Well, this has been the month of Pride & Prejudice, and I don’t think I’ll ever be the same. After avoiding it for so long (my own prejudice), I finally gave it a chance, and immediately fell head over heels. I hardly know where to begin, it’s been such a journey. Not only have I watched it multiple times (the first three viewings were on three consecutive evenings — and I have probably doubled or tripled that number since then), I’ve also downloaded the soundtrack and listen when I’m driving, read multiple interviews with the director, read the biographies of cast members, joined a Facebook group (and posted), and bought and read a copy of the original Jane Austen novel it’s based on.
I don’t remember the last time I was so obsessed with something, if ever. And I’m not the only one, by far. It seems to have this effect on many. There’s something about it that’s hypnotic, magnetic, addictive. And I’m going to try to explain what it is.
First, as far as romantic cinematography goes, it’s love at first frame. Wide shots of the English countryside bathed in a soft glow from the sun? I want to live in it, and the feeling doesn’t let up through the entire film. Whether we’re seeing the run-down estate of Longbourn and its barnyard or the stately manors of Netherfield or Pemberley, every scene has an artistic value that somehow makes it beautiful without being stuffy (a downfall of many period pieces). This also goes for the costumes. Beauty and light just seem to be an intrinsic feature of this world — and when combined with the soundtrack and the language and the love story, it is simply an aural and visual feast.
I cried the first time I watched it. And I cried again the last time I watched it, too.
That’s the real measure of good art. If it moves you emotionally, spiritually — it’s done its job.
Yes, there is a real spirit to this film. Director Joe Wright nurtured it by requiring the cast to go through weeks of improv acting classes together, and it shows. You can feel the sense of connection between the characters, you can see it manifest in places in the film where their improv adds the touches you could never write in. You can easily feel like these people really exist, and are not just characters in a story. And so you feel pulled to it even more. So now it’s not just that I want to live in such a beautiful place, but I want to be part of such lively family and friends.
We see it in so many scenes, but almost immediately we get a highlight with the assembly ball, one of the clearest signs of days gone by, when the whole village is dressed up and dancing together at the town hall. Back when ballroom dancing was a thing, not to mention manners in behavior and dress. How far we have fallen…
And this is the crux of why this film holds such appeal to me and perhaps many others: because it’s escapism into a much, much better world. Even though I told myself that it’s completely fake and it would never happen in the real world, and quite possibly life in 1797 was not like this at all and would have been just as difficult for me as it is now… I can also feel myself totally withdrawing from modern life.
Which is the opposite of the message of the film. What makes the story what it is, is that the characters are simply living their lives. They are taking what they have been given, and making the most of it. They are living. What more can you do?
And yet, it’s not enough for our main protagonist, Elizabeth. She dares to want something more — she wants to be in love, and this is a time when women “can’t afford to be romantic”. Due to the entailment of her father’s estate, there’s a big push to marry the girls off as soon as possible, lest they fall victim to poverty — yet Lizzie continues to hold out. I can identify with this — it was a great disappointment to grow up and learn that people marry for many other reasons than love. I always believed love to be the highest ideal and goal in life.
And so, what’s so inspiring about Elizabeth is not the Cinderella story — that she ends up marrying one of the wealthiest men in the country (again, not realistic, but we’ll go along with it anyway) — but it’s that she finally ends up with what she wanted from the beginning: to marry for love.
If she only wanted money, she would have accepted Mr. Darcy’s first proposal. So it was important to the story that she didn’t, because this was a defining moment for her character — and his. (And the almost-kiss is where they awakened to what’s truly at stake here).
It was what forced him to grow up and realize that money could not buy everything. She brought him down to earth, quite literally as shown in the end of the film, which is full of symbolic moments like this.
She gives us hope that it is possible for us to get what we really want: happiness. The kind of happiness that can only come from love — true love. It’s an important distinction to make, because true love takes us through the fires of transformation, and we see it not only in Darcy but in Elizabeth too. The film is a coming-of-age story as much as a Cinderella story — Elizabeth matures into a self-aware woman. This was portrayed by Elizabeth’s hours-long examination of herself in the mirror after her falling out with Darcy, and an example of how director Joe Wright used film to visually convey literary concepts from the book; specifically, Elizabeth’s staring at herself in the mirror represents the line, “I did not know myself until now.”
The vague inclination could only turn into a fine, stout love when Elizabeth and Darcy matured themselves.
I love this film. I love everything about it; I could go on and on, and I see something new every time. The subtle double entendres, the hand scenes, the wistful stares, the woods of Pemberley, the ancient Norman aristocracy, the melodramatic way Ann turns her head down, the way Mrs. Bennet tells her girls not to be overbearing and then immediately talks over the men, even the shot of the pig’s testicles as what I consider to be a symbol of what the original story is meant to be: a satirical commentary of social class by breeding, which everyone knows and lives by, but is too polite to directly acknowledge (except, of course, Mr. Darcy, and Mrs. Bennet as well, who we see blushing after she gets an eyeful of the pig’s behind).
Everything feels like it’s meant to be there. It’s brilliantly written, casted, acted, shot, scored, and produced.
Haters will say it’s not true to the source material, but you have the 1995 BBC adaptation for that.
This is something else entirely.
This, is magic. It’s perfection.
I wouldn’t change a thing.
And that is high praise, coming from someone who normally wants to change everything.