Oh my! Oh no! (updated)

I swore to myself that I wouldn’t do it, that I would resist, that to give in and look at the trailer for the latest version of Pride and Prejudice would just make me ropeable at worst, sad at best. Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett? Ack! Yeah, I know there are worse actors out there, who’d be even more ludicrously miscast, but it doesn’t make her any less of a crap choice.

I’m not a Knightley fan. I know it’s not her fault, but I’ve never forgiven her for becoming the famous one after Bend it Like Beckham, when it was the luminous Parminder Nagra who stole that movie, not Knightley. Now Nagra’s on ER and Knightley’s everywhere. Where’s the justice?

And let’s just say I didn’t have high hopes that the folks what made Love, Actually were going to do right by Miss Austen. But watch the trailer I did, only to discover that it’s more shockingly awful than the one for the 1940 Greer Garson Pride and Prejudice. At least that one (and the film) can be excused because of its camp value. This one, well. Is the film a satire of bad historical adaptations? I really hope so. Throughout Darcy looks incapable of keeping his shirt on, Elizabeth Bennett is shrill, and in two of the scenes it looks like the two are about to go the tongue! Bloody hell! Did the film makers even read the book?

And you know what? Elizabeth Bennett was not a woman ahead of her time. She was very much of it, shocked by sex before marriage, with no ambitions for herself other than becoming the wife of a good man. I could go on but it’s been said much better here.

Still, seeing the trailer was a very good thing—my loins are now well girded against seeing the actual movie. The thought of it goes well beyond shudder territory.

Update: Just to make it clear—I am no Jane Austen purist. My favourite adaptions of her work are Amy Hackerling’s Clueless (1995), Patricia Rozema’s Mansfield Park (1999), and Gurinder Chadha’s Bride and Prejudice (2004). Hah, all directed by women. I never noticed that before.


  1. goss on #

    well, you’ll be pleased to hear that ms. knightley’s perfect skin in P & P was achieved by the work of many digital artists working long days to remove all blemishes…

  2. Justine on #

    There’s nothing wrong with having non-perfect skin. I would never hold that against Knightley or anyone else. Who amongst us has perfect skin? The travesty that is this new movie and her agreeing to be part of it? That I hold against her.

  3. Clio on #

    Sent here by Cassie, who knew I would agree with everything you’ve said here. I find Ms. Knightley to be entirely uninteresting, and I’ve been railing about the Nagra-Knightley discrepancy for a few years now. (I also think Ms. Nagra is prettier, but that’s neither here nor there.)

    I’m very down on this film. I think she might be wearing trousers in one scene, which is upsetting. Never mind, yes, all the almost-snogging, which is ridiculous.

    I actually don’t mind the Greer Garson-Lawrence Olivier film that much, possibly because they are so perfectly cast. The time shift for no reason is a bit off putting (until you realize the studio had a lot of costumes left over from all those antebellum films they were doing) as is that bizarre archery scene, but it could have been so much worse.

    But this film? For the love of Mike, WHY?

  4. lili on #

    actually, i thought it was okay. i was expecting to despise it (because of the evil poppet), but i am a bit in love with matthew mcfadden, so i went along. and whilst keira was certainly the worst performance of the lot, she wasn’t as terrible as i had been expecting. just extremely flat chested (which wouldn’t have been a problem, but jennifer ehle had such a fabulous bosom).
    the gritty realism thing totally worked for me, though. and (and i realise i may be stoned for saying this) matthew mcfadden was just as good a mr darcy as colin firth (ducks).

  5. goss on #

    It’s in her contract to have them removed so I’ve heard…though it’s more upsetting that they removed harry potter’s pimples – I mean he’s supposed to be a gawky teenager!!

