Desiring Elizabeth Bennet – A Movie Discussion of 2005’s Pride and Prejudice

In a previous post, I discussed how Andrew Davies “created” the image of a very masculine and virile Darcy by adding scenes to the 1995 Pride and Prejudice adaptation. Some of you reading this post likely participated in “Darcy Loving Parties” at the time of this mini-series’ release.

tumblr_n7ak9pPTe21qfisvuo4_250.gifToday, I would like to examine the visual shift of “desire” to Elizabeth Bennet in the 2005 film. Casting the beautiful Keira Knightley in the lead role changed the focus. Choosing Ms. Knightley, who had established herself in Bend It Like Beckham, King Arthur, Love Actually, and The Pirates of the Caribbean, was designed to appeal to a younger and wider audience. Add Joe Wright’s emphasis on social realism to Knightley’s casting, and we have a film that grossed over $125 million worldwide.

Knightley’s casting could have backfired. Remember that Austen describes the character as, “She (Elizabeth) is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.” and “But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face ….” and “Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form ….” Obviously, the casting of the equally lovely Rosamund Pike as Jane helped to “sell” the idea that Elizabeth’s fair face was less than her elder sister’s.

article-2544327-02CD763A0000044D-541_634x413.jpgIn the 2005 film, Elizabeth (Knightley) is found in EVERY scene, from the opening shot of her walking home while reading her book to the final kiss in the American version. The camera follows Elizabeth through the house. We see her world through Elizabeth’s eyes. When she walks away from Darcy at the Meryton assembly, everyone else pales, but our focus remains constant on Elizabeth. She is framed by the retreating camera lens.

When Elizabeth and Jane share secrets under the blankets, the audience is invited to join them. When she sensually traces Darcy’s belongings with her fingertips, we feel Elizabeth’s longing for a man she has allowed to slip through her fingers.

Through the camera, the viewer is always at Elizabeth’s side. We read over her shoulder in the opening scene. We enjoy the interplay between Elizabeth and Mr. Bennet regarding Mr. Collins’s pomposity. We hide behind a Netherfield column with her when her family’s actions bring humiliation. We observe Darcy’s approach through the morning mist as Elizabeth would, and we peek through the open door as she watches Darcy spin his sister around in circles.

2239782af7c7c9a67e48bf40eff1f8ea.jpgEven when we have the occasional film seconds when Knightley is not in the framing, the scene pans to Elizabeth’s presence. It’s as if the camera leads us back to her. The maid carries items through the Bennet household and ends up in Elizabeth and Jane’s shared room. The intimate scene of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s bedroom guides us to another meeting between Jane and Elizabeth. Darcy’s appreciation of Georgiana’s pianoforte skills lead the viewer to Elizabeth’s accepting his invitation to Pemberley.

Knightley’s star power is “lessened” by her appearance in dingy, drab dresses and having her surrounded by a “working” home: animals, a barnyard swing, the kitchen, clothes lines, disarray. These techniques “muffle” Knightley’s beauty and allow the viewer to accept her as Austen’s most famous character. In contrast to the 1995 film, Matthew Macfadyen’s Darcy is often shot from a distance and always fully clothed (minus the American ending again). Even his open-shirt appearance in the pre-dawn hours is viewed from Elizabeth’s point of view. He’s coming to her. She waits for him. Therefore, she remains the center of attention.

Wright’s “extra” scenes direct the desire to Elizabeth. Davies’s film showed Darcy in his bath and diving into a pond to increase Colin Firth’s role. Wright uses the near kiss from Darcy’s first proposal, the caress as Darcy assists Elizabeth to the carriage, and the seductive circling of Darcy and Elizabeth at the Netherfield Ball as part of the film’s sexual subtext. These and several other scenes amplify the desire for Elizabeth.

large One part of the film that has received much criticism is the way this adaptation minimizes the relationship between Elizabeth and Wickham and between Elizabeth and Colonel Fitzwilliam. Wright chose to omit Austen’s diversions because Elizabeth is the one to be desired, and Elizabeth desires Darcy. In this version, we do not consider her flirtation with either man as serious possibilities. In the 2005 film, Wickham spends more time with Lydia than he does with Elizabeth.

Okay, it is your turn. Where else in the film is Elizabeth the point of desire? How has her character been created? I have other ideas, but I am waiting for our Miss Austen’s loyal fans to add their own opinions.

