Aug. 27th, 2012

barometry: ([austen] elizabeth)
It seems that I have finally started to write up all my feelings about the various Pride and Prejudice adaptations. So many feelings: I have feelings about plot changes, casting, costuming, the accuracy of period dance, and probably sundry topics relating to direction and lighting. (Probably I will try to spare you those last feelings, since I lack the vocabulary to be coherent about it.)

Part of the delay in my writing these posts was that I wasn't quite sure where to start, or how to organize the posts (by topic? by adaptation? by some mysterious third factor?), but then it occurred to me that many of you may not even know, off the top of your heads, how many Pride and Prejudice adaptations there are! So I decided I would start there, with brief introductions to each.

As I choose to count them, there are four film versions of Pride and Prejudice -- I'm not counting movies like Bride and Prejudice (which I have not seen), or Bridget Jones's Diary, or even the inestimable Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

These four film versions are, as far as I can tell, popularly known by their year of release: 1940, 1980, 1995, and 2005.

(You'll note that we seem to be accelerating the pace of adaptations.)

Today I will start with the most ancient of these, from the distant era of 1940. And it's based on a stage play, suggesting yet more ancient versions never captured on film! The mind boggles.

I suppose I should mention that there are going to be spoilers here? I mean, I'm assuming familiarity with the basic plot outline, but I'll also be pointing out plot elements that differ from the book in each adaptation. So, you know, if you watch adaptations of 200 year old novels for the Unexpected Plot Twists, you should probably not read this.

1940-220px-Prideundprejudice
There's even a book on the poster! So you'll know it's based on literature.

This version stars Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson, and includes a screenwriting credit by Aldous Huxley*! It is the least faithful of all the adaptations, and (not un-relatedly) my least favourite.

The absolute highlight, in my opinion -- also the reason I turned it off the first time I tried to watch it, as a teenage -- is the fact that they decided to set it during the Era of Enormous Hoopskirts -- aka the early Victorian Era, aka the Civil War Era in the US. This puts it about thirty years after the Regency period usually associated with Austen adaptations. I'm not sure if they just had a bunch of Civil War costumes on hand, or thought they more clearly looked "old timey" to a 1940s audience, or what, but it does give a certain crowded look to scenes at home with the five Bennet sisters.

Oh, other delightful highlight! They decided to rearrange the opening scenes so that there is a high speed carriage race between Mrs. Bennet (five daughters in tow) and Lady Lucas, because it is of the utmost importance that each get home first with the news of Mr. Bingley's arrival, apparently? Anyhow, I was intrigued that they had managed to insert a chase scene into a period romance, presumably for thrills.

This appropriately foreshadows subsequent, yet more radical, changes to the basic plot. The one that most changes the tone, in my opinion, is a change to the basic architecture of Elizabeth and Darcy's romance. In this version, Elizabeth starts to grow secretly fond of Darcy right from the beginning, but is Too Proud to admit it. This alters the dynamic of the story considerably, even when other major events remain unaltered.

They also replaced the Netherfield Ball (the event where Elizabeth and Darcy slow dance and obliquely talk about Wickham, in all the other versions) with some sort of afternoon garden party. The one advantage of this change, in my opinion, is that it did lead to a somewhat charming scene where Darcy tries to teach Elizabeth archery, and she's all, 'how kind of you to show me these basic moves. Let me show you my l33t archery prowess!'**

Two other significant changes are the elimination of the letter Darcy writes Elizabeth (he explains in person instead), and the absence of Elizabeth's trip to Pemberley. I think that an Anonymous Wikipedia Editor puts it well when they say that because of these various changes, "[t]he movie implies that the entire relationship is one long flirtation with a few rough patches[.]" (Wikipedia entry)

Even the denoument is changed considerably. In this version, the whole Bennet family is going to be forced to sell their house and retreat into obscurity because of Lydia's elopement (why? how?), when Lady Catherine arrives in state to threaten Elizabeth lest she marry Darcy (as in the book). The twist is that it turns out that it was a ruse! Lady Catherine is herself in league with Darcy, to get Elizabeth to confess her love! Which is kind of weird, in my opinion.

I will talk more about the casting in future installments in this series, but here's the short version: I don't much like the casting in this adaptation. I personally don't think that Laurence Olivier is a particularly good Darcy -- too foppish, not particularly stern -- and while Greer Garson was okay as Elizabeth, I found her a bit... mature is the best word, I think (not in appearance, in manner). Also, I kept being distracted by the ridiculous bows she was forever wearing on her head.

The supporting cast were similarly uneven. The only character portrayals I particularly liked were Lady Catherine (sometimes), Mr. Collins, and Lydia. Oh, and Mr. Bennet was interesting, though less sarcastic and more twinkly than I think he is in my head.

I could also talk about the dancing, but I think that will wait for a dedicated post at some future time.

* I suppose it would not be possible to support oneself by taking psychedelics and writing a single dystopian novel, which is all I had previously known of Aldous Huxley's biography.

** On a positive note, you'll recall that the Netherfield Ball is also the event in which the entire Bennet family (excluding Elizabeth and Jane) act with a "total want of propriety." It is sometimes hard to relate to what this means, particularly regarding the two youngest sisters (they flirt a lot? and are wild?) -- but this is one of two adaptations (the other is 2005) where it's clear that they're out of hand because they get quite drunk, and you can how that would be embarrassing for the family.

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Barometry Jones

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