An Imperfect Modern Film Adaptation of Pride and Prejudice

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As film and television increasingly becomes a more apparent component in modern culture, the appreciation of literature and reading in general is being compromised. However, in an attempt to restore respect, classic canonical texts are being transformed into contemporary cinematic adaptations. British novelist, Jane Austen, made a significant impact on literature through her subtle stylistic writing, especially with her most credited novel, Pride and Prejudice, written in 1813. Two centuries later, English film director, Joe Wright, known for his cinematic editions of classic literature, attempted to reinvent the novel. However, the cinematic translation of Jane Austin’s timeless novel, Pride and Prejudice, has a primary focus on entertaining the audience, discrediting the esteemed literature due to the significant loss of beautifully crafted language and implied subtext featured throughout the novel. Though the novel tackles integral social issues from the 18th century, the film opts to focus on the romantic nature of the plot as contemporary audiences are more inclined to view this genre of film. Rather than staying true to conventional classic attitudes that the novel has established, the film depicts characters in an over-exaggerated manner for entertainment purposes. Purposeful ties have been established between locations and characters through symbols within the novel, yet the film showcases locations for cinematic reasons. Though Austen’s literature is highly respected, the modern film adaptation does little to highlight the deep seeded meanings embedded within the canonical language.

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Due to the significant appeal that surrounds romance in modern day cinema, Joe Wright has emphasised the relationships established in the film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Though the classic novel and the modern film feature a budding relationship, the film chooses to holistically concentrate on the development of courtship, omitting the more significant themes heavily discussed in the novel. The text provides a clearer insight into social issues that were evident during the 18th century, discussing themes such as money, property, social position and marriage. Set in a time when British culture was growing a focus on “the accumulation and concentration of wealth” within families, the novel subjugates women to be an instrument to find such fortune (Columbia College, 2009). Jane Austen challenges these social ideologies within her text, especially in regards to the equality of women, as she heavily valued freedom of choice for females. Therefore, she was motivated to underpin the entire novel with this rebellious belief, especially within the character of Elizabeth Bennett, the endearing protagonist of the novel. Though social standards instruct Elizabeth to pursue a rich man due to her lack of wealth, she insists she does not “think highly either of men or of matrimony” (pg. 386). This reiterates that wealth does not contribute towards her desire for marriage. Such love has been incredibly overdramatised within the film adaptation in order to enthral and encourage target audiences as, ever since fairy-tales, humans have naturally yearned to find a soulmate (Frostrup, 2011). In the modern film, Elizabeth is portrayed to acknowledge love as the sole commitment she must make, neglecting her defiant demeanour that is established in the novel. Elizabeth is utterly devoted to Mr Darcy for she finds herself manifesting over a subtle hand touch, admitting that “[she] love[s] him” (Wright, 2005). This supports the proclivity towards romance featured in the film; however, such fascination spares Joe Wright no time to explore the understated language that Austen crafted in order to expose the controversial societal issues, such as forced marriages for property purposes. Clearly, Jane Austen’s rich literature has been polluted by contemporary preferences, demonstrated within the themes and characters alike.

The traditional propriety and complex personalities exposed through Austen’s implied subtext in Pride and Prejudice are reduced to irrational mood swings in the 2005 film adaptation, due to modern audiences’ inclination towards extremes. Particular characters from the novel have been over-exaggerated within the film, eluding to the conventional classic attitudes, and hence, not staying true to the original literature. In the 19th century, strict social etiquette was executed amongst the upper-class in England to differentiate themselves from the lower classes (Swarbrick, 2013). However, this behaviour was soon adopted by commoners, and became customary among all classes. Austen’s novel abides by this polite nature as Elizabeth Bennett is depicted as a free, natural and idiosyncratic character who accepts the respectful expectations. Social etiquette required women to “refrain from raising their voices”, especially “when speaking with a man” (Pearson, 2001). Even when dealing with confrontation, though she is “roused to resentment”, Elizabeth “speak[s] with composure” and remains respectful to Mr Darcy (Pg. 417). However, this traditional protocol is evidently absent from the modern film interpretation. Joe Wright has developed the character of Elizabeth to be a rogue figure who is quite petulant and at times crude. Elizabeth makes several rude attempts to interject as Mr Collins begins to profess his love for her, even defiantly standing up when he kneels to propose. This behaviour is not “according to the usual practice of an eloquent female”, and hence, does not correlate to classic conventions (Wright, 2005). The audience is positioned to feel this contrast and sense of unease as Wright has purposefully selected a high angle shot in order to perceive Mr Collins as the inferior individual, and hence, symbolically give the power within the conversation to Elizabeth. This dramatisation of conduct within the film is purposefully executed in order to appeal to viewers due to the significant preference audiences have towards the “emotional and relational development of characters” (Buffam, 2016). Though this modern preference, the film has still withered significantly due to the significant loss of valued contextual substance as read in the novel.

