Ten years ago, the now adored adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice premiered in limited release on November 11, 2005. The film was adapted by Deborah Moggach with some additional script help from Emma Thompson (who won the Oscar for her adaptation of Sense and Sensibility) and directed by Joe Wright (Atonement). This adaptation of Pride and Prejudice had just the right talent to bring Jane Austen’s beloved novel to the screen.
Surprisingly, there hadn’t been a feature film adaptation since the 1940 one starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier. And with the iconic status surrounding the much-loved 1995 TV adaptation with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, bringing the story to the big screen would be no easy task – especially if Wright wanted to please Jane Austen fans around the world who viewed the 1995 adaptation as the quintessential version.
Still, Joe Wright found a way to once again bring Jane Austen’s story to life in a new way. The 2000’s (with period dramas like North & South and Jane Eyre) brought a more modern approach to period filmmaking, introducing younger fans into the world of costume drama in a more accessible approach, which Wright did in spades.
So, on this special 10th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice 2005, I decided it was time to revisit this instant classic – which will continue to rank as one of the best period dramas of all time for many years to come.
Years after its release, the Keira Knightley/Matthew Macfadyen version of Austen’s novel has become a real favorite amongst period drama lovers everywhere. While there’s no dive into a pond, there is an epic walk at sunrise as Mr. Darcy walks romantically (and with purpose) toward Elizabeth. This may be one of the most rewind-worthy scenes in any film ever (nothing competes with the Dirty Dancing end sequence – sorry Mr. Darcy), perfectly encapsulating why old-fashioned romance on the big screen works – and why there needs to be more of it.
Macfadyen had a lot to live up to following on the heels of Colin Firth, but he found a way to make the character his own. Macfadyen, like Darcy in a way, has a way of growing on you. At first, I didn’t like him because all I could see was Colin Firth’s interpretation in my mind. But as the film continued, Macfadyen grew on me just as Elizabeth found herself warming to him as well. Now, I admit I love him every bit as much in the role as Firth.
As for Elizabeth Bennet, Knightley interpreted Elizabeth with an almost introverted temperament – prone to prideful outbursts due to keeping her feelings to herself. Knightley captures the independent nature of Elizabeth while also giving her a sensual appeal. Keira Knightley received an Oscar nomination for her performance – and deservedly so – for the full range of emotions she presents throughout the film. It may be her best role to date. Together, Macfadyen and Knightley created an intense onscreen chemistry with one entertaining scene after the other – their banter a close match to Austen’s.
Joe Wright proved to be the perfect director possible to bring Jane Austen into the 21st century while also staying true to the essence and spirit of Jane Austen’s classic masterpiece.
On top of Knightley and Macfadyen, every role (down to the last extra) was perfectly cast in this adaptation. From the “shy” Jane (this is my favorite interpretation of her character), the loving Mr. Bennet, the Orlando Bloom take on Mr. Wickham, the foolish and selfish Lydia, the hilarious and eye-rolling Mr. Collins, the most three-dimensional interpretation of Charlotte Lucas who feels trapped by her situation in life, the scene-stealing Judi Dench as Lady Catherine de Bourg, the sweet Mr. Bingley and more, everyone was perfection. Not only did each actor give the best performance possible, but they played off each other with an explosion of synergy. Joe Wright (as surprising of a choice he was at the time) proved to be the perfect director possible to bring Jane Austen into the 21st century while also staying true to the essence and spirit of Jane Austen’s classic masterpiece.
Besides the strong performances, the authenticity of the story was also incredible with accurate period detail, including gorgeous costumes from costume designer Jacqueline Durran, and a level of realism used with characterization, camera angles and more.
One major change to this adaptation was the setting and tone. Wright brought a touch of romanticism to the story with shots of nature and gothic like weather to represent the shifting moods of the characters. The Bronte-esque approach to Austen’s work may be a strange choice, but it really worked. Who can forget the impassioned first proposal between Darcy and Elizabeth in the rain? It was an artistic choice and one that paid off. Wright was able to condense the length of the novel while still capturing the essence of the story by incorporating visual cues that matched the feelings of reading Pride and Prejudice – at least as Wright interpreted it. It was a brilliant move on his part.
A perfect example of this visual technique was the scene when Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy dance (and argue) with the crowd disappearing around them. That way, the audience would understand that nobody else was in the room for Darcy and Elizabeth. A clever, visual metaphor.
Overall, the 2005 Pride and Prejudice has the best of what good period dramas have to offer. The script with its clever dialogue, the set design, the beautiful costumes, the performances, the smoldering, the realistic female relationships, flawed and human female characters, the epic old-fashioned romance where the touch of a hand is worth its weight in gold. Not to mention Mr. Darcy. And then there’s Elizabeth – who most of us want to be (you know you take those online Jane Austen quizzes and cheat!)
The 10th anniversary of this romantic drama marks the perfect time for a re-watch – or a first-time watch if you still haven’t been able to risk seeing another adaptation after the 1995 masterpiece. I say enjoy this wonderful version and remember: There’s plenty of room for more than one great adaptation. I like to think of it like a play. There are many productions with various directors and actors over the years, but each interpretation brings something new. And what this adaptation brings is magic!
Do you love Pride and Prejudice 2005? What are your thoughts on Joe Wright’s interpretation? Do you have a favorite moment? Let me know in the comments.
Photos: Focus Features/Universal