barometry: ([austen] elizabeth)
[personal profile] barometry
So in keeping with my "the best way to be more comfortable posting on the internet is to actually post more"... insight? I'm working through my intense guilt and finally posting this reflection on the most recent full-length adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, the 2005 movie starring Kiera Knightly and Matthew Macfayden.

If you're interested, previous installments are: 1940, 1980, 1995)


I was interested to learn, lo these many months ago, that some of you like this movie above all other adaptations! It's probably a good thing that I learned this before writing this post, I admit. It didn't change what I have to say, but it has considerably influenced how I'm going to say it. It was also an interesting lens through which to re-watch the movie, because my feelings on the movie oscillate ever more wildly as it progresses. I start out wavering between "meh" and "cool!", but by the last 20 minutes I'm careening from wanting to throw things at the screen to shouting "Yes! Yes!" as Bingley proposes.

But more on that later.

Two weeks ago January (this is how long it takes me to go from draft to post) was the first time I watched this movie all the way through since I saw it in theatres when it first came out in 2005. My reaction back then was, I confess, intense and violent dislike. But even in the grip of that first impression I knew that there were things about this movie that I liked, just as intensely and violently. In many ways it is the things this adaptation does so well that make it harder for me to forgive it the things I think it does poorly.

This mixed reaction starts in the first scene of the film. The overall setting and filming are beautiful -- I basically think they did an excellent job with all of the visual aspects of the movie. So the first scene, wandering through the Bennet home introducing us to all the family, is really impressive and I remain impressed with how it sets the scene without too much exposition. But at the same time, this same first scene establishes the Bennets' social standing in a way that feels way off to me: their property is clearly A Farm, and they are visibly much poorer than Mr. Bingley/Mr. Darcy -- though this this could be accurate to the 1790s in a way that it wouldn't be for 1810 -- whereas in the novel it's clear that the Bennets are upper class, and what makes the girls poor is that they don't have dowries, mostly due to lack of financial planning on the part of their parents.

I say that some of the social setting could be accurate to the 1790s because unlike the 1940 movie version of Pride and Prejudice, which moved the costuming forward a few decades into the Early Victorian period of hoopskirts, this adaptation moves backwards a decade or two to (at my best guess) the mid-to-late 1790s. This brings us to something else that really impresses me in this adaptation: they do some super-interesting character commentary entirely through costuming, which I think is fascinating.

I'm no fashion expert, so take everything I say here with a grain of salt, but the 1790s were a time when what fashionable dress looked like was changing very rapidly -- not a gradual transition, but a relatively abrupt change. If you think of Marie Antoinette, you're probably thinking of the height of fashion pre-1795 or so: both women and men wear wigs or powder their hair, women's hair is big, and the standard day dress seems to have this puffy effect at the neck that makes everyone look vaguely like a pigeon. In the 1790s, though, fashion started to trend towards simplicity and elegance. Wigs and hair powder went out of fashion (apparently because hair powder started to be taxed), and classical Greek styles came in as the ideal basis for women's clothing. This led to the styles we most strongly associate with the Regency today: the white gauzy dresses with empire waists, and hairstyles that (especially in early Regency) look like they might have been copied from classical statuary.

Now, this kind of historical change is normally glossed over in film, where everyone tends to be dressed in a single fashionable idiom. And that makes sense if your movie is about a more or less homogenous set of people. But Pride and Prejudice (like many Austen novels) is all about interactions between fashionable and provincial, wealthy and (genteely) impoverished. So thinking about it, it makes no sense that everyone would be wearing basically the same thing. And this 2005 adaptation manages to code a lot of this social variation in how people dress: Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are clearly in the older fashion, Mrs. Bennet with elaborate vertical hair and Mr. Bennet with a queue, while their daughters dress very differently. Even among the daughters it is clearly Jane who is most at the forefront of fashion -- unlike particularly the younger three sisters, Jane is 100% early Regency classical fashion. Mr. Bingley and Miss Bingley, and Mr. Darcy, are similarly at the forefront of fashion (though more on Miss Bingley in a moment). But the true mastery is that it's not just the provincial Bennets who are behind the times: Lady Catherine is absolutely perfectly at the height of fashion, with her hérisson (hedgehog) hairstyle, and beautiful dress -- but it's the height of fashion from the 1780s. And can you imagine Lady Catherine deigning to follow every flitting change in fashion? If it was good enough for her then, it will certainly be good enough for everyone now, and she can't hold with flitting about in these light muslin gowns.

So the overall thrust of the costuming is absolutely perfect.

