From Read To Reel by Vaishnavi Sharma

Back story of my affair with Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

As a child, I had a rather short-lived and fickle attention span. I was a fan of gathering bundles and bundles of books – slim and thick, classic and modern, stories and poetry – I was a fan of this diversity in my bookshelf. One of these books was ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen; a humorous story of marriage, fortune and responsibilities, set in Victorian England. I was a new-born feminist when I tried reading this novel; the book appealed to me for its female-centred story and the narration from the point of view of Elizabeth, the protagonist of Jane Austen’s novel. Jane Austen was an author in the Victorian Era; she wrote about ahead-of-time concepts like feminism, individualism, women rights, women empowerment, and the like. Regardless of her reputation, the book repelled me for the in-your-face theme of ‘marriage is the ultimate settlement for a female’. I did not realise the book was a satire till I actually began reading it, much later in my teens. And the rest is a history known to you (I write a column on Austen now, dumb-struck in love).

I came across the film adaptation (2005) of the novel before I had actually read the book. The film, titled ‘Pride and Prejudice’, was directed by Joe Wright. I was 15, and not inclined towards exploring different genres and so I used to stick to what made sense to me (and almost every teenager I know) the most in my teenage years: romance. Pride and Prejudice was a fairytale love story of no less proportions. The plot was a perfect mixture – a beautiful heroine, a handsome and rich hero, odd situations that eventually lead to both of them falling desperately in love. Ah, isn’t that a dream!

A comparison of the movie and the novel, as per my observations:

The movie opens with Mr. Darcy and Bingley arriving to Netherfield on horseback; as opposed to the novel where the neighbourhood was talking about Mr. Bingley’s arrival. Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley are eligible bachelors of the Austen universe, just what Mrs. Bennet was on a look-out for, for her daughters. Although the first chapter of the book is not entirely from Elizabeth’s POV, we observe the movie proceeding through the eyes of Elizabeth – the protagonist of the novel – from the beginning itself when she sees Mr. Darcy and Bingley arrive, and the consequent scenes of the introduction of the Bennet family on the screen. There are quite a few scenes in the movie where details have been added in the script to facilitate the storyline on the silver screen. These slight improvisations do not seem to digress from the actual storyline but allow the piece of literature to be explored in all its complexity. We also observe characteristic variations in Elizabeth’s character by contrasting her temperament in the book and the movie. The adaption was modernised to the point where it didn’t tamper the novel’s storyline and plot; this made the movie a treat to watch because it felt relevant to me even in today’s scenario. But, we do not see the director digressing from the core of the book. The movie has the same dislike-at-first-sight introductory scene between Elizabeth and Darcy. It has the same bickering of the Bennet couple, the same concept of marriage and its importance for financial stability during that time, the same rebellious, defying nature of Elizabeth, and the same heart-melting romance.

There are a few scenes in the movie that absolutely tug at the strings of my heart and reinstate my belief in absolute, true love. Some other scenes make me realise the ever-changing, contrasting, expanding, and levitating cultural differences in society.

When Mrs. Bennet describes Bingley as the man who “has an income of four or five thousand pounds a year”, I realise the cultural implications of that era which state that a man who is suitable for marriage is a man who has an impressive income. When Mr. Darcy tells his friend Bingley that Elizabeth is “tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me,I am reminded of the priority the men in that era placed on looks and domestic nature of a woman. The movie is a heart-warming adaptation of Austen’s novel; the romance in the air makes you feel all mushy and delicate and soft. Kiera Knightley as Elizabeth is convincing and also a breath of fresh air on the screen. It was almost instinctive for me to picture Knightley even while reading the novel. I’d like to believe that Elizabeth had already fallen for Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen) when they first met, but pride came in the way. That’s how I’ve always justified ‘Pride’ in the title to myself.

I read on the web some time ago that the screenwriter Deborah Moggach wanted to keep the script as close to the actual book’s dialogues as possible, but Wright encouraged her to take creative liberty and make the script as relevant as possible to the modern audience while simultaneously keeping the core of the book intact. I suppose this is the reason why we do not hear dialogues in archaic English, and why we see Darcy’s perspective in the movie in addition to Elizabeth’s. This wasn’t originally written in the novel, but it does go on to humanise their characters and their emotions further. But in totality, the settings, theme and the plot of the novel were significantly retained.  

The movie is one of my favourites till date, the reason being not only its story but the fact that I watched it before reading the novel itself; and as an individual work of art, the adaptation appealed to me at least as much as its literary counterpart did (maybe even more). Safe to say, this is one adaptation of a film that did justice to its parent book, and it would be a strong movie recommendation from myself regardless of whether you’ve read the novel or not. 

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