Pride and Prejudice: The Book, The Film
Jane Austen initially named her first work as First Impressions, which was written between October 1796 and August 1797. After major changes were made on the manuscript, it was finally published in 1813 with its revised title: Pride and Prejudice. It tells a story of the Bennet family, mainly focusing on its heroine Elizabeth Bennet and her relationship with her sisters, her parents, neighbours, and suitors. There is a strong theme of wealth in terms of inheritance (because the law of the time stated that wealth is only inherited from father to son, not daughters), and marriage is often seen as not only a union between two people, but it also includes their families as well as the fortune that comes with them.
The film adaptation that I’m referring to and will be discussing about in this video is the 2005 Hollywood adaptation, directed by Joe Wright, written by Deborah Moggach, starring Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy.
The copy that I have of the book is more than 400 pages long. And that’s 400 pages worth of dialogue, inner thoughts, and establishing scenes that savvy kids these days call an “info dump”. But hey, you can’t blame Austen for not using the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule. This book was published back in 1813. That’s more than 200 years ago. How’s that for perspective?
The Strengths and Weaknesses of Books and Films
Books and films are two types of media that are easily accessible to a lot of us. With the rise of on-demand channels for easy access to films and digital copies of books (in both written and spoken forms), these two are the go-to media for entertainment. However, each medium has constraints and also advantages of their own.
Fiction in the form of written word allows readers to freely imagine the worlds in which the narrative takes place. Also, there are no limits in terms of time. A written story can be short or it can be as long as a continuous saga that expands the story across several books. As long as the story attracts the readers old and new, a writer can stretch out the world of their protagonists to as far as they want to go. But, keep in mind that the world of a story can go as far as the readers’ imagination. Should the story not be descriptive enough or if it is too specialised to be discerned by a larger group of readers, there is a chance that a book or a series of books will not take off, or it would encounter harder times to expand from one group of fans to another.
It is a different ball game altogether, even if it is the same story. Films have the ability to show instead of just telling. Elements arranged in a scene, or the mise en scene, can portray a general or specific idea within a single shot. This is unlike the novel, which would require a fairly wordy description to relay the writer’s idea to the readers. However, even with the most descriptive set of information, readers can still read a scene differently from other readers. In a film, everything’s already specified with what the audience can see onscreen.
Despite having this visual and audio advantage, there are some weaknesses to this medium. Aside from being generally more expensive than books in terms of production, films have a very limited amount of time to get from the beginning to the end. A standard film would require around an hour to 2 hours runtime. Filmmakers need to note that, unlike a book, a single film is usually watched within one seating at the cinema. So if the runtime goes longer than 3 hours, the audience’s attention might not be focused on the story anymore, but may be shifted to something else.
Adaptation: A Process
The process of making an adaptation from an existing material is not an easy task. One must not only understand the story completely, but they need to be clear with the characters that appear in the story. They need to understand their nature, their nuances, their motives. Unless.. if the adaptation only takes the general idea of the story. If that’s the case, it’s recommended that the adaptation is given a different title from the source material. For example, take Mary Shelley’s novel ‘Frankenstein’, which is also known as ‘The Modern Prometheus’ (because of the whole going against the gods aspect: Prometheus bringing fire back from Zeus and Victor Frankenstein bringing the dead back to life).
The Effective Adaptation of Pride and Prejudice
First off, a disclaimer: I understand that people hold different opinions about adaptations, so I’m gonna say this now. There’s no such thing as a perfect adaptation. But there are ways to make the story suitable for a film while still remaining faithful to the source material.
From this film, I’ve found a number of methods that’s been used to make an effective adaptation: from a 400-page novel into an-hour-and-a-half-long film.
Understand that novels and films work different
As I’ve stated earlier, books and films have their own set of strengths and weaknesses, such as time, presentation, etc.
Merging scenes and overlapping dialogue
In the film, these three chapters were compiled into an early scene at Longbourn with some minor changes, which includes Mr Bennet already visiting the Bingleys, however this alteration still gave the same effect as the book did, as this continuous scene builds up to Mr Bennet teasing his wife and creating excitement for the Bennet girls.