My absolute delight with the costuming would be complete, but for the central cast, in particular Caroline Bingley (who I promised to say more about) and Elizabeth Bennet.

To start with, the whole central cast is unbelievably inconsistent about wearing gloves. And okay, this is a small thing, but people wore gloves in public in this time period. Not wearing gloves is... it's just not okay. Neither is wearing your hair down in public as an adult woman (*cough*Elizabeth*cough*), or a gentleman going into a lady's bedroom if they're not married and/or related even if she's sick and your houseguest... and if I start going off on the general period inaccuracies I'm just never going to stop, so let's move on to some more specific ones.

First Miss Bingley, who is magically wearing clothing from at least 15 years in the future, except that tragically someone has stolen her dress and she's been forced to wander around in her underwear:

PnP (2005) Miss Bingley's Sleeveless Dress

To be absolutely fair, I have managed to find the odd reference for sleeveless dresses in the early Regency, but then the sillhouette of everything Miss Bingley wears would be totally wrong: the sleeveless dresses I have seen have been super-grecian gauzy affairs, while Miss Bingley is actually wearing late Regency flat-fronted and super-high-waisted gowns (so she's period-inaccurate in other ways too).

Then there's Elizabeth. I have no idea what is going on with any of her dresses -- the whole collared-shirt-under-sleeveless-dress looks appropriately bookish to modern eyes, but I can find no evidence that anyone in even vaguely that time period would have been wearing anything of the sort. And I'm frankly kind of embarassed for her in every scene where she wanders the countryside in a ratty men's coat. Whose coat is it anyway? Too small to be her father's, and she doesn't have any brothers! As a result, watching this adaptation I am right there with Darcy about how he can't possibly have anything to do with her -- whereas in the book the whole point is that though the rest of their family is super embarassing, Jane and Elizabeth are totally above reproach.

And okay, that's a kind of normative vision of the romance in Pride and Prejudice, if I'm saying that Darcy is justified in being like: no, I like you, but you are just too embarrassing the way you are. But then, I think my problem is that this adaptation doesn't even seem to realize that it's making Elizabeth strikingly unconventional, and dressing her in clothes that just did not exist. And, okay, 99% of viewers also aren't going to realize that, but I do and it bothers me.

That reminds me that I do in fact have things to say about Darcy's clothes, which are mostly fine except that they keep having him wander around in fields in a floppy linen shirt, which is similarly scandalous even though they don't play it as scandalous. At least in 1995 they had the decency to restrict Darcy's undress to times when he thought he was alone at home.

We're just not going to talk about the part where Elizabeth wanders into the dawn in her nightgown and encounters Darcy similarly half dressed. (Independent of my sartorial criticism, what the heck was he even doing there anyway? That scene bothers me so much.)

Okay, wrenching this onto another topic before I devolve into more keyboard-mashing ranting.

Casting. Casting is something where I can say something positive! Because for almost all the supporting characters, this movie is actually my very favourite adaptation. I love Jane, I love Lydia -- in fact, I think I like all the sisters in this adaptation best of all. I'm quite fond of both Mr. Bingley and Miss Bingley (they physically resemble one another! Always impressive). Mr. Collins has been strong in all the adaptations (a solid comic role for which they've found solid comic actors), but Tom Hollander hits the notes from the book the best of all I've seen, and he's moreover the first to be about the right age.

Again, it's the central characters that disappoint me ("the hero table", as M. calls them). I'm warmish on Matthew Mcfayden as Darcy, but I also understand that they had to make him Very Different from Colin Firth, and I think that turned out okay. It's Kiera Knightly as Elizabeth that really disappoints me. I find her cruel rather than clever, she spends most of the movie slouching, and she has this squinty tongue-between-the-teeth grin that I think is supposed to be endearing but instead just makes me want to punch her.

And Judy Dench as Lady Catherine was a bit of a let down. She's good, she's very good, but I heart Judy Dench so much and was hoping for more of a roaring dragon than we actually got.

Finally, let me talk a bit about the faithfulness of this adaptation to the original plot. To get Pride and Prejudice down to 128 minutes, I accept that you need to modify the plot. And this movie remains much more faithful to the original novel than the 1940 movie was, for sure. But there are some odd decisions, in my opinion, where some events were condensed needlessly, while others were dwelled on by slow moving scenes that didn't particularly contribute to the plot.

For example, it's understandable to eliminate Mrs. Hurst (Bingley's older sister) and her brother, who are used for social commentary in the book but who have zero plot relevance. It's understandable to introduce the officers earlier, and generally to condense weeks into days (when you count the days, stuff moves slow in Austen).