  6. harriet on #

    I was also expecting to loathe it – the trailer was unspeakably awful – but in the end I liked it much more than expected. I did a full writeup of it on my blog (www.whitegauntlet.com.au/harriet/) – the longest film writeup I’ve ever done – but basically, while there were a lot of things I didn’t like about it (mainly historical insensitivity and removal of Austen dialogue) I found it overally to be a quite pleasant romantic comedy. It wasn’t actively offensive, but it wasn’t really Jane Austen either – I’d rate it below the BBC production, which itself is below the book.

    Incidentally, I suspect Elizabeth’s figure is probably meant to be closer to Kiera Knightley’s than Jennifer Ehle’s. Not to say she’s a stick insect, but when it says Jane is “not so light” as Elizabeth, I take this to mean that she is the one better endowed in the bosom department.

    Have to disagree slightly with Lili about Matthew MacFadyen – while I found him a perfectly enjoyable and appealing romantic lead, for me he wasn’t really Mr Darcy. Colin Firth (both in performance, and in the script he had to work with) came closer to my personal vision of the character.

  7. Cecil on #

    1) one scene reinvented in nice way. I thought it hot.

    2) ending “americanized” to make it more satisfying to US audience. I hated it. I vomited in my own mouth. Apparently ends differently (ie. as it does in the book) (kind of) in the U.K.

    3) only “good” thing about the movie is the swag I got: A T-shirt that says “Mrs. Darcy” on it.

    4) but if you see “American” ending, then the t-shirt is gross.

    5) just please give me the A & E version or the actual novel, all the time. 24/7 please.

    6) Can’t wait to hear what you have to say.

  8. niki on #

    lets face it you’ll never do P & P justice in a 2 hr film that’s why the TV series was so good ..

  9. harriet on #

    Care to share about the “Americanized” ending? No idea which version I saw in Australia – final scene was on Mr Bennet, and was more or less from the book, but I can see why one might freak out about the second proposal scene that came before it. (A bit embarrassed to admit I got sucked in by the proposal scene, even though I wanted to hate it.)

    Or does the US version have something else after Mr Bennet? And would this be something I *really* don’t want to know about?

  10. ex-parker on #

    i like ms knightly. in fact, I think she is a honey (let it be noted that i also think ms nagra is a honey and that i didn’t realise one could only like one or the other – i thought they were both terrific in b.i.l.b.).

    however, i have to admit that when i heard she was cast as elizabeth – i was an unbeliever. i couldn’t see her in the role.

    and i still haven’t seen it – but my bestest friend in the world (hello janie) assures me knightley does a good job and that despite the terrible trailer, it’s a an enjoyable film.

    no film is ever going to do a book justice – especially not a book like p & p, so why expect it. before viewing, i am much happier to be hopeful, than to hate on hearsay!

  11. Diana Peterfreund on #

    I like both Knightley and Nagra. I’m loving Nagra in E.R. I even like the chick who played Nagra’s sister (and my boyfriend maintains that *she’s* the real hottie in BILB).

    This is DVD film for me though, mostly because I love Jena Malone (Saved! Donnie Darko), who plays Lydia. And having suffered through the Garson/Olivier out of love for Garson/Olivier more times than I care to admit (dude, what is *with* Lady C in that film? Gak!), I don’t think I need to suffer any other sub-par P&P adaptations.

    I’ll wait. In the meantime I have… oh, about five copies of the book and a big lovely DVD of the BBC/A&E version.

  12. Justine on #

    Thanks so much for all the responses! Wow, mentioning Jane Austen is as effective as putting up a picture of a kitten for drawing comments!

    Clio: any friend of Cassie’s is a friend of mine! Especially as you agree with me about everything. We likes that here, we does. I quite like the Garson/Olivier film, too. And am amused by all the liberties they take with the book especially (as Diana mentions below) the heart-of-gold Lady Catherine de Burgh! WTF? But also very giggle worthy.

    Lili: I’m not big on Colin Firth. To be honest I haven’t liked any Darcy in any screen version. Even Olivier doesn’t quite work for me. To be honest, I don’t think any actor ever will be right. Darcy was my first book crush. I’m scared the world will come to a grinding halt should the one true Darcy find his way onto the screen.

