I went out last night with another Jane Austen fan and saw the adaptation of her book "Pride and Prejudice." The rags-to-riches type story of sisters Jane and Elizabeth Bennet who overcome their own prejudices and vanity to secure two of the wealthiest suitors to ever visit their rural town is a jewel on the bookshelf. A pure delight to read over and over. There's love, wit, humor, a psycho-mom and a laxidaisical dad, a loud-mouthed sister who drags the family name through the mud, dashing gentlemen, a meddling old rich lady, a bumbling rector, and lots and lots of long-lost etiquette and social decorum. Who wouldn't love this semi-modern fairy tale?
The producers of this movie loved it enough to try to condense the rich plot into a 2 hour film. And they made a valiant effort. Lots of great lines were dropped in the effort, and a few not-so-great lines added to help the viewer along. Breathtaking views of England's countryside were played against the daily semi-rustic life of the Bennet family. The visual comparison of the "haves" to the "wish they hads" was superb.
I say all this comparing it to the 6 hour film put out by A&E some years ago. That was a stellar production of Austen's story. It's nearly verbatim to her novel. So everything from here out compares the two films.
A&E did a great job of making the characters into comedic sketches of their personalities. The current film made them seem like very real people you would encounter. I don't think that was Austen's intent. The new film downplayed the evil nature of Mr. Wickham, dropped one of Bingley's sisters and lost the great effect of playing the two snobs off one another, and loosened up much of the 18th century social mores to our current standards. Mr. Bingley actually walked into Jane's bedchamber (uninvited or announced!) while she was sick in bed and had a very casual (and dorky) conversation with her. Austen is rolling over in her grave at such informality; both Bingley and Jane would have been disgraced! The biggest disappointment was how the theme of pride and prejudice was greatly subjugated to the whole falling in love aspect of the story. Another proof that we Americans would rather feel emotions than think about something.
So what was good? The actress who played Jane was wonderful. A&E picked a real doe-eyed actress who made Jane seem to be a real air head. Mr. Darcy seemed to be a bit more human and approachable - within the proper social circles, of course - than A&E's version. But overall I was disappointed with the interpretation of the characters: Mrs. Bennet wasn't scheming and fruity enough, Mr. Collins the rector wasn't nearly as doofy as Austen paints him, and I had a hard time seeing Lady deBourgh as anyone other than "M" from the James Bond films. I kept waiting for her incredibly huge wig to disclose some high-tech gadget. And Keira Knightley, who plays Elizabeth Bennet, well, she's cute, but looked too 21st century to fit in with the time frame. What's up with the dark circles under her eyes? And why would she be the only flat-chested one in the whole town while every other girl used corsets to their fullest capability?
Overall, read the book, then wait for this one to come out in the video stores. It's fun to watch. My friend cried at the end (sorry, I'm hard to move to tears when it comes to chick flicks - only "Sabrina" can do that). If you're in any way romantic at heart, you'll enjoy it.