Many of the other changes I'm less able to reconcile myself to. I'm unclear on why the first proposal takes place in the middle of a storm, except to continue the "Get Mr. Darcy Wet" game. Or to symbolize the turbulence of their feelings? I don't even know. Mr Darcy also -- mysteriously! -- delivers his letter in the middle of the night, by wandering into the Collins's house while Elizabeth is wandering around in her nightgown. Indeed, the entire visit to Charlotte is vastly compressed: on the very first visit to Lady Catherine, there Darcy is lurking in a corner (with a parrot?). Can't have any delay, there! That would be boring. Or something.

The "everything happens at night" theme is continued with Mr. Collins' and Lady Catherine's visits after Lydia's elopement, which both take place in a single night! One gets the over-arching impression that someone decided that a modern audience would be bored stiff if they so much as cut to a scene obviously taking place the next day.

The change I cannot forgive is the scene where Elizabeth gets the letter telling her about Lydia's elopement, while she's in Lambton. This is one of my favourite scenes between Elizabeth and Darcy, in both the book and the 1995 miniseries, and in this adaptation it takes place in the middle of a crowded inn with her aunt and uncle there. *glares darkly*. Oh, and the scene where she's wandering through the house at Pemberley and, like, accidentally stumbles upon Mr. Darcy and his sister because she's wandering through the private parts of the home. My embarrassment squick had me fast-forwarding through all of that.

(Also: apparently Mr. Darcy lives in the British Museum? Who knew.)

But then they did add some scenes that are absolutely fantastic. The scene right before Mr. Bingley comes to propose, towards the end of the movie, is... I have no words. Here, have a clip instead:

Streaming on YouTube

If you don't want to watch it, it's all the Bennet women hanging out in the parlour, all very Sunday-afternoon-at-loose-ends, when suddenly Mr. Bingley is announced and there's a mad rush to make themselves presentable before he comes in. Such an amazing comic scene that says so much, so quickly, about the contrast between private and public domesticity. This, and Mr. Bingley's subsequent proposal, is the height of the movie for me. I even get (temporarily) invested in Keira Knightly's Elizabeth. And then the whole thing nosedives: there are the weird and snapsnapsnap midnight visits from Lady Catherine and Mr. Collins, and then the stupid wandering-into-the-dawn scene, and then a brief reprieve where Donald Sutherland starts crying and so do I. I like to pretend that the movie ends there: the final crash of the NA-only balcony-at-Pemberley scene. I was unable to bring myself to watch it a second time, even. Too awful.

What I think ties together the things that annoy me about this adaptation is that they're all ways that the movie doesn't trust its modern audience to get things. All the ways that Kiera Knightly's costuming is anachronistic, all the vastly-accelerated pacing, all the ways in which social divides are widened... I really dislike it when producers or directors or whoever seem to assume that their audience is too stupid for subtlety, so that all points must be made with the force of a two-by-four to the head. (This is also something that annoys me about the new Star Trek movies.)

To conclude, I love everything about this movie... except for much of the main plot, and anything to do with Kiera Knightly. So, um, I also wildly dislike quite a lot of this movie. My complicated feelings, let me show you them!

Um, next up is either even more feelings about period-accurate costuming, or feelings about Regency dancing (spoiler: they all get it at least partly wrong). Or possibly my dream cast. Watch this space! Probably it will take fewer than 6 months this time! (But I always have Pride and Prejudice feelings).

Date: 2013-06-10 09:56 pm (UTC)
muccamukk: Spiral staircase decending multiple levels inside a tower.. (Stargate: Laughing on the Inside)
From: [personal profile] muccamukk
I admit to being completely unbothered by Knightly. In fact, I rather enjoy her. Go out of my way to watch her in things, even.

However, the thing where modern stuff set in period has a character Completely And Utterly Flout the Rules because she's a special snowflake (or feminism or whatever) has always annoyed me. The rules were stupid and oppressive, good for you for realising that, but blowing them to the extent that if she were modern it would be the equivalent of running through downtown stark naked while singing Vanilla Ice at the top of her lungs, um... just makes her look kind of stupid?

There were lots of incredibly brave women/lower class people/people of colour/pick your oppression who flouted the rules to get what they wanted, but they were smart about it. They didn't just wander around in there underwear because they felt like it and expect no consequences, dammit!

It's so, so common in romance novels and steampunk (stuff that hasn't changed Victorian social mores much). I know I'm supposed to think the characters are spunky and root for them, but mostly it makes me facepalm.