    Goss: that is a bit off about Harry Potter. He should have zits. I imagine, though, that most actors would have zit removal in their contracts. The pressure on them to be perfect is kind of insane.

    Harriet: Hmmm, if you liked it then I really should check it out. You’re not tricking me, are you? On the other hand, I wasn’t wild about the BBC production, most of it was okay, but the last episode made me unhappy.

    Cecil: What Harriet said, yes, please, do explain what the American ending is! Are the A&E version and the BBC vers. one and the same? Dunno, if I can bring myself to see it, but if I do I promise to speak at length on the subject.

    Niki: yeah, it is a bit of a cram. TV series seems the better format.

    Ex-Parker: It’s the whiff of racism about Knightley being taken up so enthusiastically by Hollywood and Nagra not. (Plus, as I say, I am underwhelmed by her acting, and was so amazed by Nagra’s I niavely thought she was going to be the big star.) I now keep a tally of how many non-whites get to speak every time I see a Hollywood film and it’s frightening. Weirdly, the fashion industry (though reprehensible in many ways) is better than Hollywood on this front. Flick through the pages of Vogue and I guarantee it won’t be all white (though it will be all skeletal).

    I have no problem with adaptations not being faithful, to be honest, I prefer it. In fact, that’s why the trailer of this one so horrified me.

    Diana: Bend it Like Beckhman was wall-to-wall hotties. I just think Nagra’s the better actor.

    I think you’re right about it being a DVD number. Jenna Malone! She’s fabulous. You know, I think I’ll just reread the book on the way back to Sydney. Though that would mean transplanting my NYC copy . . . Hmmm, maybe I’ll just reread it once I get home!

  13. Diana Peterfreund on #

    and don’t forget, in Saved! they let jenna have zits like, you know, a teen.

  14. Justine on #

    That was, indeed very cool. Everything about that Saved! made me happy.

    Of course, it’s not just teens what get zits. I’ll never forget my horror when I realised that I was in my twenties—no longer a teen—and I still had zits. Would they ever leave my life? Apparently not. But why wasn’t I warned?

  15. Abigail on #

    Justine, I’m with you on Clueless, and I even liked Mansfield Park (although I thought it made a slightly troubling statement about Austen’s life), but we part ways on Bride and Prejudice. I was eager to like this film, but it just made all the mistakes I outlined in my post – Elizabeth is perfect, Darcy is a rake, Elizabeth is exceptional in her community. Plus, although the idea of transplanting the story to middle-class India seemed brilliant when I first heard about the movie, the filmmakers ended up shying away from the troubling aspects of this society, and therefore undercutting what little sense of urgency and danger exists in the book. When Lydia elopes with Wickham, she’s ruined. When Lakhi runs off with Johnny, all she has to do is say she’s sorry (and she very soon is, unlike Lydia who never understands that she’s done something wrong) in order to be brought back into the bosom of the family, no harm done.

  16. Justine on #

    Abigail: I completely agree with you about Bride and Prejudice and yet I still like it. It’s the songs, you see. I’m a sucker for musicals.

    Thanks so much for your wonderful Pride and Prejudice post. It made me so very very happy!

  17. Abigail on #

    Ah. I have to admit the songs didn’t do much for me. I’ve heard B&P described as ‘Bollywood Lite’, but I still couldn’t quite make the adjustment (except for the first musical scene in the engagement party but that’s because of Naveen Andrews… sigh).

    I was going to thank you in my previous comment for your kind words about my post and I forgot. Bad Abigail! So now I’ll thank you twice.

  18. Justine on #

    I’m a total sucker for musicals, teen movies, and westerns and watch even the very worst of each with much pleasure. I’m not very good explaining why this is so especially when it comes to musicals. I just love people moving in synch.

    Not bad Abigail at all. I don’t think it’s necessary to thank someone for thanking you. I mean then I have to thank you for thanking me for thanking you and it could get endless!

