Joe Wright's 2005 adaptation Pride & Prejudice had more differences from the Jane Austen novel than just changing the time period, making the film more realistic and romantic in the process. Starring Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew Macfayden as Mr. Darcy, the film was a major departure from the previous, more faithful, BBC miniseries that aired ten years prior. Joe Wright took a more romantic approach to the novel, grounded in realism, that turned Pride & Prejudice into a critical success for blending traditional period-film traits with a modern approach. Indeed, 2005's Pride & Prejudice was what paved the way for Jane Austen novel adaptations on Netflix.SCREENRANT VIDEO OF THE DAY
The adaptation stripped down the Pride & Prejudice subplots to focus on the romance between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, compressing the novel into 127 minutes — a sharp contrast from the sprawling, six-hour miniseries that came before. Keira Knightley's Elizabeth Bennet was younger than her BBC predecessor played by Jennifer Ehle and significantly feistier than Elizabeth's portrayal in the book, much like Knightley's similar performance as Elizabeth Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean. However, Knightley's modern interpretation of the character and Joe Wright's stunningly-shot film pushed Pride & Prejudice out of the stereotypically perfect Regency-era world, and into one that was visually distinct.
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Still, Wright's approach in Pride & Prejudice inspired backlash from Austen fans and earned the ire of the Jane Austen Society of North America. Many critics refused to recognize Pride & Prejudice as one of the best movies in Joe Wright's filmography. However, changing the Regency-era novel into a looser and less formal movie and combining that with Wright's distinctly romantic style made Pride & Prejudice a much better adaptation than its more faithful predecessors.
Pride & Prejudice Changed The 1813 Setting And Costumes
One of the biggest changes Joe Wright made to Pride & Prejudice was changing the time period from 1813 to the 1790s. Wright made the decision partially to highlight the differences in England as a result of the French Revolution and examine the ways that the revolution created an atmosphere of fear within the English aristocracy. However, Wright also changed the time period because he hated the look of the empire silhouette that was popular in the Regency Era and a defining trait of all other Austen adaptations — such as the 2020 adaption of Emma (although Emma deviated from the Austen novel as well.) As a result, the dresses have a corseted, natural waist as opposed to the exaggerated high waist of the empire style. Costume designer Jacqueline Durran also created a generational divide between the characters, dressing the older women in the outdated styles of the 1780s, and the younger women like the Bennet sisters in a proto-Regency look.
Jane Austen's Elizabeth Was More Mature
Keira Knightley's portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet is significantly feistier and more impassioned in Pride & Prejudice than in the original novel. While Knightley's Elizabeth grows apart from Jane over the course of the movie, the two actually become much closer in the book. Knightley's Elizabeth is comfortable pushing back on her parents — and in one scene, even shouting at them — while Austen's Elizabeth might be headstrong, but she is never immature. Though this contributed to sparking the prominence of feminist messages in modern movies at the turn of the century, the film also received criticism from Austen fans for cutting one of Elizabeth's most famous lines, "Till this moment, I never knew myself," and taking away her moment of self-recognition. However, the changes made to Elizabeth's characterization make her more relatable to a modern audience and make for a fresher, younger take on the classic character.
The Bennets Are Poorer But More Likeable
In the Austen novel, the Bennet family might be down on their luck, but they're still a member of the landed gentry and retain some wealth and status. The Bennet family in Pride & Prejudice is portrayed as much poorer than their novel depiction, partially due to Joe Wright's shifting away from the formal portrayal of the Regency Era by putting the family home in a more rural setting. The Bennet sisters wear worn-out dresses that don't quite match, and the family home is in a state of clear disrepair. Comparatively, Lily James' Elizabeth Bennet and her family in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies were even less faithful to the novel.
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Pride & Prejudice also changed the characterization of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet to make them more sympathetic, turning Mr. Bennet into a loving and attentive father, and presenting Mrs. Bennet's machinations with understanding instead of scorn. The Bennet family might be chaotic, but in the film they're very close-knit. However, Jane Austen presents the family as dysfunctional and unhappy. Contrasting the clear financial difficulties of the Bennet family with the closeness and love between the sisters and their parents makes them much more relatable to contemporary audiences in the Joe Wright adaptation.
