The Movie or The Book: Pride and Prejudice
Written By: Jane Austen
Book Published by: Bantam Books
Movie Distributed by: Focus Features
Reviewed by Justine Manzano
It is the age old question on the edge of every student’s mind: If the book is too long, or I can’t get into it, can’t I just see the movie? It is also the age old question on the edge of every avid reader’s mind every time a novel adaptation is released: Is the movie ever as good as the book? Each medium has its advantages. With the use of prose, a novel has the luxury of being able to get inside the mind of its characters and it also has the use of unlimited length. Movies on the other hand have the opportunity for brilliant images and action that moves a bit quicker.
This year in my Literature class, I was assigned Pride and Prejudice to read, having the luck of the new movie rendition starring Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFayden released only two days after the book was to be completed. Seeing this as the perfect opportunity for an investigation, I read the classic novel and then went to see the movie. Below is what I discovered.
Well, they don’t call Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice a classic for no reason. This book surprisingly pulled me right into the plight of the main characters and wouldn’t let go. It’s slow at first, but by Chapter 8 or so (the book has incredibly short, sometimes 2-page chapters), it picks up and takes hold.
Pride and Prejudice is about a young girl named Elizabeth Bennett. Elizabeth is an extremely independent and headstrong girl and is growing up in England in a time where the only thing of value a woman could do was to marry a wealthy man and make a good wife. At a family dance she meets Darcy, a quiet man who seems to be alarmingly self-important and who is very rich. As Elizabeth deals with the proud Mr. Darcy, she struggles through a variety of family issues including her mother’s need to marry her daughters off to absolutely anyone who will take them, a pompous cousin who is determined to make Elizabeth his wife because…well, because her older sister Jane was already promised to Mr. Darcy’s friend, Bingley, and the relationship between Bingley and Jane, which it seems Darcy is determined to put to an end. But the most important obstacles of all that Elizabeth must face are Darcy’s pride, which dramatically leads to him proposing to her, simply because he can’t force himself not to love her despite her low class, and her own prejudice, which leads her to decide who Darcy is from the moment she meets him, without ever considering anything different, despite the evidence mounting in his favor.
A love story, Pride and Prejudice is a great novel with a magnificent attention to detail and foreshadowing. I dare anyone to go back and read the story again while counting how many clues you get as to the future of the characters—I guarantee, you’ll lose count. It seems that Ms. Austen simply sat down and somehow, excreted a fully formed masterpiece, although I’m sure I could have found a more tasteful and (in the words of the novel) prudent way of saying that. The story picks up steam from that eighth chapter and from that point on, you find that you are rooting for Elizabeth, no matter what she goes through.
In the end this book pulls no punches. Pride and Prejudice is not a romance for the sake of romance. It is a novel that tells the story of it’s times while constantly pointing out the pitfalls that certain marital arrangements can likely lead to. It’s actually gritty, a word that you would never think you’d use for a classic romance, but that’s what makes it so interesting. Pride and Prejudice is a hard-hitting, truthful and unsentimental romantic masterpiece.
When I discovered that Pride and Prejudice would be coming to the movies, I happily shared my discovery with my Literature Professor. She scoffed. If you’ve never heard anybody scoff before, you should have been there. Then, she promptly straightened me out, complaining that as far as she knew there had never been a rendition of Pride and Prejudice that has been anywhere near the book, and that I’d be able to tell that this one was garbage the minute Lady Catherine DeBourgh (Darcy’s rich and influential aunt, a veritable tyrant) was shown as a kindly old lady like they had in many other versions. I looked for this in vein. From what I understood from what my teacher told me, this version of the novel was as close as anyone has gotten it. But it’s still not quite right.
Lady Catherine DeBourgh was no angel in this version of Pride and Prejudice and was brilliantly played beyond my imagining by Judi Dench. Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth was a bit off, coming across as though she cared a little more about the race for marriage then the book usually allowed, but in her more serious moments and in her powerful scenes with Darcy, she shone through brilliantly. Matthew MacFayden shines as a different kind of Darcy then the one we read about in the book. In a movie of two hours length, Darcy’s character must evolve a bit quicker than what is laid out in the book, and from the first minute we lay eyes on him, MacFayden manages to bring Darcy across as a shy but proud man who almost immediately gazes upon Lizzy admirably. This is necessary. If we developed Darcy at the speed he was developed in the book, the movie would probably be twice the length.
The supporting characters were mostly brilliant as well. Rosamund Pike was cast well as the gorgeous and emotionally unexpressive Jane Bennett who does not want to go overboard with her feelings for Bingley, played by Simon Woods, who did go a little overboard as Jane’s easily influenced suitor till he came off as goofy and stupid. Jena Malone moves away from her history of playing teen pregnancy roles to take the teen marriage role of Lydia Bennett and does it with the same overly-enthusiastic cruel banter as was written by Austen. Most famously, Donald Sutherland brilliantly captures the sharp sarcasm of Elizabeth’s father, Mr. Bennett.
There were differences between the book and this movie version of Pride and Prejudice but I couldn’t help but get the distinct feeling that somebody reached right into my head and pulled out my very own imagination as I was reading the book. There were things that were slightly off, but in the end, most of the characters played out just as I believed they would and the brilliant cinematography and amazing scenery cement this movie’s beauty and likeability.
If you can appreciate classic literature and can detect biting sarcasm within it, then Jane Austen’s breakout novel which was originally entitled First Impressions before it was re-written and released later, is the best choice here. I say this simply because, as a writer, I’m particularly partial to the written word and the chance to use one’s own imagination to enjoy a story. The novel is based more around the lifestyle of women in this age and carries a distinct message of feminism—it is clear that Jane Austen believed that it was frivolous for women to have to chase around important men in the hopes of marrying well. The movie on the other hand, which I would recommend if you are a hopeless romantic, was a little more centered on only the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy.
So which is better, the book or the movie? In the end, I guess it’s up to a person’s taste, but if I had to choose one or the other, I would most definitely go for the book. In this case, though, the movie was good in its own right, so it wouldn’t hurt to enjoy both…if you can find the time in the middle of your class load…somehow I did.
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