The Modern Mrs. Darcy is not a Jane Austen blog. But since the Modern Mrs. Darcy takes its title and byline from Jane Austen’s most famous work, I thought it would be fun to examine the many different versions of Pride and Prejudice on film. I’m sticking to straight adaptations, and skipping Bride and Prejudice, Bollywood, the Mormon adaptation, and–heaven help us–Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
Today we’re going to start with the 2005 version, starring Keira Knighley and Matthew Macfadyen as Elizabeth and Darcy, and clocking in at 2:09.
What’s this version like?
P&P 2005 was produced by Focus Features, the art house films division of Universal. It shows. I enjoyed 2005 for its art-house features: its beauty, vivid imagery and the heavy use of symbolism. Blackbirds are heard singing in many of Elizabeth’s scenes. Claps of thunder punctuate the heated conversation following Darcy’s first proposal. Light and color are used to great effect.
Who is Elizabeth in 2005?
Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth is young–she was 20 years old at the time of filming, nearly matching Jane Austen’s description of Lizzie as 21. Knightley’s Lizzy embodies the “mixture of archness and sweetness” attributed to her by Jane Austen. Lizzie is quick-witted and lively, and wears her heart on her sleeve (at least for 1797, when the film is set). She’s authentic–and often dressed in earth tones for emphasis. She doesn’t give much thought to her appearance, but cares greatly about conduct.
This Elizabeth would never be mistaken for the accomplished woman as described by Mr. Darcy.
Who is Darcy in 2005?
Matthew Macfadyen plays Darcy very charitably: his “pride” is due to shyness and social awkwardness, not snobbishness or superiority. But his Darcy is a static character: he gets nicer, but he doesn’t fundamentally change. I felt this was the biggest disappointment in this adaptation.
What’s to Love in the 2005 Version
Elizabeth and Darcy have great chemistry: Knightley and Macfadyen do a great job of firing off at each other, as evidenced in one of my favorite scenes:
Rosamund Pike plays an excellent–and believable–Jane. Director Joe Wright says the film is “an expression of how difficult it is to fall in love–how difficult, how terrifying to let yourself go.” Jane’s character conveys this message well. I love her small touches–the way she cranes her neck to check out the men at the ball, and the casual small talk she makes with Bingley upon being introduced. (“I wish I had more time for reading–there’s always so much else to do!”)
The movie’s realism makes it easy for the 21st century viewer to empathize with these 18th century characters.
What’s Not as Lovable in the 2005 Version
The film moves at a blistering pace, and the plot has been simplified and streamlined. Some characters were dropped altogether. The dialogue has been condensed, making some lines seem trite, and lessening the suspense (like when Lydia is missing).
2005 also has some clunky dialogue. Like Charlotte declaring to Lizzy her intention to marry Mr. Collins, and storming off with “Don’t you dare judge me!” Or when Lizzy tells her parents she won’t marry Mr. Collins, and runs out of the scene yelling “You can’t make me!” And I have a hard time believing any Mr. Darcy would tell Elizabeth he had “scruples about our relationship.”
Clumsy dialogue takes away from some scenes, but Bingley especially is often hitting the wrong notes. The way Simon Woods plays him, he comes off as a doofus. (The accomplished woman scene is the worst!)
Favorite Original Scene:
The director made up this scene to hurry the plot along, but I love it. Bingley and Darcy leave the Bennet home after a visit, and Bingley is frustrated that he didn’t get an opportunity to propose to Jane. Darcy and Bingley are shown on the lawn, rehearsing how Bingley’s proposal should have gone.
Scene That Makes You Cringe:
Mr. Collins’s proposal to Lizzy is painful to watch–for all the right reasons. He gets her alone in the dining room after breakfast: the room’s a mess, there are dirty dishes everywhere, and a giant ham sits right in front of Lizzy on the table–signifying quite well what Mr. Collins thinks of marriage. Then the bumbling, insulting speech, and her insistence that no means no? It’s painful to watch! (Poor Charlotte!)
- Bingley and Jane used to date in real life. So in the film he got to court and later propose to his ex-girlfriend–who then accepted her ex-boyfriend.
- The British and American versions have different endings, because the final scene of Lizzy and Darcy talking in the moonlight at Pemberley didn’t test well with British focus groups, and was cut from the European release.
The Final Word
If you’re a Jane Austen fan, by all means, see this version! It doesn’t mirror the book, but it’s not intending to (nor should it). But it’s a lovely film, and even die-hard Pride and Prejudice fans will enjoy the fresh perspectives brought to the characters by the talented cast. (Well, except for Mr. Bingley.)