  19. claire on #

    i gotta agree with abigail about bride and prejudice. not good bollywood, not good hollywood, not a good adaptation. abigail was right on the mark about the sense of urgency and danger–to lydia, to lizzy and jane, to all women. sex is dangerous in austen’s world, in a way it simply cannot be in ours, even with aids and date rape. i’ve been wanting to write my own update of p&p for years but i haven’t been able to find an adequate analogy for lydia’s danger in the modern world. i tried putting her in the porn world, but we now live in a western world where women make their own porn and advocate for unionizing sex work. even porn and sex work don’t put you beyond the social pale anymore.

    although lydia’s defection is a sub-plot that feeds into the main plot, it wasn’t until i tried to find a modern analogy for it (and failed) that i realized that lydia’s fall was central to the plot, the dark center that was the other side of the coin from the light center of lizzy and darcy’s relationship. austen sacrificed lydia so that she could embody for the reader the dark side of women’s search for a place in life. i’ve always been aware that the five bennet sisters represented the gamut of women’s responses to their situation, but i had always stayed on the surface of lydia’s story, and assumed that darcy saved her. darcy didn’t save her. lydia fell and stayed fallen. try to imagine a place nowadays where middle class western women can fall to and stay fallen.

    whoops, sorry, i didn’t mean to lecture. yes, i agree that the new version of p&p (do we really need ANOTHER one?) looks hideous. but how can hollywood make p&p really TELL if there isn’t this horrible pit of blackness underneath them that no one will look directly at and no one will comment upon, but everyone knows is there? hollywood doesn’t SEE the pit of blackness.

  20. claire on #

    oh, and i’ll probably be lynched, but i thought that sense and sensibility was the most faithful austen adaptation ever. when i heard that hugh grant was going to play edward ferrars i almost convulsed at the perfectness of it. how many actors can say that they were created to play a role?

  21. Diana on #

    I like Bridget Jones, too. 😉

    I love Ang Lee’s S&S, it’s just so beautifully realized, and everyone is so stunning you almost don’t notice the lenient casting (Emma Thompson is amazing all-round, her script is amazing, but she does as well as she can as Elinor), but I think my favorite after P&P is Persuasion. When I first read the book, I idnd’t like Anne, I thought she was such a schmuck. Surely I would speak up… *sometime*. But the movie made it clear for me, and now I read and enjoy both. That letter scene kills me and has always done so. One thing about Austen, her men write great letters. And I never htought I’d say this abotu Gwyneth, but I prefer her Emma to kate Beckinsale (and the guy who played Mr. Knightly in the KB version had *severe* anger management issues.)

    Finally saw this trailer. I suppose i was prepared for something much worse. Looks like the usual trailer chop job for me — the editor was looking to appeal to people who don’t understand the story. Though that kissing bit might be unforgiveable. could be worse, though, all over.

  22. Abigail on #

    If liking the Thompson/Lee S&S is wrong, I don’t want to be right. But for me, the highlight of the film is Kate Winslet – it’s hard to believe she was just, what, 18? 20? She was perfect (and incidentally, that’s about Keira Knightly’s age now).

    Claire, that’s some fascinating stuff about P&P. I’ve always had trouble with the function of Mary and Kitty in the story, and I really like the notion of the five sisters representing ‘the gamut of women’s response to their situation’ (although frankly, I still think Kitty doesn’t have a role – she’s not much more than a milder Lydia).

  23. Jenny D on #

    great thread. i agree with the lydia-as-sacrifice point, and i think you’d have to really change things around to find a modern equivalent: say, make her a married woman who loses custody of her children because of running off with a lover or descending into heroin addiction or something. she has to really lose something/be cut off in a way that we have only partial sympathy for.