The complexity of Austen’s beautifully crafted language in Pride and Prejudice has been sacrificed within the film adaptation for visual cinematic benefits, losing the symbolism of highly-developed meanings. Clever subtext has been filtered throughout the classic novel, offering deeper significance and representative meanings to locations. However, these figurative descriptions have been excluded from Joe Wright’s modern film adaptation due to the explicit showcase of scenic shots included for entertainment. Through Austen’s implicit linguistic style, symbolic connections have been cleverly formed between Mr Darcy and the geographical location of his estate, Pemberley. The overall charm of the picturesque countryside enchants Elizabeth when she visits Pemberley for the first time, conveniently at the same time as her blossoming feelings are heavily developing. Much like the dignified Mr Darcy, his estate is a “handsome stone building” that “stand[s] on well rising ground”, referring to his rich inheritance that has established a solid foundation (pg. 439). Through his estate, Mr Darcy continues to be depicted as “a stream of…natural importance” that has “swelled” into the exuberant degree of pride that he beholds (pg. 439). Jane Austen has purposefully integrated this language in order to suggest to print readers that Elizabeth’s love for Mr Darcy is growing rapidly, even though she still remains ignorant to these feelings. Joe Wright has stayed consistent with the novel as Elizabeth’s admiration is still heavily developing when she visits Pemberley for the first time. However, these subtle connotations have been disregarded to prioritise the cinematic look of the film. Rather, intrinsic mise-en-scene – the composition of lighting, décor, props and costumes – has been developed in order to accentuate the grandeur of the estate. Bright beams of natural sunlight have been cast upon Pemberley, complementing the natural countryside that has been showcased. Original antique oil paintings from the 19th century form the décor, emphasising the rich heritage valued in the set time period. Classic props and costumes, like luxurious ball gowns with petticoats and Victorian suits with waistcoats, adorn the characters, adding to the artistic appeal. Though these attributes construct an aesthetically pleasing visual appeal, there is no establishment of well-developed literary devices. This absence of the original symbolic text has influenced Austen’s view of the degree of admiration Elizabeth shares for Mr Darcy to be lost in translation when producing the film, losing the meanings established within the literature.

With modern film directors increasingly recreating classic canonical novels through their art form, it is becoming evident that the respect to stay true to the original literature is absent. Jane Austen inundated British literature with her exquisitely written works of art; however, the 2005 film adaptation does little to bring justice to the language. The cinematic translation of Jane Austin’s timeless novel, Pride and Prejudice, has a primary focus on entertaining the audience, discrediting the esteemed literature due to the significant loss of beautifully crafted language and implied subtext featured throughout the novel. Though Austen’s values of rebelling against the profound social issues from the time are embedded within the text, the film follows generic preferences and focuses on romance. The modern film also chooses to over-exaggerate certain characters to entertain the audience, rather than maintaining the conventional attitudes that comprise the novel’s characters. Symbolic references that connect locations and characters in the novel have also been neglected as the film opts to cinematically showcase locations, neglecting the deeper representations. Despite the success of Wright’s adaptation, the lack of linguistic citations to Austen’s original canonical text and the purposeful choices to increase the entertainment factor for audiences, affirms whilst the novel is prized, the film has perished.

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