When moving any work from one medium to another, the strengths of the end medium must be considered. On the surface, Pride & Prejudice isn’t a book that lends itself to a filmic medium. A story that consists mostly of people talking hardly lends itself to the power of the medium of film, but director Joe Wright finds a way to make the story feel almost as if it was designed with film in mind.
For instance, in one scene in the film, Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) and Caroline Bingley (Kelly Reilly) walk the room as they chat with the immobile, distant Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen). While he makes some scathing, quippy remarks, the imagery at work gives the scene an extra layer of meaning.
Elizabeth and Caroline take up orbit around Darcy. He finds the two circling round and round in his thoughts. As the scene comes towards a close, there’s a shot where Elizabeth and Caroline linger, standing behind him on either shoulder. It’s a moment that leverages film as a medium where what you see is more important than what you hear.
Joe Wright also uses long takes in a number of scenes to accentuate the movement of cameras and bodies. The party scenes have some wonderful moments where the camera slowly works its way through the crowd. While Wright’s love of long takes would lead to scenes in Atonement and Anna Karenina that some audience members found overindulgent, the long takes in Pride & Prejudice are much more organic and less showy.
Of course, a great deal of the film’s quality must be attributed to the source material. I read the book two years ago in anticipation of seeing this film and just now got to it for the first time. At the time, I remember liking the book, but I couldn’t have told you why. Now, experiencing the story again, and with a couple of year’s growth, I think I have at least a vague idea of why I think the story is so good.
Pride & Prejudice is a story that reminds us that one of the big problems that faces the affair of love is that each individual is stuck inside their own minds and brings their own faults into the mix. And when you add in the assumptions made on both sides, the pursuit of love becomes messy and can turn to resentment, bitterness and outright hatred. Both Elizabeth and Darcy are both arrogant, stubborn people and their feelings for each other don’t change that.
In some ways, the medium of film is better than the written word at conveying to these. The ambiguity of the image and the inability to completely know the interior of the film’s character enhances the sense of uncertainty. This is not to say that it’s better than the novel as the novel is better than the film at exploring the themes at depth.
Pride & Prejudice is an exemplary period drama and adaptation, one that takes the strengths of the source material and seeks to enhance it through film while also relying on the strengths of the medium of film to use images instead of words to convey ideas.
© 2013 James Blake Ewing