Lizzie Uzzell discusses Joe Wright’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice with José Arroyo. The podcast touches on the various adaptations of Austen’s work, the particular virtues of this one, the uses of light and landscape, the interplay between the uses of Chatsworth and the uses of mud and livestock, achievements of wit and tone, and what individual cast members add to it all.
“Only the deepest love will persuade me into matrimony, which is why I shall end up an old maid.” – Elizabeth Bennett whispers to her sister in late night confidence, a line that contextualises the depth of her eventual love for Mr Darcy.
Based on the beloved Jane Austen novel, Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice released in September 2005 after over fifteen previous adaptations. Before Wright’s film, the most popular adaptation had been the 1995 miniseries produced by the BBC which was largely credited for its faithfulness to the source. Although straying more from the source material than the miniseries, the film garnered much acclaim and praise from critics and public alike – receiving four Oscar nominations and six BAFTA nominations, including one win.
Pride and Prejudice centres around the Bennet family. Mr and Mrs Bennet (Donald Sutherland and Brenda Blethyn) care for their five daughters – Jane (Rosamund Pike), Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), Lydia (Jena Malone), Kitty (Carey Mulligan) and Mary (Talulah Riley) – as they all make their way into adult society. The story specifically follows Elizabeth and her struggles with marriage expectations and prospective proposals. Elizabeth is a head-strong protagonist who cares much more for books and love than money or prospects. As Elizabeth’s four sisters grow up and find love of their own, she is forced to face her feelings for the stoic and proud Mr Darcy. Their romance buds slowly and reluctantly, growing from joint intellect and wit. Jane and Mr Bingley’s (Mr Darcy’s best friend) relationship provides a stark contrast, as their sharing of undeniable kindness and charisma creates an instant romance.
Pride and Prejudice is both visually striking and thematically rich, creating a film that’s enjoyable for its surface level qualities and emotional nature. Beautiful, scenic cinematography of the Peak District alongside complex themes of social class, gender, and moral values form the backdrop to one of the most renowned love stories of all time. Director, Joe Wright, and Cinematographer, Roman Osin, work together to use the visual medium of film to their advantage. They utilise the landscape by mirroring the emotions of the characters through terrain and weather. This is seen in the representation of relationships as well as individual characters. For Mr Darcy and Elizabeth, they use cool tones throughout the film until sunlight bursts through them when they unite at the end, meanwhile Mr Bingley and Jane are nearly always seen bathed in sunlight – reflecting the warm nature of their relationship.
Mr Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship signifies a bridge between all the conflicts hidden within Pride and Prejudice. Each of them represents a different social standing, degree of wealth and gender. As made clear by Lady Catherine De Bourgh (Mr Darcy’s aunt) in her attitude towards Elizabeth, Mr Darcy is considered to be so far above Elizabeth’s position that even the rumour of their engagement is a scandal. Lady Catherine furthers this distinction of class by attempting to use her power and wealth to deny Elizabeth marriage to Mr Darcy. This abuse of power occurs both explicitly and subtlety throughout Pride and Prejudice, underlying all the joy and love to keep the story grounded. It is these layers that, I believe, keep people returning to both Jane Austen’s books and films year after year.
Keira Knightley reveals herself as a Film Goddess in this film. Some of her close-ups have to be amongst the most beautiful ever filmed and she is the film’s core strength; she carries the movie, and not only with her beauty. The film might be a tad too exquisite; the sets, costumes, jewels and décor are so dazzling one can’t help but be distracted. However, the film is also formally daring, extremely stylized, all shot as if it were on stage; and this adds an intellectual dimension to what’s on display; forces us to try to figure it out. I understand the original funding for the film fell through at the last minute and the filmmakers had to mother some invention presto. They’ve done a good job.
Of the cast, it is Jude Law as Anna’s cuckolded husband, Karenin, who finally allows the audience to discover him as a great actor. Of the protagonists, he’s really the only one who conveys a recognizable person and a way of life. It’s interesting because the role is historically a dud (few actors win kudos for playing middle-aged, dull, and respectable). Yet, Law makes us believe him in the part, quite an achievement when one considers his career and persona He also helps us to understand why Karenin acts the way he does and, if we never quite empathise, we certainly feel for him.
I was beginning to find the film quite moving near the end, though it was in relation to Law’s Karenin rather than Knightley’s Karenina, which is partly the film’s main problem. Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Vronksy looks like a Boucher drawing, one doesn’t know whether to admire or lick him; worse, one doesn’t understand or feel for him; and one should also feel more for Anna Karenina than this film or Knightley allow for.
Aside from Angelina Jolie, Knightley is the only person in current cinema who may be called a Goddess in the sense Dietrich and Garbo were; beautiful, remote, too divine to be quite human. This is the film’s flaw (it was a major one in the Garbo version as well; Vivien Leigh’s Karenina was not remote but her vehicle had other, even more considerable, flaws). This version, directed by Joe Wright, whilst not a masterpiece, is my favourite: intelligent, imaginative, sumptuous and with a cast that, with all its limitations, is a joy to behold..