Resources: 

Holden, Stephen. “Marrying off Those Bennet Sisters Again, but This Time Elizabeth is a Looker.” Review of Pride and Prejudice. The New York Times. 11 Nov. 2005. {http://movies2.nytimes.com/2005/11/11/movies/11prid.html?ex=1176782400&en=97912be821dd7738&ei=5070}

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About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
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4 Responses to Desiring Elizabeth Bennet – A Movie Discussion of 2005’s Pride and Prejudice

  1. Anji says:

    Not been well today so I took a duvet to the sitting room, put this movie in the DVD player and snuggled up in my recliner chair to watch, paying particular attention to the points you’d made, Regina. It kind of took my mind off feeling ill!

    I noticed several points you haven’t mentioned, but probably had noticed yourself:
    When the Bingley party arrives at the Meryton assembly and are processing down the hall, Darcy’s gaze is passing over everyone, but after passing Elizabeth, he does glance back very briefly.
    After Darcy handed Elizabeth into the carriage at Netherfield, there was a close up of him flexing his fingers but later on, (at Pemberley, I think) after similar contact, he doesn’t do that, so he must have accepted the truth of his feelings for her.
    When Elizabeth arrives at Netherfield to see Jane and is shown into the room where Darcy and Miss Bingley are, her hair has come completely down over her shoulders. Am I right in thinking that in a grown woman who is “out” in society, that is something that would only be seen at home by family or by the husband of a married woman? That would make it quite an intimate sight.
    At Rosings, just after Elizabeth first sees Darcy, we see her from more or less his point of view. The effect of the lighting on her face (whether artificial or natural) was sort of golden in colour and gave her face an almost luminous glow.
    In the sculpture gallery at Pemberley, we first see the bust of Darcy in the background as Elizabeth admires another piece. As the camera circled round, it seemed to me that the eyes of Darcy’s sculpture actually followed Elizabeth’s movements. The sculpture gallery scene is one of my favourites in this.

    Keira Knightley’s characterisation makes Elizabeth a bit shouty at times, I think. One thing I noticed her doing at the draper’s shop in Meryton, was eyeing up George Wickham from the rear. Guess he had a neat backside! Something this film doesn’t show is Elizabeth telling Wickham that her knowing Darcy better made her think better of him, i.e. that she knows all about the truth behind his lies. I do agree with the criticism about the diminishing of the Elizabeth/Wickham and Elizabeth/Fitzwilliam relationships. Indeed, the dear Colonel is hardly in it at all. I guess they only really needed him there to tell Elizabeth about Darcy’s role in parting Jane and Bingley.

    All in all, though I quite enjoy this film, I’m afraid it doesn’t compare terribly well to the 1995 TV version in my mind. OK, I know it’s two hours compared to five so they couldn’t fit everything in but I found some of the acting quite stilted at times. I wasn’t overly fond of Tom Hollander’s Mr. Collins, Donald Sutherland’s Mr. Bennet or, sadly, Judi Dench’s Lady Catherine but the Bennet daughters were great and at least they didn’t leave out Mary as some versions have done.

    Now I think I’ve waffled on long enough so that’s all I’m going to say for now. Something else may occur to me later but my head is feeling a little fuzzy at the moment.

    • Dearest Anji, I hope this finds you recovering properly.
      I loved all the special points you made in describing the connection between Elizabeth and Darcy.
      Perhaps, Ms. Knightley was checking out Rupert Friend because, at the time, they had developed a relationship.
      One of my favorite things to speak of when I was still teaching school is the images of Darcy’s hands in this film. It is always shocking to the current generation to know women and men NEVER touched one another. The skin on skin contact of Darcy’s assisting Elizabeth into the coach had to be an “electrifying” experience.
      I agree about Donald Sutherland (who I absolutely adore). Dame Judi is adequate, but it is not her best performance.
      I often say one cannot truly compare the 1995 version with the 2005 one…nearly 6 hours to 2 hours…emphasis on Darcy in one and Elizabeth in the other. I think Joe Wright took too many liberties with the screenplay for the 2005 film, but I do love some of the camera work.

  2. Carol says:

    Regina. I’d make one comment on this version of Pride and Prejudice 2005: I’ve watched it once. However; the 1995 BBC version has been watched so many times, I’ve lost count. There’s nothing compared to the Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle classic. Own multiple VHS tapes (actually wore out one copy), DVDs in multiple box’s, and Bluray (must keep up with technology). Thanks for presentation of both films.

    • As a former media literacy consultant, Carol, I love to study the “messages” in film. Discovering the intent of both producers/directors is important. As they say, “different strokes for different folks.” Some messages ring louder than others based on our previous experiences.

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