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 she has misjudged Darcy, but he is gone. To Charlotte’s question of her health, Elizabeth responds, “I hardly know.” Hardly knows 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 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 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 Wright combined two separate incidents from the novel into this one 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.
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.
Excellent post! I have always hated this movie but I am now rethinking it thanks to your insightful comments and I believe it’s high time I rewatched it too. Congrats!
The problem, I believe, is having to choose one film version over another. For example, I prefer the 1995 version of Persuasion to the 2007 one, but there are moments in the Rupert Penry Jones/Sally Hawkins adaptation, which are masterfully cinematically (i.e., the moments after Louisa Musgrove’s accident on the Cobb and Captain Harville’s advice to Captain Wentworth). The Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle version of Pride and Prejudice was magnificently designed to bring in the female audience, but this film also has such story telling moments, which should not be overlooked.
Thanks, Regina, for more insights into this film. It’s never been my favourite version but particularly through your analysis, and also what others have said, I’m learning to appreciate it more.
I’m going to have to go back to watch this all over again, just like I did after your previous post about how the film focussed on “desiring Elizabeth”. Not sure when I’m going to have time to do it, though, as I have a very busy couple of months coming up, but I will do it eventually and hopefully post again.
I am a huge Matthew Macfadyen fan – long before this film (back to his time in the late 1990s as Hareton in Wuthering Heights), and so I was predisposed to like the film. I am extremely fond of the 1995 version, but my heart was not disappointed with this film. Of course, I had years of media literacy training to enjoy the cinematic story telling as much as the dialogue.
Thanks Regina for your post. I too love this movie – it is one of my all time favorites. Your insight in cinematic story telling was very interesting and explains a lot of what the director was capturing in this version. Darcy and Elizabeth’s first touch as he hands her into the carriage when she leaves Netherfield is also another of my favorite scenes in the film. Elizabeth’s reaction and Darcy’s hand tells me there is definitely a connection.
I also love the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle version but I can’t compare it with the movie version. They both stand well on their own. While I think Colin Firth is a wonderful actor and love his Mr. Darcy, Matthew Macfadyen is my ideal Mr. Darcy and who I see and hear when I read the many sequels of Pride and Prejudice. Thanks, –Leslie
As I have 18 framed images of Macfadyen hanging on the wall of my home office, the man is who I see and hear when I write my Austen novels. I have met Colin Firth briefly, and I found him totally delightful. As a fan, I have closely monitored his career since he was very young. I loved him as Armand Duval in “Camille” and as the rascal Valmont in the film by the same name, as well as Tommy in “Another Country.” He was great in The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love, My Live So Far, Relative Values, etc. Truthfully, I wish people would not compare the two adaptations: one meant for TV (and the arts market) and one meant for worldwide syndication is comparing apples and oranges. One thing I always taught my students in media literacy was to know one’s audience. Each bit of media produces is directed to a particular audience. The investors recognize where their money is going and from whom they will reap the benefits.
Thank you for a well written article. I have always loved Keira Knightley in whatever part she has played in any movie. Also, I feel the same of Matthew Macfadyen and his acting skills long before this movie of P & P was made. I think that the best actors and actresses by far are coming from England. It seems that Joe Wright did the correct thing when he made this movie and picked the right cast. I do think Matthew fit the perfect Darcy as did Keira as Lizzy. The praise however goes to Jane Austen for her role in it all. The 2005 version is my favorite and I enjoyed all the others as well. Thanks once again for the review!
I have always viewed the 2005 version as fanfic. I love fanfic and enjoyed the movie and it’s passing resemblance to P&P. I’m not being snide – I think they did an admirable job with only 2 hours to work with. Although I hated that they made Bingley a buffoon, I thought the other actors were quite good. I find things to enjoy in all the JA variations, just some more than others! Thanks for the post Regina, it gives me an excuse to watch the movie again with new eyes.
I totally agree, Gail. Having taught school for years, I was always of the belief that anything which can interest young readers (who are constantly bombarded by media representations) is worth the time to look at it. Ironically, I had a student not too long past who was a grad of NC State’s film school. In an interview, he recognized the plot line of the story the producers were proposing as a modern day P&P. If not for my interference in his education, he would never have earned the position. LOL!
Though not my favorite version, I do enjoy this movie for its own sake. And it’s interesting to hear your insights as to why certain things were done a certain way – so much premeditated symbolism, etc. But every time I watch it, I have trouble getting past its “flaws,” especially where it departs from or proposes to improve on Jane Austen’s story (inventing animosity between Jane and Elizabeth where there was none, etc.). The biggest mystery for me, however, is why Aunt and Uncle Gardiner abandon Lizzy at Pemberley. They apparently drive off without her so that she ends up walking back to Lambton, where she finds them at the inn. Uncle, having already seen Mr. Darcy (who apparently raced to Lambton ahead of Lizzy) says to her, among other things, “You didn’t tell us you had seen him,” which makes no sense. When would she have told them? She might have told them in the carriage ride home if they had waited for her!!! I could go on, but I won’t. In all seriousness, I just wondered if you thought the filmmakers intended this abandoning of Lizzy at Pemberley to convey some special meaning, or if it was a mistake that they thought we wouldn’t notice or mind. This kind of stuff drives me crazy. 😉
Shannon, this was a film made for worldwide release, not a film geared toward those who love all things Jane Austen. Naturally, they took some liberties. For example, they chose a much younger “Elizabeth” and “Darcy.” Colin Firth was 35 at the time and Jennifer Ehle was 26, whereas, Matthew Macfadyen was 29 and Keira Knightley was 20 (closer to the actual ages of Darcy and Elizabeth from the original story). Knightley had a large following from Bend It Like Beckham, the “Pirates” series, Love Actually, Doctor Zhivago, etc., before she accepted the role, and the producers were, literally, banking on her bringing in the audience. Those who do not know the story as we do would simply overlook the “flaws.” I can tell you in after reading and studying P&P in my advanced placement classes, my students preferred the 2005 version because there were actors in it whom they recognized from other films. It is the way with media. One must learn to read it as completely as one reads the written word.
I have no quibble with the casting, Regina. In fact, I applaud anything that exposes a wider audience to Jane Austen. To me, though, the specific issue I mentioned is more of a continuity problem. It doesn’t take a Jane Austen expert to wonder why Lizzy arrived with her aunt and uncle but didn’t leave with them.
For all we know, it could have been an editing error. Was something cut from the scenes which preceded the one you describe? Something which would have made more sense with the line? We often see such mistakes in editing these days. Although this one was not, many are “fixed” before the film goes to DVD release. I always thought the line about Darcy having a pleasing mouth when he speaks feeling out of place in the scene at the inn (although it is in the original story line) after the Gardiners encounter Darcy at his estate. Joe Wright says in the commentary that he would not have had Knightley crossing the open field if he could reshoot it. I imagine many viewers thought Elizabeth was the type to set off on her own. She did so earlier in the film in the opening scene, later, when she walks to Netherfield, and when she races from the church after learning Darcy had influenced Bingley. I understand your criticism; however, we have no control over such matters. We simply must find the best in each of the adaptations and celebrate the things which bring Austen to the “masses,” so to speak.