This is a film where the spectator enjoys a lesson in Voyeurism 101. We follow the story as we view the characters through windows, eavesdrop on them through doors, read over their shoulders, stand behind them while they are conversing, etc. From the opening shot to the closing kiss (in the American version), we are drawn into the Bennet family through the character of Elizabeth, portrayed by Keira Knightley. The opening shot establishes Elizabeth as being both “inside” the action, but also an “outside” observer through which the audience will view the story. Joe Wright, the director, uses camera angles and filmography to tell the story of Darcy and Elizabeth’s love. He gives us a story steeped in Romantic elements, which seems a bit odd to those who have been taught that Jane Austen rejected the concept of “self,” emphasized by Romanticism.
In that opening shot, Elizabeth is walking home reading what is thought to be Austen’s First Impressions. In other words, Elizabeth is reading “her story.” Reaching her home, (through the camera’s lens) we follow her around the house. We see that this is a “working” estate, rather than what we sometimes see in the more traditional “Heritage” films. Elizabeth walks behind the sheets hanging on the line. They obstruct our vision, but this also tells the viewer that Elizabeth’s perceptions are hampered.
In one of my favorite shots in the film, we see Elizabeth most intimately in the “mirror” sequence. Masterly, Wright summarizes three chapters of Austen’s novel with soft lighting and darkness, using both to show the passage of time. We find various blurred medium long shots and medium close-ups of Elizabeth, of Darcy, and of the letter. They provide the viewer with insights into Elizabeth’s internal turmoil. She turns suddenly when she realizes that she has misjudged Darcy, but he is gone. To Charlotte’s question of her health, Elizabeth responds, “I hardly know.” Hardly know what? Herself? Darcy? the Truth?
Another masterly crafted scene is the Netherfield Ball. The camera steps in to refocus the audience’s attention that this is a turning point in Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship. The camera leaves the traditional set up and follows them in their movements. We whirl and complete the dance steps along with them. Then the camera “crosses the line” by moving more than 180 degrees. I must tell you when I first saw this, I nearly jumped out of my chair. One rarely sees this film technique used so well. The characters’ positioning from right to left in the frame reverses, telling the viewer that everything has changed for both of them. It is a leap from spatial reality to a dream. The characters complete each other. This scene forecasts the film’s resolution: Social isolation will ultimately unite them. They dance alone. Before, they were only going through the motions of social performances.
In the “Accomplished Lady” scene, the dialogue mixes idioms with archaic sounding sentence structure. Simon Woods (Bingley) says, “amazing you young ladies” and “you all paint tables….” The script says, “It’s amazing how young ladies…” and “They all paint tables….” Therefore, Caroline’s use of “She must have …” makes her appear more distant and impersonal. A look at the filmography of this scene shows Elizabeth surrounded by emblems of the ornate femininity that she rejects: a decorative vase, a framed portrait of a young woman in white, a bowl of flowers, etc. During this scene, both Darcy and Elizabeth remained seated. This gives them visual authority. The change in shot from character to character is often slightly off sync with the beginning and ending of each speech. This creates movement in an otherwise static scene. The final shot shows Caroline and Elizabeth separating, crossing behind Darcy, and sitting. They represent different potential mates for Darcy. Of course, any student of Austen knows that Wright combined two separate incidents from the novel into this one scene (the letter writing scene and talk of Bingley’s poor handwriting and the walking about the room scene).
At Pemberley, Elizabeth sees Darcy’s sensual side. She realizes his true worth through the beauty of his home. There is constant camera movement, which emphasizes the significance of the moment. The camera circles Elizabeth and then Darcy’s statue, showing her emerging feelings for Darcy. Did you notice the right to left tracking shot of (Chatsworth) Pemberley’s facáde? As Elizabeth moves through the house, she touches the various objects, giving her a “true” picture of Darcy. “I hope to afford you more clarity in the future.” Elizabeth peers through the door to see Darcy with Georgiana. His role as a loving brother softens Elizabeth’s opinion of him. Did you happen to notice that the music Elizabeth overhears Georgiana playing is the same as at the beginning of the film when she is walking “home.” In other words, Elizabeth is at home at Pember
Rosings Park’s murals show men laboring under tyrannical conditions – under the oppressive social order represented by Lady Catherine. The murals at Pemberley depict men and women in a pastoral setting. It is the ideal place for Darcy and Elizabeth’s love to grow.
Wright shows that Elizabeth needs to be in a natural setting. That is where she will bloom. In Derbyshire, Elizabeth stands on the bluff. She is part of the rugged landscape. She belongs in Derbyshire with Darcy. She sits on the roots of a 200+ year old tree (which is really in Nottingham). She must set down roots in this area. The free running deer represent Elizabeth’s new sense of freedom.
Darcy is seen as a social outsider. The film creates him as a Byronic hero. He is a reluctant social participant. Matthew Macfadyen’s body language and facial expressions suggest discomfort – a true dislike for social practices – an unhappiness rather than hauteur or censure. The film begins in the countryside at dawn. It ends with the second proposal in the same setting. Neither Elizabeth nor Darcy is dressed properly. They will, therefore, live their lives on their own terms.
As one can see, there are many areas of discussion on this film. It is quite different from the more traditional 1995 P&P, but that does not mean that it is not worthy in its own right. Keep in mind, that a 2-hour commercial film should not be compared to a nearly 6-hour “heritage” adaptation. I welcome your comments. I will check in regularly to respond.