Joe Wright Cut Several Minor Characters
While the 1995 BBC miniseries had six episodes to tell the full story, Joe Wright's adaptation pared the novel down to 127 minutes, cutting minor characters and condensing subplots. Wickham's departure with the militia was massively condensed, and Lydia Bennet, played by Hunger Games actress Jena Malone, saw her storyline and elopement massive reduced in the film. In addition, minor characters including Mr. and Mrs. Hunt, Mr. and Mrs. Phillips, and Lady and Maria Lucas were cut entirely from the film in favor of focusing the story on the romance between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. Although die-hard Jane Austen fans criticized the film for cutting the characters and condensing the subplots, narrowing the scope made Pride & Prejudice a much stronger movie.
Darcy's Proposals Were Way More Romantic
Part of Joe Wright's approach in his Pride & Prejudice adaptation was turning a decidedly non-visual novel into a stunningly-designed film. The director emphasized romanticism with his visuals, accomplished by moving away from the formality of the Regency Era; as a result, one of the major changes made in the film was to Mr. Darcy's famous proposals. Darcy, played by Succession actor Matthew Macfayden, first proposes in a downpour while the two are trapped in a beautiful, Neoclassical building — but in the novel, it takes place inside a parsonage. Similarly, his second proposal in the film takes place on the scenic misty moors as dawn breaks over the scene, and is strongly characteristic of Joe Wright's postmodern romantic style; however, it's a complete departure from the novel. In the novel, Mr. Darcy proposes on the street in the middle of the day. While Jane Austen fans may concede that the changes make for a beautiful film, the approach to these scenes is more stylistically appropriate for Wuthering Heights than Pride & Prejudice.
Pride & Prejudice Didn't End With A Wedding
The single biggest controversy from Pride & Prejudice was Joe Wright's decision not to end the movie with a wedding. This is similar to the ending of Fire Island, the queer adaptation of the novel. Instead of a wedding, Pride & Prejudice ends with a sentimental scene between the now-married Darcys, enjoying an intimate moment at Pemberley. That decision caused a major backlash from the Jane Austen Society of North America before its release, and the scene was removed from the British release of the film after complaints from the preview audiences. The British release instead had a scene where Mr. Bennet blesses Elizabeth and Darcy's union, in a nod to the final chapter of the book that summarizes their lives after the events of the novel. However, after audiences complained that they were excluded from the true ending, Wright's original conclusion was reinstated.
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Why The Changes In Pride & Prejudice Made It The Best Adaptation
Pride & Prejudice might have made major changes from its source material, but in the end, it made Joe Wright's adaptation a better and much more stylish film. Joe Wright's trademark commitment to realism and his postmodern romantic style, also seen in his 2017 film Darkest Hour, was an unconventional choice for the adaptation – but it ultimately paid off. Approaching the source material with a more modern and stylized eye refreshed the story and helped it appeal to younger audiences. Undoubtedly, Joe Wright's decision to turn the Bennets into a more loving family while narrowing the focus to the romance between Elizabeth and Darcy ultimately makes Pride & Prejudice the best modern Jane Austen adaptation.
Likewise, the decision to change Jane Austen's ending is better for the film version, since a wedding scene would have been a massive tonal shift following the languid romanticism of the rest of the film. Although it's true that this change made it less satisfying for die-hard fans of the novel, the faithfulness of any adaptation isn't just hinged on how much it can copy the source material. Sometimes, it's about using the adaptive medium to give an interesting new spin on the original. Like Netflix's The Sandman, Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather movies, or Universal Pictures' Dr. Seuss films, Pride & Prejudice succeeds at changing many elements of the original story while never veering away from its core messages and themes.
Indeed, Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" isn't exactly known for its visuals. However, Wright's emphasis on cinematography worked well in translating the emotions stirred up by Austen's words. Given the limited space of the feature film format, Wright pulled off a miracle by compressing 82,000 words into just 2 hours, all without losing the essence of what made the novel so great.