Compare and Contrast Pride and Prejudice

3 March 2017

Is it possible for a film to show an audience the internal tensions between two potential lovers? Or do the details of the script, sets, costumes and cinematography block the view? For example, look at Jane Austen’s classic love story “Pride and Prejudice” as told in two very different films. While both versions correctly tell the tale of love winning out over one girl’s selfish conceit and opinionated judgments, Simon Langton’s A&E miniseries holds true in every way to the depth of the story, while Joe Wright’s 2005 feature film dances over only the popularly known highlights.

The resulting views of the story and romantic tension are, of course, completely different! Rarely in Hollywood is the filmwright known to follow an author’s original meaning or intent. Thus the filmwright’s job in any film is to create a solid foundation so the director can do whatever he or she pleases with the rest.

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In this assignment, both filmwright’s perform their duties perfectly – a story is told. Debra Mogach, filmwright for the 2005 version, loses miles of depth in the personalities of all the key characters and even many of the minor ones.

It is lucky for her that she got help from Emma Thompson with some of the dialogue or we probably wouldn’t hear a single line from the original text! Langston’s writer, Andrew Davies, on the other hand, stays very true to the original book: both in the highlights of the story and in the depth of the characters. Because of his attention to Austin’s development of each “cast” member, the audience is drawn deeply into many of the characters’ internal lives.

And that is how it’s supposed to work: the many details of the characters’ personalities are supposed to be portrayed in the script as well as in every other aspect of a film. After the director has accepted his script and somewhere during casting, the sets must be chosen. In the case of these films the “sets” are on location: several places in the UK. You would think that Hollywood would be able to get that part pretty accurate.

A&E apparently didn’t have any trouble – the homes, halls and streets of Longbourne, Derbyshire, London, Rosings Park and certainly Pemberly are brought to life and certainly give the audience insight into the lives and struggles of the people who dwell in them. Joe Wright, however, clearly loose in his understanding of the period he was filming, succeeds only in belittling every character’s position in life distracting his audience from getting any grip on the personality issues that should be causing the tension.

The portrayal of the lives of characters should lift the audiences’ understanding of life and customs very different from their own – not create more questions. Once actors have been cast and sets accepted the costumers go into a fever developing each character’s wardrobe to both fit and suit them. Dinah Collin, of A&E’s production, is a master of English period costuming – and in this film she outdoes herself! Every costume is absolutely precise with the time period and particularly with the character’s station in life and current activities.

The clothes each person wears give the audience a clear understanding of precisely who they are. Jacqueline Durran, of the 2005 film, did a very precise job of costuming to the director’s vision for his film. All of the characters are dressed below their station, and rarely properly for the period requirements for even the activities in which they are engaged. Instead of questions being answered and removed for the audience, more are created and none are answered. Will the audience see clearly what the tension is, let alone the idea of what its bearers are feeling?

This is what we are looking for. The script, locations, actors and costumes are in place. Lights, cameras,? ah yes, cinematography! Now the director begins his real work of storytelling with camera angles, focus and attention. Now Joe Wright pulls the plug and washes the audience down with him into misunderstanding the period, its protocols and, therefore, its people. When one does not understand any of those, how can one possibly understand any internal emotional tensions?

Wright does do some really artsy and amazing things with his cameras, but they don’t seem to have too much to do with the story. He especially uses them to try to portray Darcy’s emotions (because the actor certainly doesn’t get the opportunity to), but at such odd moments and with such little clarity that you don’t really notice it until your 3rd or 4th viewing! He has a gift for developing amazing scenery shots – really – but, other than having one or the other of the actors included in the shot, they basically never have anything to do with the story.

When Simon Langton, however, uses a sweeping shot of countryside, village or house – which he does many times – it absolutely, always shows us something new of a character, and not always just the one in the picture! Langton adds and adds and adds to his characters and their relationships. Never once does Langton’s audience lose track of what is building between any of his characters. So, both directors use their cameras successfully to create mood and interest of some sort or another. And, both directors do some interesting foreshadowing and story telling with their cameras.

And both directors create beautiful pictures. But did both directors combine all of this interesting cinematography with their script, sets and costumes to honestly portray the tension between two potential lovers? Can it be done? Since both the feature film and the miniseries tell the story accurately it would seem they would both clearly tell of the emotional tension between the two lovers. But cinema is a type of storytelling that requires every visual detail to fall in line with the purpose of the story.

After looking some into the visual details of each of these films it seems: a) this should not be the deciding film in determining Hollywood’s ability; and, b) A&E has taken every opportunity this story offers to prove itself entirely capable. For while both versions correctly tell the tale of love winning out over one girl’s selfish conceit and opinionated judgments, Simon Langton’s miniseries carries the story in every detail, while Joe Wright’s 2005 feature film only portrays the popularly known highlights and does not give any understandable degree to any of the characters.

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