ETA: did you run into that meta by someone who hated the mini series with impressive passion because she felt it made Darcy too Byronic? I remember that the author felt is was in strong contradiction of the book, and it was also What Was Wrong with Romance. It was an interesting read, but now I can't find the link.
Edited (byronic darcy) Date: 2013-06-10 09:59 pm (UTC)

Date: 2013-06-11 12:01 am (UTC)
muccamukk: Wanda of Many Colours (Marvel: Scarlet Witch)
From: [personal profile] muccamukk
I don't think she was doing it that much in this either. The comment about the coat reminded me. That and Lost in Austen (which I'd be interested in seeing you trying to review. LOL.)

I've lost track of how many movies I've seen her in. ALL OF THEM. I am fond.

Unfortunately, I have a number of very excellent link list posters on my flist, and I have a habit of clicking through, reading, then never seeing them again. History searching P&P gets me your posts, and Darcy gets me the character for Thor. Oh well. It'll pop up.

Date: 2013-06-10 10:18 pm (UTC)
likeadeuce: (Default)
From: [personal profile] likeadeuce
Did you run into that meta by someone who hated the mini series with impressive passion because she felt it made Darcy too Byronic? I remember that the author felt is was in strong contradiction of the book

lolol. It wasn't by me but it probably could have been /o\

And I generally agree about the anachronistic romance heroine, though I didn't really see that in this film.

Date: 2013-06-11 12:03 am (UTC)
muccamukk: Jan flying. Text: "Watch out where you swing that hammer, Golden Boy! There's a lady present!" (Marvel: Feminism)
From: [personal profile] muccamukk
I thought it was super interesting because I'd only seen people love that adaptation before. I don't spend a lot of time in Austen fandom though.

I don't remember that in this film that much, but the comment about the coat/Darcy in his nightie made me think of it.

Date: 2013-06-11 12:11 am (UTC)
likeadeuce: (Default)
From: [personal profile] likeadeuce
I just never saw Darcy being that smoldery? I don't know if I'd exactly say Firth was Byronic but he's much more like I'd imagined Heathcliff than Darcy.

I don't actually know enough about romance novel heroes to write that meta, though. I wonder if the '95 P&P led to resurgence in popularity for Regencies, or if those are eternally popular & that vision of the hero influenced the mini series.

Date: 2013-06-11 12:25 am (UTC)
muccamukk: Spiral staircase decending multiple levels inside a tower.. (Stargate: Never Getting Paid)
From: [personal profile] muccamukk
I think the person who wrote the meta blamed one for the other, but I honestly don't remember how it went. I THINK she blamed it all on Firth (or the director). Sorry, I'm terrible.

Date: 2013-06-11 12:56 am (UTC)
likeadeuce: (roque)
From: [personal profile] likeadeuce
Well, the LAST person we should blame is Colin for being so damn sexy he can't help himself ;)

Date: 2013-06-10 10:15 pm (UTC)
likeadeuce: (genius)
From: [personal profile] likeadeuce
Oh, wow, I love your commentary on the fashions -- I don't know enough to spot most anachronisms, but even I remember laughing at the moment when they stopped even trying to fit Keira into anything plausible and had her going around in men's coats because, well, she looks fetching in them and people who go to Keira Knightley movies are likely to be A-OK with seeing her in men's coats (I will admit to being in the A-OK school). However, substantively, I also found her Elizabeth off (Jennifer Ehle is my Lizzie, always and forever) and while I haven't seen it since it was new, my vague memory was that I was most bothered that the movie didn't seem to take the verbal aspect of Lizzie & Darcy's courtship seriously. There were arguments that if you paid attention to the words, Darcy won, but the film focused in on Lizzie smiling and giggling and it was if the film thought Lizzie won. (I love Elizabeth Bennett to pieces, she's brilliant but the "neither of us perform for strangers" from Darcy in the 'piano' argument is clearly a match point.)

Also, I totally agree with Hollander being the best Mr. Collins ever.

And you motivated me to pull up the post I made when I first watched the movie, though it's mostly snarky and nowhere near as comprehensive :)

Date: 2013-06-10 11:01 pm (UTC)
likeadeuce: (allison)
From: [personal profile] likeadeuce
Having just read through all your P&P posts, I'm intrigued by 1980. I was thinking that I had seen it before, but I think I'd remember if it had been such a lengthy miniseries, so I'm probably thinking of other 1980-ish Austens. Anyway, I'm curious what they did with it, even if robo-Darcy is a bit. . .unique.

Date: 2013-06-11 06:52 am (UTC)
angstbunny: (Default)
From: [personal profile] angstbunny
The best part of your reviews is always that I can hear your voice saying all this stuff. XD


barometry: solid wall of paperbacks stacked up (Default)
Barometry Jones

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