a vestige of thought...
Sunday, July 16, 2006
In case you're not tired of my P&P ramblings yet...
Obviously, being myself, I much prefer the book to any movie adaptation*. Jane Austen's skill at written observation and witty conversation remain unmatched to this day. Neither of the film versions can be best appreciated without first reading the book. My favorite attributes of each movie come as a result of their best capturing visually what Austen described in text. After each character/element listed I have indicated which version (old or new) I thought Austen's writing best portrayed.
Mr. Bennet- Old. The new Mr. Bennet loses mostly by fault of the movie's writers (though slightly by his manner of acting as well). Much of his witty dialogue from the book, and much of his love of laughing at the absurdity of the world has been omitted (or changed), resulting in a loss of depth for his character.
Mrs. Bennet- Old. I have heard people say that they prefer the new Mrs. Bennet because she is not so utterly ridiculous as the old one. I like the old one for just this reason. In the book Mrs. Bennet is a very laughable, ridiculous, somewhat obnoxious woman. The first Mrs. Bennet portrayed this excellently.
Jane Bennet- New. Jane's predominant characteristics in the book are beauty and simplistic goodness. She is a fairly one-dimensional character in that respect. Both Janes have all the goodness, but the second has much more of the beauty. She is indeed prettier than Kiera Knightly's Elizabeth and is much more believable as the reputed beauty of the country.
Elizabeth Bennet- Tie. Though Jennifer Ehle's Elizabeth receives the benefit of more Austen dialogue, Kiera Knightly portrays Elizabeth's spirit very well and I believe would have performed just as well in Miss Ehle's earlier roll.
Mary Bennet- Old. I love to laugh at the first Mary's ugliness and ridiculousness, t hough the new Mary is a bit more true to life. Still, in spite of the new Mary's realistic portrayal, the old one seems more like Jane Austen's Mary, a silly girl through and through.
Kitty Bennet- Undecided. Honestly, I can't remember enough about either Kitty to make a choice. She has such a minor roll that it does not much seem to matter who played her, except perhaps for her coughing ability (in which I believe both actresses to be equal).
Lydia Bennet- New. This one was close. Austen portrays Lydia as a thoughtless and selfish fifteen-year-old: both Lydias played this well, but I find the old Lydia to be more annoying than the one in the book and to look older than fifteen.
Mr. Bingly- New. Another tough choice. Both actors perform very well as Jane's slightly awkward and socially inept lover, but the new Bingly wins probably because he looks more as I imagined him when reading the book.
Miss Bingly- New. Austen describes Miss Bingly as proud, stuffy, and superior, but not as particularly foolish or ridiculous. I find the first Miss Bingly to be a bit too silly (I think it's something with her nose and all the feathers on her head). The new Miss Bingly is sharp-minded while still being the condescending jerk Austen wrote her as.
Mr. Darcy- Old. No competition here. While Matthew MacFadyen has his moments, there is no beating Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. Perhaps it was supposed to come across as pride and indifference, but I often felt MacFadyen's lines came across rushed and unconvincing. He improves as the movie goes on, but he never quite reaches Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy status. The writers also cost him points when they completely rearranged his first proposal to Elizabeth and much of his second. I knew that all hope was lost when "You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you" was replaced (in a later scene) with "You have bewitched me body and soul, and I love... I love... I love you." Not bad in general, but bad for Mr. Darcy.
Mr. Wickham- New. Though the new Mr. Wickham was given an unfortunately small amount of screen time, I found him much more convincing as a seemingly dashing and gentlemanly slimeball. The old Mr. Wickham was creepy the entire time. The new Mr. Wickham may have gotten me to trust him, if I had not already read the book and known his true character.
Georgiana Darcy- Tie. Both are very cute, sweet girls whom Mr. Darcy is an excellent brother to. The point of her character is to reveal goodness in her brother and the actresses in both movies accomplish this equally well.
Mr. Collins- Old. The first Mr. Collins was greasy, proud, awkward, and overwhelmingly obsequious. The second is as well, but to a much smaller degree. The first is much less likable, but much more entertaining (and much more like I imagined him in the book.)
Charlotte Lucas- Old. I'm not sure I can exactly pinpoint why I liked the first Charlotte best. Again I suspect the writers of the second are at fault. Much of what is stated in the book is omitted and much of what was insinuated is stated plainly. I don't like that.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh- Old. This I think is mostly personal taste. When I look at Lady Catherine in the new movie I think, "Hey look, it's Judy Dench." When I see her in the old movie I think, "Hey look, it's Lady Cathering de Bourgh." Plus, they consistently spell "de Bourgh" wrong in the subtitles of the new version.
Miss de Bourgh- Old. Miss de Bourgh does not speak in either movie, so my judgement is solely on appearance. The first Miss de Bourgh appears much more sickly and completely opposite everything Lady Catherine claims she "would have been if only..."
Colonel Fitzwilliam- Old. I know the book says that he was not handsome, but as the men in both movies are equally gentlemanly (though the first Colonel has more screen time to prove it), I have to choose the first since he is better looking. The second Colonel just looks... silly.
Overall, the A&E version is much better than the recent theatrical release. A lot of this has to do with the fact that five hours is a much more beneficial amount of time to tell the story than 2 hours. But there were a couple of things in particular that bothered me about the new version. The first is the reassigning and omitting of important lines. For example "What are men to rocks and mountains?" is given first to Mary and the to Mr. Gardiner, though it was originally said by Lizzie. The words mean vastly different things coming from such different characters and I don't see why they needed to be reassigned. The second, much related folly is that much of Austen's dialogue was rewritten to (I suppose) be more understandable to a 21st century audience. I don't see why "You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you" needed to be changed to "I love you. Most ardently." Darcy's entire manner if speech is much changed in a way I do not like at all. Austen wrote intelligently and much of her meaning was hinted at for the reader to pick up on his own. For example, in the book and first version of the movie we need not be told outright that Charlotte married Mr. Collins for matters of financial security in the future.
But of course, both movies are ultimately lacking, for movies never are as pleasing as their book origins. Neither adaptation contains all my favorite lines. Both, for example, are missing this one:
"I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps other people have said so before, but not one with such justice. I am even happier than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh."
*Adaptations not to be bothered with:
The 1940's version (I think) from which the only thing I recall is that Lady Catherine was in on a plot to secure Darcy and engagement with Elizabeth.
Bride and Prejudice, a musical adaptation taking place in present day India (if I remember correctly) that is full of exceptional cheesiness, bad dancing, and mysterious gospel choirs appearing on beaches. As dumb as it was, laughing at it with Laura was nearly worth the money spent renting it.