Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Joe Wright | 2hr 7min

It is evident that Joe Wright isn’t all that interested in creating a straight page-to-screen adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, as the 1995 BBC television miniseries is already there for anyone looking to scratch that itch. His cinematic interpretation of Jane Austen’s novel brings a stylistic and formal flair to Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy’s terse romance that we haven’t seen before, efficiently constructing the world of 19th century England in long takes that soar through lavish ballrooms, hallways, and mansions.

As we glide alongside his characters, we occasionally find ourselves detaching from one and hooking onto another, as if trying to eavesdrop on a little bit of every conversation going on. When we reach the ball scene, Wright’s camera sways and twirls around Elizabeth and Mr Darcy’s dance, binding them together in a whirlwind of tension that separates them from the rest of the crowd. By constantly adjusting our frame of reference Wright heightens the romantic impressionism of Elizabeth’s world, and keeps finding new ways to paint her and other characters within intricately blocked crowds and gorgeously adorned rooms.

Wright’s camera is just as much a part of the dance as Elizabeth and Mr Darcy, circling and swooning with them in this moment of unison.
Mr Darcy’s country estate, Pemberley, is an especially attractive set piece. The painted murals as backdrops and opulent decor here make for striking imagery.

Given how much the literary format lends itself to directly conveying a character’s personal thoughts, there is a challenge that Wright takes on in visually establishing the coldness of our main couple’s relationship while imbuing it with a touch of sensuality and yearning. He emphasises Mr Darcy’s hands in cutaways, usually betraying some sort of emotion that he is too taciturn to express. When the two lovers dance together at the ball, Elizabeth is one of the few women to not be wearing gloves, accentuating the skin-to-skin contact taking place between them.

All of this comes to a head in the final profession of love between the two. As Mr Darcy emerges from the early morning fog, Wright refuses to the push the camera forward like he has in almost every other scene. Instead, it is Darcy who makes the decisive movement to approach us, signifying his momentous opening up. When he and Elizabeth finally embrace, she notes the coldness of his hands, tying off the motif that has finally turned from subtext to text.

Wright hangs on this shot for 45 seconds, for the first time letting Darcy approach the camera rather than the other way round.

One must certainly give credit to Jane Austen for providing Joe Wright such a rich piece of literature to begin with, but it is the extra dimension of cinematic world building that lets this adaptation of Pride and Prejudice flourish. No doubt there were plot points were removed or condensed to fit the entire novel into two hours, but considered on its own there is nothing here that feels incomplete or missing. This is a full-bodied period piece brimming with visual detail, from the rolling green hills of the English countryside to the 19th century ballrooms, and there is little that can detract from the power of its romanticism.

Pride and Prejudice is currently available to stream on Binge, and available to rent or buy on iTunes, YouTube, and Google Play.


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