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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Lizzy Bennet doesn't giggle.

Many Jane-ites and Austen purists likely felt a visceral anger towards Pride and Prejudice 2005 (the one I've nicknamed "Love, Actually, and Pride and Prejudice") the minute they saw it, and perhaps with distance softened to realize that a good film adaptation of a good novel, to use an Austen-phrase, "may take liberties." (That's certainly how I feel about the Ang Lee/Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility, which turns Austen's anti-Romanticism upside down with fantastic results. )

But my trajectory vis-avis "LA&P&P" '05 has been the opposite. I saw it on a cold November weekend, during a hard year in my life, and was for the most part drawn in by its warmth and romance and visual beauty. I quibbled a bit, but viewed it as another S and S -- a well-done, if Hollywoodized, two hour adaptation of a much longer novel. I also likened it to the Olivier/Garson version from back in the day. This new movie imposes a contemporary wistful and unsure mindset on the story, just as that one infused Austen with the golden age of Hollywood's sassy back and forth aesthetic.

In retrospect, though, I've found the adaptation harder to take. The whole reason I'm writing about this now, in fact, is because I tuned in to the last 40 minutes on HBO the other night, and was amazed by how much more cynical and irritated I was , yelling "WHAT?" at the screen, and "Lizzy Bennet would never do that!" Even my viewing companion, who may have a more lax attitude towards Austen purism than I do, audibly groaned during several scenes, particularly those that involved Kiera Knightley giggling or whimpering. For heaven's sake, LIZZY BENNETT DOESN'T GIGGLE.

And that's where I'm the most frustrated with the adaptation. Lizzy Bennett is the strongest, realest, most fascinatingly intelligent female character in history--or at least the most resonant example of the "spunky heroine." The way the film dumbs her down and makes her more in thrall to Darcy (and even casting a physically small actress in the role) is kind of, well, it's clearly the work of a man. And pushing both Darcy and Bingley towards being a pair of awkward and shy frat boys who can't get their love lives together undermines their patriarchal arrogance and immense power, which is a huge part of Austen's landscape.

The portrayal Mrs. Bennett, whose hysteria in the book begins to make the reader doubt her sanity, and Mr. Bennett, who is self-righteously indifferent, as well-meaning and kind parents is one thing, but robbing Lizzy of her self-command and sauciness by bestowing her with trembling lips, teary eyes, and moments when she's so consumed by her overwhelming love for Mr. Darcy, she stands against the wall and breathes to calm herself down is somewhat offensive. And it's just not my Lizzy.

As for the dialogue, it insults our intelligence at times by going beyond Austen's words in an unnecessary way. Here's Darcy's second proposal, during the part of the movie where I start yelling "Cathy! Heathcliff!" because of its turgidity:
My affections and wishes have not changed, but one word from you will silence me forever. If, however, your feelings have changed, I will have to tell you: you have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love, I love, I love you. I never wish to be parted from you from this day on.
To quote a friend, HUH? Was that last bit really nceessary? This happens over and over in the dialogue. There's a line right from Jane Austen, we laugh or gasp because it's brilliant, and then whatever was being cleverly replied is immediately re-stated in blunt modern terms. We may laugh or gasp again, but it's not for the same reasons, I assure you.

Anyway, I don't mean to be too much of a hater or a puritan-- as a rule, I adore a little sexing-up of Austen. And I deeply appreciate some of the finer moments in the film, as well as its luscious scenery and score. The classic scenes--Jane and Lizzy in their bedroom, for instance--still pack an amazing wallop.

The film is hardly a butchering. I just feel that it could have been that much better if it had trusted the audience to read the source material's subteties. And I wish the film-makers had kept Lizzy more composed, and yes, even arrogantly prejudiced. I happen to like Kiera Knightley, but Jennifer Ehle and even Greer Garson are so spirited and clever and strong in comparison. Giving Kiera more snobbery and headstrong self-importance to work with would have been a bigger challenge, and perhaps done more justice to her talent.

And lastly, the "American" ending with the bit that the Brits refer to as the "snog" and the "goddess divine"/"Mrs. Darcy" crap. At this point both my companion and I changed the channel, because it's a complete travesty--(and a great example of how the Brits view Yankee sensibilities). And maybe that's why my repeat viewings are so negatively influenced. Watching the movie without knowing about that final scene was a lovely experience, but perhaps the sacrelige of the ending colored my view of the entire two hours preceding it. Who can say?

The Andrew Davies version is definitive, in my opinion, not because of Colin Firth or Darcymania of any of that silliness, but because of Ehle's assertive, attractive, clever and pitch-perfect Lizzy.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that it doesn't hold up as well upon subsequent viewings...and that ending did make me shudder a little when I viewed it on HBO. (while it didn't bother me as much in the theater, perhaps because I'm just so thrilled these days to see any new romantic period movie in an actual theater.