Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Pride & Prejudice Worth a Second Look

I went to see Pride & Prejudice again last night. To appreciate that statement you must understand something about the Wilma Theater. This is the downtown art movie theater near my home in Missoula, Montana. The Wilma is generally referred to as "the historic Wilma". Translated this means that the seats are covered with red velvet, worn smooth with time and pocked with holes. The term "cushion" long ago lost any power to describe the seat bottoms. And don't get me started on the antiquated bathroom facility. To be honest, I usually spend my movie dollars at the multi-plex across town.

But I had to see Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen again to try and figure out exactly how they made the magic happen. Here are my thoughts. First--I did not give nearly enough credit to the screenwriter--Deborah Maggoch. I hope we see more of her work in future. She had an impossible task--bringing P&P to life in 2 hours. She made some interesting choices. Almost all of the sub-plots are gone. We see the bare minimum of Wickham and almost nothing of Lydia. Yet we still feel the impact of their scandalous affair. Even Jane and Bingley have very little time to fall hopelessly in love, but it doesn't matter because we see it at that first dance when they can hardly take their eyes off of one another. We don't need much more. I'm sure there are many Austen purists who will miss some of the exchanges between Darcy and Elizabeth. Those are some of the best scenes in the book and in the Colin Firth mini-series. In this short version we see instead smoldering looks and electric touches that tell us everything we need to know. These two are meant to be together.

My companion for the evening was a good friend who also happens to be a costumer. She was quick to point out Elizabeth's lack of gloves at the dance. And I know that Bingley had no business popping in to see Jane when she is sick in bed. Despite these faux pas, the film captured enough of the social atmosphere to convey the story. We see very clearly the urgency of the situation for the Bennet girls and the contrast between their simple country life and the more formal world of Pemberley. Tom Hollander is the definitive Mr. Collins. Donald Sutherland achieved a perfect balance between heart and foolishness as Mr. Bennet. And Keira Knightley is Elizabeth Bennet. The energy and expressiveness that she brings to this role make this interpretation of Pride & Prejudice one for the ages. This movie really captures the spirit of the love story between Darcy and Elizabeth.

I do wish it had a better ending, but otherwise I loved this film. This movie is a great example of how a film can bring a new dimension to a beloved story. (And now I'm going to sign off and read the last chapter of P&P).

What do you think about this film or movie adaptations in general? Do you still think Colin Firth is the definitive Darcy?


Alfie said...

I haven't seen this movie. I'm reluctant, if you want to know the truth. I so loved the book and the PBS version with Colin Firth and I've heard both good and bad about this movie. I'm afraid the chopped up state I've heard about will ruin it for me.

Teresa Bodwell said...

It is very different. The Colin Firth version is definitely more a reproduction of the book in a different medium. This movie really interprets the book in addition to shortening it. And yes it feels choppy if you're very familiar with the book. You keep thinking--what happened to that scene, or that letter? But if it is important to the central, Darcy/Elizabeth plot it is represented in the movie in some way.
It's similar to Harry Potter and teh Goblet of Fire, which I felt also did an amazing job of capturing the central story of a very complicated book and telling it in 2 hours.
You owe it to yourself to see this movie. It is wonderfully done.

Terry Z McDermid said...

I find it's easier to watch a favorite historical/period book made into a movie, possibly because the costumes, scenery, manners are far removed from my day-to-day life and I'm not as particular when watching the film. If the essence of the book is right, I understand about the need to make changes for the screen. Helps, too, that my husband's grandfather wrote for the movies and published books and we talked about this issue before he died.

Right now, I'm still waiting for Pride and Prejudice to come to our town -- the theater promises by the end of January. We're not that small but obviously we cater to the horror and children's markets first. I've been hearing about P&P and the different ending on several loops. The Regency loop I visit (Risky Regencies) had a good thread about the book and mentioned that in spite of some anachronisms/inconsistencies (several that were mentioned in the post), it was worth watching.

Now I'm ready to see for myself and find a new reason to like Keira Knightly (Love, Actually and Bend it Like Beckham are favorites). Colin Firth will probably always be Darcy to me but I'm willing to stretch my imagination for a few hours.