Movie Review : Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Not reading Jane Austen has always been high on my life priority list. I've never had the patience or interest to get into era novels, really. Putting myself through William Makepeace Thackeray's never-ending Vanity Fair a couple years ago might've strengthened my resolve also. Austen is still important and widely read by young women today, though. So, curiosity got the best of me for Ladies Month and I made a compromise to my "no Victorian fiction or older" rule" and watched Joe Wright's 2005 movie adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. I kind of cheated my Ladies Month rules by doing so, but it was worth the transgression. I "get" now why reading Jane Austen is empowering to young women.
The story of Pride & Prejudice is rather simple, yet unfolds in a quite convoluted way: Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) and her four sisters are looking for husbands, preferably rich and important in order to enhance her family's social status. When her sister Jane (Rosamund Pike) is introduced to young and affluent Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods), they hopelessly fall for each other and Elizabeth is left fending off Bingley's arrogant and boring friend Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen), who constantly looks like he's just downed a shot of Nyquil. First impressions are important, but they can be quite tricky in a world where social etiquette gets in the way of everything. Sometimes it makes it difficult for people to understand their own feelings.
When I announced I would reviewing this adaptation of Pride & Prejudice on Facebook, people ushered me to this older adaptation starring the immortal Colin Firth instead. I gotta say this version was quite pleasant. It's full of long takes and graceful camera movement that glides from one room to another the way someone would turn the pages of a graphic novel. It's probably not as close to the original material as the other adaptation, but it was user friendly enough to enhance my viewing experience. The art direction emphasizes the gorgeous, pseudo-gothic scenery and the difference in classes through architecture. It made things easy and seamless to understand with one look.
So, what about Jane Austen's writing? It was actually the most enjoyable thing about Pride & Prejudice. She's not just an exotic memento from bygone era, the lady could write. She has both a nose for drama and an exquisite sense of humor about the asinine rules and invisible walls that plagued her era. Love has become a commodity today, but back then indulging in romance was considered a privilege. A privilege Elizabeth Bennet barely had the right to given her family's status, yet she fought for it. Revisionist history places feminist figures where they wouldn't have been, but Pride & Prejudice truly had a revolutionary point for its era: women should marry whoever the hell they want and not settle for the first affluent slob (personified by Mr. Collins (Tom Hollander) here). I can only imagine the unholy shitstorm it raised back then.
It helped that I'm a sucker for good love stories too. Jane Austen's writing is not drowning in "I love yous" and purple prose. She understands that love is finding worth and the potential of a better future in another human being. Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen get the subtle, wordless notions of Austen's universe and help illustrate how complicated, yet pure the process of falling in love with someone was back then. The cardinal rule of writing fiction is: show, don't tell. Well, Pride & Prejudice does a pretty great job at showing what it is and especially what it means to fall in love.
Pride & Prejudice probably changed the world in its own little way. The highest purpose fiction can aspire to is to provide you with a plausible reality that makes you want to improve your own and I'm sure Pride & Prejudice did this for many young women over the years. I'm glad to finally have gotten acquainted with the witty and charming Elizabeth Bennet, who was a feminist icon before it was cool. For what it's worth, Joe Wright's adaptation of Pride & Prejudice is a great way to get into Jane Austen's writing in a pleasant and seamless fashion. I'm probably years away from reading an Austen novel still, but her status and her place in literary history is much clearer to me now.