The same goes for overlapping dialogue. It might be missable for audiences who are not familiar with the source material, but this really helps in saving time and making the scene more realistic. This is because real conversations are hardly turn-taking and speeches tend to overlap in natural conversations. Take this scene for example:
In this scene, Mr Bennet and Mrs Bennet’s lines overlap with one another. Aside from the point I’ve mentioned earlier, when lines overlap like this, we can save time in the film. Additionally, it establishes Mrs Bennet’s character. We can see here that despite Mr Bennet’s remark, she continues listing down the names of Mr Bingley’s dance partners throughout the ball the previous evening. This showed that Mrs Bennet is more concerned about her daughters’ marital prospects than what her husband has to say.
Also you can read into Mr Bennet’s character, who despite Mrs Bennet’s seemingly harsh comment, he was able to just brush it off, making him appear to be spoiling his wife. Kinda sweet of Mr Bennet.
Removal of minor characters and scene
There are a few minor characters removed and some still remained in the film but their roles were significantly reduced. For example, Mr and Mrs Hurst (Bingley’s sister and brother in law) were removed completely from the film. Hence, the scenes with Caroline Bingley and Elizabeth discreetly arguing is cut short, because Mrs Hurst wasn’t there to gang up against the lonely Miss Bennet as she waits for her sister to recover. It should be noted that Elizabeth wrote to her mother several times to take them home due to this constant bullying, to which her mother refused. Repeatedly.
Although I’ve mentioned earlier that some balls scenes are merged together, a lot of them were removed completely. One of which had Mary perform in a smaller group, which the other guests praised her for. The Netherfield ball performance was also there in the book, and it was there when we find out that Mary could not perform in a larger room because she had to strain her voice, unlike in her previous performance. In the film, only the latter scene was shown.
Aside from that, Mr Collins had a lot of lines removed. For a good reason, perhaps. Even though Tom Hollander’s performance has captured the unlikeable characteristics of Mr Collins as he was an ignorant person with a holier-than-thou attitude, in the book, those characteristics are cranked up to 11. Because in the novel, Mr Collins not only talk about how great he is as a person and how he worships his patroness Lady Catherine de Bourgh, but he downright insults others to make sure they know how great he is.
This is a sample of what he said to Elizabeth when she advised him against introducing himself to Mr Darcy as it would suggest impertinence:
‘…Pardon me for neglecting to profit by your advice, which on every other subject shall be my constant guide, though in the case before us I consider myself more fitted by education and habitual study to decide on what is right than a young lady like yourself.’ (p. 109)
Safe to say that the dialogue remained in the film is sufficient enough to make the audience feel annoyed at him, and not make Elizabeth feel as though she was attacked by this statement. Because if you’ve watched the film, her demeanor is changed up a lot from the book.
I will discuss more on Lizzie’s change later.
Concise dialogue and acting
One of the best advantages of film is the visual aspect. You can show something on screen at an appropriate angle and/or position, and you can deliver a message that could take a few paragraphs in written form.
In the Pride and Prejudice novel, the story is told in third person omniscient, which means that the narrator is able to tell what most, if not all, of the characters’ thoughts and feelings. So as readers, we won’t only find out about Elizabeth’s or her sisters’ thoughts, but also everyone else’s. We can even read about what the brooding Mr Darcy was thinking about:
He [Mr Darcy] began to wish to know more of her, and a step towards conversing with her himself, attended to her conversation with others. (p. 26)
“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” (p. 210)
While in the film, we can only sense Mr Darcy’s transition from coldness to kindness from scenes like these:
These subtle gestures did not come as an outright proclamations of love, but it was enough to indicate his growing interests in Elizabeth that subsequently led to the first marriage proposal. Even though the audience didn’t know what he was thinking about, and how he had grown fascinated with Elizabeth despite her family and background, we could already catch hints that he had slowly fallen in love with her.
These changes still did justice to the source material because in the novel, Mr Darcy, as part of his character, is that he doesn’t speak to people he isn’t familiar with. And it went well by depicting him as this kind of awkward guy who, from his speech, is kind of high and mighty in the beginning, which is kinda on a par with Mr Collins. But unlike Collins, Darcy managed to have some degree of common sense, and his character was developed later on as he learns about humility with Elizabeth. Darcy’s character development is reflected in the film by his actions, rather than his words.