  24. janet on #

    Sigh. I was clinging to the lovely idea of Judy Dench as Lady Catherine, but I saw the trailer for this new p&p a few weeks ago, and it did look dreadful. Probably will wait for the DVD.

    cecil: cough up. What’s the americanized ending? It’s not like you can spoil it for us.

    I presume that when you mention the bbc P&P, you’re talking about the one from a few years ago. I tried to watch it but couldn’t cotton to it. Anybody here familiar with the 1980’s version, with screenplay by Fay Weldon? There are things in it that grate (e.g. Mary being portrayed as a bad pianist, when in the book she’s technically good but doesn’t know how to entertain people), but it gets the essentials right, I think. The comic characters are particularly well done: I defy anybody to ever portray Mr. Collins more perfectly, and Mrs. Bennet is wonderfully dreadful — and yet you can still dimly see the young woman who first attracted Mr. Bennet.

    I liked the movie of sense & sensibility, too, but except for a couple of scenes I think the 1995 persuasion is my favorite movie adaptation. Mansfield park is an interesting movie, but not austen (which is fine — I prefer movie-makers taking liberties and doing something interesting to being slavishly faithful and ending up with something dead).

  25. harriet on #

    Oooh, the pressure that my recommendation might cause you to change your mind and see it!

    I think basically, I liked it with the part of my brain that also liked Green Card, and When Harry Met Sally, and French Kiss, and Four Weddings, and even (parts of) Love Actually. [Though I don’t like romantic comedies indiscriminately – hated Sleepless in Seattle.] This part of my brain is also engaged by Pride and Prejudice, but of course Austen also has so much more to offer to the rest of my brain. In the book, the romantic soft centre is surrounded by all sorts of other things, but in the film it’s all there is. So while I had a good time, and will probably be adding the DVD to my collection, I can fully appreciate that there will be other Austen fans who won’t. But I do maintain that it is nowhere near as horrible as the trailer suggests … though I still want to know whether I saw the Americanized ending or the UK version.

    Claire – I thought your “Lydia as victim” piece was really interesting, but I’m not quite 100% convinced. Yes, she has totally messed up her life, but I don’t think she completely “stays fallen” – after all, she “retained all the claims to reputation which her marriage had given her”, which is a stark contrast to Eliza (in fact, both Elizas) in Sense and Sensibility. So I think Darcy does save her, to an extent. But I agree it’s hard to come up with a good modern parallel for her situation.

    Since everyone else is talking about their favourite Austen films, I might as well play too. Loved Clueless (finally realised Emma can be a likeable character), Sense and Sensibility (maybe a bit too “light bright and sparkling”, but captured the social constraints on emotion really well) and BBC Pride and Prejudice (though it seemed to lose focus after Lydia’s elopement). Didn’t see Bride and Prejudice. Loathed Gwyneth Paltrow Emma, and (sorry Justine!) Mansfield Park – IMHO, if you hate Fanny Price so much you have to completely reinvent the character, then just maybe you should think about choosing a different book for your film adaptation. Actually, Fanny is such a controversial character – and so much a product of her time – that I’m not convinced it would be possible to do a good adaptation nowadays. I wanted to like Persuasion – I really did – and parts of it were truly excellent, but other parts were just so wrong it took me ages to recover from them and get back into the flow of it.

    Abigail – loved your “4 Popular Misconceptions” post. Thanks heaps, Justine, for putting a link to it.

  26. claire on #

    abigail: actually, i think kitty is in a way the most important sister, because she’s the one sister whose fate is left entirely undecided. it’s clear that mary is headed for spinsterhood and the other three are disposed of in good, bad and indifferent marriages. in a weird way, she’s the audience for the theater that her four sisters play out. she’s the judge, because her subsequent behavior will emulate one or another sister’s example, and vindicate that sister.

    i think this is why austen chose to make her older, rather than younger than lydia. she has age–and more time with her older sisters–to counterbalance lydia’s fatal thoughtlessness. but kitty also represents a type, or a female strategy, that was probably very common in austen’s time: a woman who looks to others for an example of how to behave, rather than determining her own course. in this way she’s the opposite of lizzy.

