Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Pride and Prejudice (2005)

It is a shame when one’s experience of something is colored completely by that which has gone before. While this is true for much of life, as we are all shaped by experience, it was especially the case last night as I finally watched “Pride & Prejudice”, not to be confused with “Pride and Prejudice” of 1995 miniseries fame.

I put off seeing it for some time. While hardly a self-described Janite, I’ve made a yearly habit of seeing the A&E Firth-Ehle concoction and even recently converted my husband to the same practice. It is unfair to the new film to compare them. For one thing, nearly five hours is much longer than just over two. Concerns that too much is compressed can hardly be the fault of the filmmakers (although one can fault someone for making it in the first place, that’s a fruitless argument). So I will attempt to confine myself to factors which can reasonably be compared. At the same time, I must avow a deep regard for the previous incarnation, which must color my pronouncements, however I seek to disentangle my review from my love.

I was worried about the casting of Keira Knightly. A renowned beauty, I feared she might be “too pretty” to be Lizzy. She is not, I am happy to say. However, she rarely reaches the twinkling wit I look for in an Elizabeth Bennett, although she acquits herself quite well given how much screen time is actually given to her relationship with Mr. Darcy. The constraints of timing made the entire film seem rather rushed, as if it was necessary to get to the next quirky line or plot point before the last could really sink in. The rest of the cast played their characters for a bit more realism than the mini, Mr. Collins being a bit more pathetic than silly, Mr. Bennett a little more comfortable with his lot in life as the husband of a silly, but not shrilly unbelievable, woman. Even Mary, the unfortunate “spinster in the making” seemed like a reasonable person.

Where I think the film really fails is in its romantic yearnings. Technically and stylistically, this movie is head and waist above the miniseries. For instance, there is lighting and camerawork; something the makers of the mini seem to have forgotten might be a good idea. The movie employs these skills in a desperate attempt to make Darcy and Lizzie fall in love; there are thunderstorms, mists, sunrises, mirrors, all contriving a relationship which, honestly, I couldn’t see between the characters. Part of the problem is the lack of time spent with them, and the film’s decision not to reveal Darcy’s regard until he proposes. Part of it may be blamed on a lack of chemistry between the actors. Part of it, I must admit, might be a hormonal demand for Colin Firth’s piercing, smoldering eyes and Jennifer Ehle’s saucy twinklings back.

But there is a scene which, I feel, exemplifies the contrast between these two films. Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle visit Pemberley while Darcy is supposedly away. In the mini, they encounter a portrait of the young master and marvel at the man captured within it. In the movie, Lizzie walks transfixed through a sculpture garden filled with erotically charged buttocks until she reaches a cold, marble bust of Mr. Darcy, who is declared to be quite handsome. While sex might be introduced more forcefully into this picture, wealth is as well. The marble Mr. Darcy represents sensuality but of a material sort; the sensuality of sculpture as opposed to warm oils and shirts soaked through from impromptu pond-divings. The film’s Mr. Darcy remains cold and aloof when not desperate and pleading, without any of the fire of Firth’s version. This Darcy will not bend, but break; oil paint takes years to dry. And this is just the point; the miniseries has more time to build these relationships and mold these characters. In the movie, they flit by us as mere types whose characters we must determine by what others say of them; and isn’t that just what the book teaches us we shouldn’t do?

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