by Carrie Sessarego
We all love a good adaptation of Pride and Prejudice – but not everyone loves the same one. Is your favorite the swooning romance of the 2005 movie starring Kiera Knightly’s enormous eyes and Matthey Macfadyen’s lack of cravat? Is it the 1995 BBC adaptation starring Colin Firth and his smoldering gaze? Or do you prefer a more quirky take on the story, like Bride and Prejudice, or Lost in Austen? Here are my personal rules for what themes from the book a movie should retain in order to be a good adaptation. Being faithful doesn’t mean using dialogue from the book, or the same place and time as a setting. It means conveying the book’s major themes and emotions. The following list is an excerpt from my book Pride, Prejudice, and Popcorn: TV and Film Adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre:
- Pride and prejudice are bad – some of the time. Austen points out that pride can be earned and constructive. Lizzy’s sense of pride, in the sense of self-respect, keeps her from what would surely have been a miserable marriage to Mr. Collins and from bowing to the wishes of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. But snobbery, or ‘overweening pride’, is destructive, and so is making snap judgments about others and being unwilling to reconsider them. Flexibility is key.
- The members of Lizzy’s family love and exasperate each other and feel a strong sense of responsibility toward each other. Lydia’s great sin is not so much that she runs away with Wickham, but that she fails to grasp, or care about, the effect her actions will have on her family. Although different adaptations can interpret the text quite differently with regard to, say, how Mr. and Mrs. Bennet feel about each other, it is clear that the family has a tight, if dysfunctional, bond and that Austen feels that you owe your family members some responsibilities.
- As in Jane Eyre, responsibility and service are important, but so is one’s own happiness. Lizzy is expected to care about her sisters and try to take care of them when they need help. She is not expected (by the reader, her father, or her sisters) to marry someone she loathes to keep the family out of debt (her mother is all for it, but we are clearly supposed to side with Lizzy on this issue).
- A revisionist version will necessarily take all kinds of liberties with the characters’ dress and behavior, but the core values of Austen should remain. Lizzy is admired (by the reader) for walking through mud to help her sister, and for being a fairly forthright and outspoken person and a loyal, if often misguided, friend. But although a certain amount of what we might call “liberated” behavior is appreciated, the outright rebellion that involves ignoring the consequences that fall on others is most certainly not tolerated. Intelligence, restraint, tact, and politeness tempered with authenticity are good things. How these values are expressed will depend on the setting of the adaptation, but they must be expressed in some form.
- Why is Darcy the ultimate romantic hero? There are many elements of Darcy that make him interesting and magnetic. His standoffish, brooding behavior gives him an air of mystery, which is augmented by the fact that his demeanor suggests that he is one kind of person: a snob. But the words of his friends and servants suggest that he is kind, generous, and friendly. Meanwhile, Wickham’s tales suggest that Darcy is a villain. Who is this man of mystery? Darcy also has the glow that comes with being unattainable. His very lack of interest in Lizzy is interesting. And of course Darcy has many qualities one might look for in a mate – he is healthy, good-looking, has high social status, and loads and loads of money.These are all qualities that make Darcy interesting – qualities that pose the question: might this person, who seems to be a jerk, actually be the ultimate hero? And what ultimately answers this question is Darcy’s actions during the Lydia disaster. Darcy undergoes physical discomfort, monetary loss, and incredible awkwardness to save Lydia, and thereby the Bennet family from ruin, and he does it without seeking credit. He tells Lizzy that he did it for her, but only after she tells him that she knows what he did. At this point it becomes clear that, while Darcy is a man of many flaws, he is what today would be called a stand-up guy. He is always there for his friends and his family.
Lizzy is impressed by Pemberly not just because it speaks of large amounts of money and status but because it demonstrates that Darcy is aware of his privilege and, like Spiderman, he knows that “with great power comes great responsibility”. He looks after his tenants. He is kind to his servants. He virtually raises his young sister. If anything, he is protective to a fault, as when he takes charge of Bingley’s love life. Lizzy can trust Darcy to support her, period. He respects her as a person, he is willing to examine his behavior and to grow, and helps Lizzy grow. Although Darcy may say tactless things, when the chips are down Darcy will never, ever let Lizzy down if he can help it. And that, my friends, is romantic.
To read Carrie’s full, interesting take on P&P, check out her book at Amazon.
Carrie Sessarego is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Popcorn: Tv and Film Adaptations of Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, and Jane Eyre. She’s also the ‘geek reviewer’ for smartbitchestrashybooks.com, and the creator and writer of geekgirlinlove.com. When not reading and writing, you can find Carrie volunteering for the Sacramento Public Library, and getting into trouble with her mad scientist husband, amazing daughter, suitably mysterious cats, and highly neurotic dog. Carrie’s zombie apocalypse kit contains copies of Jane Eyre, Lord of the Rings, and many, many Oreos.