    jane, mary and lydia are three strategies: unbalanced faith, unbalanced accomplishment, and unbalanced self-assertion. lizzy combines the three, in moderation, with self-reflection and a sense of humor. kitty watches the three examples, without self-awareness or ironic distance, and follows whichever one overpowers her at that moment.

    harriet: one of the things about jane austen’s writing that i most want to learn how to do, is to say something, deadpan, and mean the exact opposite. it’s perfectly clear from her wrap-up of the wickhams’ subsequent life that they have lost their reputations in good society permanently. they careen from anonymity to anonymity and sully their reputations again each time. they are condemned to fall and fall and fall, forever, without hope of redemption.

    in austen’s world, marriage makes character. you have to show character to make a good marriage. the good marriage then takes your basis of good character and builds upon it. a good marriage is the making of you. a bad marriage does the reverse: it condemns your character. lydia is unable to recognize or correct her own faults of character, and so she is married for life to the one man who can guarantee that she will never be able to recognize or correct her faults of character.

  27. harriet on #

    I’ll admit the sentence about Lydia’s claim to reputation is one that gave me problems for years, and I almost didn’t post in case my interpretation is the wrong one. Is Austen saying the *fact* of Lydia’s marriage allowed her to regain her reputation, or the *manner* of it lost her reputation for ever? In the end, I decided to take it literally. Yes, the Whickhams have a crap life, always moving from place to place, always spending more than they ought – they seem even less secure than that other bad marriage, Mr and Mrs Price. On the other hand, Elizabeth gives them money, Darcy helps Wickham in his profession, Lydia sometimes stays at Pemberley (when Wickham is in Bath or London), and they both stay with the Bingleys. Compare this with what *might* have been Lydia’s fate: the first Eliza in Sense and Sensibility is divorced, has a series of lovers, is in a spunging-house for debt and dies of consumption at a young age.

    I totally agree with what you have to say about marriage making character: it was certainly the case for Eliza and Mrs Price and Mr Bennet and Mr Palmer, and heaps of others, that they would have been very different people if they had made better marriages.

    If one is allowed to take into account things the author says outside the pages of the book – and I’m well aware there are many good arguments against it (I’m sort of on the fence about the whole subject) – then didn’t Austen say that both Mary and Kitty eventually married? Mary to a curate/clergyman near Pemberley and Kitty into the military? Or am I imaginging this?

  28. janet on #

    Claire — It strikes me that one of the great obstacles to updating the story is not just how to portray Lydia’s fate, but also how to portray the impact of Lydia’s actions on the rest of the family — which is to disgrace them all and possibly prevent any of her sisters from ever marrying. Lydia’s marriage doesn’t redeem her, but it does allow the Bennet family to save face. I can’t think of a modern equivalent.

  29. Charlotte May on #

    Maybe wishful thinking Harriet, Austen tells us that both sisters benefit with Mary remaining with her parents and Kitty spending most of her time with either Jane or Elizabeth.
    Your imagined future for them made me wonder about all the other scenarios being developed out of her various unfinished stories of the unmarried young, or even not so young!

    In regard to modern parallels, I loved Karen Joy Fowler’s take on it all in her Book Club.
    Jane Austen LIVES!!!!!

  30. harriet on #

    Finally tracked it down, though I was way out on the details. In “A Memoir of Jane Austen”, J. E. Austen-Leigh says “She would, if asked, tell us many little particulars about the subsequent career of some of her people. … Kitty Bennet was satisfactorily married to a clergyman near Pemberley, while Mary obtained nothing higher than one of her uncle Philips’ clerks, and was content to be considered a star in the society of Meriton”. Though, of course, we don’t know if this was a deeply thought out plan, or just a complete off-the-cuff comment (I suspect the latter!) I’d say it’s pretty unlikely to have been something she had in mind when actually writing the book, or she surely would have included it.

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