The International Writers Magazine: Film

Pride and Prejudice (2005)
Director: Joe Wright
Starring: Keira Knightley, Matthew MacFadyen, Donald Sutherland and Judi Dench

Jo Green

Historical films are one of the easiest ways to learn how times have changed. In Pride and Prejudice we are taken into Georgian England; a time when transport was a carriage, hobbies were reading and walking and the first touch between a man and a woman was through dancing.

Pride and Prejudice is the third film adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel. This version sees Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen playing the delights of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy. Although I feel it is hard to replace Colin Firth’s masterful portrayal of Mr Darcy in the BBC’s television adaptation, MacFadyen does a surprisingly good job. Macfadyen creates a strong, domineering Mr Darcy, the key to his character. I have never had a great opinion of Keira Knightley and after my first viewing of the film I still had my doubts. However, I have realised that it was merely because she was not Jennifer Ehle, the last Elizabeth Bennet who I adored, and actually Knightley portrayed an astounding likeness, in my mind, to Jane Austen’s original heroine.  

The costumes and settings are what make this film so believable: the gentlemen are dressed in top hats and coats whilst the ladies swirl in ballroom gowns and abundant bonnets. I noticed that the musicians at the local town Ball had long wavy hair while those at the Netherfield Ball were wearing wigs to cover up their locks; a pure sign of the hierarchy of the time. The locations used for the film are breathtaking. Mr Darcy’s home, Pemberley, is shot at Chatsworth House and Wilton House while the Bennet’s home is set in the enchanting Groombridge Place: a moated manor house. Through all these elements we are guided into Austen’s 18th Century living. 

What makes this film historical, regardless of the obvious: the wonderful costumes, the spoken language and the astounding rural settings in the English countryside? I would say the beautiful piano melodies. The music takes us on a journey with Elizabeth and the key moment in the film; when Elizabeth believes that she will never see Mr Darcy again, just after realising she has misjudged him completely, presents us with the loudest piece of composition within the film. It is dramatic, it is full bodied and it is heart wrenching. So many words were unspoken during this time; life was all about securing a husband or wife through dancing, through literature and through meaningful glances across ballrooms. In my mind, the music illustrates all these unspoken words that in today’s society we would not think twice about.  

In regard to portraying the hierarchy, the setting and the necessity for a worthy marriage that the late 18th Century required, this film is a great success. Wright’s added personal touches; like Mr Darcy and Elizabeth’s first dance, bring this adaptation into the 21st Century. In this scene he represents the great moment of attraction between them by fading out the other dancers around them. I may have felt it had changed too much from Ehle and Firth’s version when I first watched it, but on reflection, if it had stayed too close to the BBC’s, I am sure I would have accused it of being unoriginal.
© Jo Green December 2006

Jo is studying Creative Writing at the University Portsmouth

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