Pride and Prejudice, BBC Production starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle ★★★★ for production, ★ for storyline
I typically don’t watch girly films. By girly films, I don’t intend to imply the lewd films of the present day that don’t allow for public display. Both the present day sexually overt “girly” films and what I am referring to have sex as their primary subject and thus much similarity. The Jane Austen books and associated films have been the subject of popular opinion and frequent enjoyment by many close to me, and even the subject of an entire class offered at schools connected with my church denomination, and thus have I decided to break down and watch the most popular of the Austen series, P&P.
BBC does a marvelous production, with superb acting and excellent cinematography. One cannot fault the scene settings, as they are reflective of a most lavish production. I will limit my comments to the Austen story itself. Since I have not heard complaints about the screenwriters taking liberties with the text that offend what Austen wrote, I will presume that the BBC production is faithful to Austen’s script, as I have no intention of ever reading her book.
The Pride and Prejudice story is quite simple. The Bennett family are near broke aristocrats, struggling to keep the family alive with their five children, all marriageable females. The focus of the story is on the two oldest daughters Jane and Elizabeth, with the primary focus put on the second oldest, Elizabeth, known as Lizzy. A very wealthy suitor comes to town, and immediately falls in love with Jane. A Mr. Darcy accompanies him, who happens to be even wealthier, but is interpreted by the Bennett family as being quite arrogant though he is interested in Elizabeth. After much wrangling and misreadings of various people’s intentions through the course of the novel, Jane and Elizabeth eventually marry their respective suitors and everything ends happily ever after. There are a few side stories, such as when the youngest Bennett daughter elopes with a soldier who presents himself well, but secretly has the reputation of a sleazy character: this event suggests a besmirching of Bennett family reputation.
There are three major problems that I have with the entire thesis of this story. First is the faithfulness to the historical context. Second is the nature of the individual characters in the story. Third are other underlying implications of the Pride and Prejudice narrative.
Factuality? Austen presents a plethora of idle wealthy landowners with nothing to do but to read books, throw dance parties, visit surrounding neighborhoods, or ride horses. Is this how England was in the early 1800’s when Austen wrote her novels? Scarcely not. England was rapidly depleting its wealth by fighting foreign wars and overtaxing its citizens. It is VERY odd that few normal classed people are ever presented in the story: there are the servants of the wealthy, but that is about it. Secondly, the story shows military personnel behaving quite leisurely and undisciplined, which assuredly was NOT occurring in England during Austen’s time. The entire story is a fanciful fairytale that draws young ladies into a fairytale world of courtship, romance, and marriage that never existed in England or anywhere else in history. Is it any wonder that so many Austen devotees of the female gender have ended in tragic romances and marriages?
And the characters, what about them? The most unendurable character was Mrs. Bennett with her histrionics that exceeded all reality. It was torture whenever she came on the scene. Mr. Bennett was a do-nothing milksop husband who lacks any real character at leading the family. The two oldest daughters Jane and Elizabeth really do not have character development. The movie doesn’t leave one feeling like one knows either of these girls better as they have no character development. Elizabeth continues her blank supercilious smirk throughout, Jane is nothing but a needlepoint preoccupied airhead or picking flowers with Lizzy, and both girls display an arrogance unbefitting of marriageable maidens. The only daughter of interest is the snarly piano-playing middle daughter, who at least has some inclination toward having enjoyments that are not rigidly defined by the family. The entire Bennett family has their own pathology as for example if a suitable mate doesn’t dance well, they are not suitable for marriage. In this regard, society has not changed much, but has just changed the symbolism of dance to that of if one is not good “under the covers” then they are not suitable for marriage. The preacher in the story we shall call Reverend Sniveling Creep, because that is precisely who he is. I hope that Austen wasn’t suggesting Rev SC as prototypical of all reverends; I’ll leave that to the reader to decide. Like nearly every character in Austen’s novel, money and wealth above anything seems to be the prime motive for decisions and actions. The only person with a character worthy of emulation is Mr. Darcy, though he is also not well developed in the story.
Perhaps a better (and more modern) name for this book should have been “Young horny aristocrats chased by young lovesick maidens in heat”, or, “Keeping up illusions”, because that is ALL that this story is about. Any modern retelling of the story would change the dance scenes to wild sex-party scenes, and you would still maintain the moral (though more overt) meaning to the story. P & P is often sold as a glimpse back on when society had a true moral base: if that is really true, it sure wasn’t obvious in the movie!
What about the religious sense in this movie? Does P & P show an honorable Christian moral society? I don’t think so. The character of the reverend best suits that of a cheap used car salesman. Religion is not spoken of save at the very end when the officiating reverend appeals to god’s name while intoning the wedding vows. The motivating spirit was to maintain artificial societal norms, maintain an appearance of goodness, while seeking the easy gain of as much wealth as possible. Religion is nothing but a vacuous means of surviving the prevailing societal norms. This book should be an embarrassment to the church, and definitely never taught without extreme caution in church schools. It is no wonder that England (and America) has so quickly lost faith, since (if the movie is true to public society) it had been lost long before overt behaviors reflected that.
Many interpreters of the Pride and Prejudice story focus on the maturation and change of the character of Mr. Darcy from a cold, distant, arrogant person, to that of a warm, caring individual. In fact, Mr. Darcy’s character remains the most stable of the entire story. The only other stable character (and much to their shame) was that of Mrs. Bennett, whom you pray would just fall over dead of a heart attack early in the novel. The prevailing pompous arrogance of the public, and most notably the Bennett family, did not allow them to see Mr. Darcy for who he really was. When Elizabeth finally had a change of heart and fell in love with Dr. Darcy, she seemed as much affected by the grandeur and elegance of the Darcy estate as by the discovery that Mr. Darcy was perhaps a really nice person, even though he would not always consent to a dance at the whim of females in heat.
I am surprised that Pride and Prejudice has received favorable acclaim. There is wonderful use of the English language, but the story itself presents a very shallow minded society, with poor definitions of goals, direction and faith. I cannot recommend this book/movie as a worthy read/watch for anybody.