Now, remember earlier when I said that Elizabeth’s character has been altered slightly in the film? Well, this element is completely optional, but it comes in handy for a story that takes place in a different time and/or space. Because the story takes place TWO centuries ago, we the audience might feel a gap between us and them. Well, one of the things that filmmakers and scriptwriters can do to bridge that gap is to put a proxy character. In this film? It’s Elizabeth Bennet.
Insert a proxy for a 21st century audience in a 19th century setting
Like I said, this is especially useful when your story takes place in a different timeline altogether and you don’t want to spend half an hour trying to establish the main character and the conditions of her surroundings. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet’s character underwent some alterations that made her voice sound more modern than the rest of the characters.
I’ve recently re-read the book and in the film, this kind of alteration is not limited only to Elizabeth, as even Caroline Bingley has significantly modern quips in her dialogue. And like I’ve mentioned before, there are also the changes made for Mr Collins. I think that’s part of the reason why some of his less savoury lines (in today’s context) were removed in the script.
However, we’ll only focus on Elizabeth’s changes here because they are more prominent and consistent throughout.
Like in an earlier part of the story, there’s this scene when Elizabeth and her sister Jane are discussing about the ball where they first met Mr Bingley:
From the novel, we can find the following passage:
‘He is just what a young man ought to be,’ said she [Jane], ‘sensible, good humoured, lively; and I never saw such happy manners! – so much ease, with such perfect good breeding!’
‘He is also handsome,’ replied Elizabeth, ‘which a young man ought likewise to be, if he possibly can. His character is thereby complete.’ (p. 15)
Meanwhile, in the film, notice how Elizabeth’s line is altered:
Mr Bingley is just what a young man ought to be. Sensible, good humoured –
(completing the list)
Handsome, conveniently rich –
In the film, Elizabeth immediately mentioned about his financial status, to complement with their own financial situation, i.e. the girls’ inability to inherit any from their father and that the only way they could avoid destitution or improving their financial status is via marital means.
Meanwhile in the book, the first commentary on Bingley’s financial status wasn’t until a few paragraphs later and it wasn’t even said by Elizabeth, but by the narrator:
Mr Bingley inherited property to the amount of nearly an (sic) hundred thousand pounds from his father, who had intended to purchase an estate, but did not live to do it. (p. 16)
Elizabeth’s wit becomes sharper in the film and we can see this AGAIN in the scene where the Bennets received a letter from Jane, who was detained at Netherfield as she was taken ill:
‘Well, my dear,’ said Mr Bennet, when Elizabeth had read the note aloud, ‘if your daughter have a dangerous fit of illness, if she should die, it would be a comfort to know that it was all in pursuit of Mr Bingley, and under your orders.’
‘Oh! I am not at all afraid of her dying. People do not die of little trifling colds. She will be taken good care of. As long as she stays there, it is all very well. I would go and see her, if I could have the carriage.’
Elizabeth, feeling really anxious, was determined to go to her [Jane], though the carriage was not to be had, and as she was no horse-woman, walking was her only alternative. She declared her resolution.
And this is what we see in the film:
Well, my dear, if your daughter does die it will be a comfort to know it was all in pursuit of Mr Bingley.
People do not die of colds.
Though she might well perish with the shame of having such a mother. I am going to Netherfield at once.
In the book, Elizabeth’s more conservative. While in the film, she speaks her mind more openly.
Additionally, some of Elizabeth’s lines were transferred from other characters. This one is transferred from Mr Bennet during a conversation with Mr Collins, when he was poking fun at the naively unaware Mr Collins:
‘You judge very properly,’ said Mr Bennet, ‘and it is happy for you that you possess the talent of flattering with delicacy. May I ask whether these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are the result of previous study?’ (p. 76)
While in the film:
How happy for you, Mr Collins, to possess the talent for flattering with delicacy.
Do these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment or are they the result of previous study?
The changes that we can observe from-novel-to-film is probably due to what is considered appropriate at the time. It gives us a picture of what it’s like back in 1813, with the role of women as far more conservative and the presentation of opinions were more of a masculine act. But in our current time, we have the freedom of speech so it would be natural for Elizabeth’s character to voice out her opinions more candidly.
Overall, this is a good adaptation. One of the best. I wouldn’t call it a perfect adaptation, but it’s right up there. If I can summarise the 2005 adaptation in one word, I would have to say that it is effective.