER AS THE MUSIC SWELLED AND THE SUN ROSE

    THANK YOU. Really, which Harlequin writer did they hire, and how little were they paying her? Because really, most of that was straight from the schlocky romance stock bin. That, and all the whipping hair and field roaming was starting to make me feel like I’d taking a wrong turn into a Bronte novel.

    Good point about the line spitting. I think that’s part of why I interpreted her as being so moody and unsociable. There was no sense of her enjoying the language and exchange of conversation. And what strange alien Lizzie is that?

  8. Yours truly tends to feel sorry for The BBC version and the bollywood version of Mr. Collins too. Mind you, I suppose it’s partially the :smacks Juliet upside head when she doesn’t pick Paris: reaction I’ve always had…

    The director gave an interview about all the background details in Empire magazine at the time detailing photography, directing choices, music, balls, the problems with period detail (apparently Donald Sutherland used to poke them every time they got something wrong in the farming). Interesting facts were that he loathes empire waists, so combined that with focussing the fashion on the time it was written rather than when it was published, along with emphasising the transition period + country style – hence the wigs and knee breeches that a lot of men are still wearing. He was also pushing the difference between the polished look of the BBC productions and this one – none of the younger actresses were allowed make-up (Jennifer Ehle’s mascara always being a bit obvious in close-ups) and making sure their day hair was never that complex, and so on. But yeah, Caroline Bingley shouldn’t have bare shoulders.

  9. we are lucky. it’s stuffed at the bottom of the extras on the region 2 disc.

  10. I like the BBC version, but I respectfully disagree about whether it successfully captures the spirit of the book. I believe Jane Austen (in general) is taken too seriously. The drama in her stories is great, but I think people overlook how funny she is. My favorite Austen adaptation is Clueless.

  11. Oh, I fully realize and adore the humor in her books. I’ve written a few Regency short stories in homage to it. Emma in particular does a good job of highlighting it, as does Northanger Abbey. And I thought the miniseries did okay on that part, if it was a little subdued. People don’t have to laugh outloud to convey amusement. I actually think the Keira version took itself *too* seriously, tried too hard on many things, and descended into schlocky sentimentality as a result.

    I’m very fond of Clueless for a multitude of reasons, though I still take issue with casting the Knightley character as a brother, step or not. There’s a bit leap between brother-in-law living on his own estate and stepbrother, living at home with the same parents. Ick, I say.

  12. I’m not saying we should be LOLing at Austen, but so many Austen fans I know seem to think she’s all about the drama and sentimentality, and they swoon and sigh over Darcy without once cracking a smile over her wry observations. I haven’t seen the Keira version, but it didn’t sound that good to me, so I probably won’t bother.

    I love Clueless. I’m not so weirded out by the Knightley thing, maybe because I saw the movie first (hey, I was 10 when it came out). By the way, I love Paul Rudd. You know what Austen adaptation really sucks? The Emma film starring Gwyneth Paltrow. Meh.

  13. Totally. That, and they refuse to acknowledge that the main turning point for Lizzie’s perceptions of Darcy was when she saw just how posh his place was. Which isn’t quite as romantic as they’d like to think.

    Please don’t see the Keira version. Or, actually, see it on mute. Because it *is* pretty, but listening to the dialogue would just be masochism.

    The Gwyneth Emma? Also one that I’d watch on mute *g* Gorgeous costumes.

  14. I heard they changed the ending of Pride & Prejudice in the Keira version, or something? My friend said the very end of the movie almost ruined the rest of it for her, it was that painful. What was that about?

  15. Hoo, boy. It involved lots of whispered pet names and kissing, like something out of a bad Harlequin novel. And him calling her “Mrs. Darcy” over and over, like a hammer to the head each time. While she fawns over him. It was… yeah. *facepalm*

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