Pride and Prejudice Examined

Exploiting the Visual Medium of Film to Enhance the Emotion

There are many different film versions of Pride and Prejudice. Many movies, such as the 1995 BBC version, are true to Austen’s words keeping the script almost verbatim. Others take more liberties with the book and approach Austen’s novels artistically. The 2005 Hollywood film falls into the latter category, with it’s dramatic lighting and sweeping piano score. This difference is apparent in the second proposal scene, where Elizabeth finally accepts Darcy. While both film adaptations of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice use the visual medium to enhance the emotion of the scene, they do so using different apparatuses.

The second proposal scene for Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice is subtle and relatively vague when compared to modern proposals. Austen does not provide us with a running dialogue of their confessions of love, but an ambiguous summary of Elizabeth and Darcy’s thoughts and feelings. The scene begins as Jane and Bingley propose that they all take a walk. Darcy and Elizabeth are soon isolated from the couple and Kitty who has joined them. Elizabeth earnestly thanks Darcy for rescuing Lydia and he insists that he did it all for her. This produces the confession of his continuing feelings for her.

“You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever.” (314)

Elizabeth assures him that her feelings have undergone a great change. With that everything is settled between them excepting a brief rehashing of past events. Austen does a remarkable job describing their feelings and subsequent actions during this moment.

The 1995 BBC version shall henceforth be known as The Constant. The Constant takes full advantage of the visual medium by focusing on the actors and the emotions they are able to portray. The film stays true to the words of Jane Austen by keeping to the setting and overall plot. The scene begins the same as the book: Elizabeth and Darcy on a midday stroll. The camera focuses rather widely on the couple, but intermingles close-ups throughout the dialogue. The Constant uses these close ups to exploit the emotion of the scene. Jennifer Ehle alone does justice to the sentiments of the novel’s proposal. However, it is Colin Firth who deserves extra credit. Upon first watch Colin Firth seems stone faced and unfeeling. However, if watched closely you can see subtle changes in his facial expression that hint at Darcy’s emotions. His emotions are restrained, but they are written very plainly across his face. It is a very fitting portrayal of Darcy. The actors make Darcy and Elizabeth seem like a normal couple. Darcy starts his speech in a rush as if summoning his courage to broach the subject once again. His face seems hopelessly sad when he tells Elizabeth that if her feelings have not changes then he will not talk of his feelings again. Jennifer Ehle appears genuinely hopeful when she announces that she loves him as well. They are bashful, ridiculously happy, and endearingly awkward after their feelings have been confirmed.

The 2005 version shall henceforth be referred to as The Romantic. The Romantic skillfully uses visuals to enhance the romanticism and drama of the second proposal scene. This film takes greater liberties with the book, but does not truly deviate from it. The director has placed Darcy and Elizabeth in a large field just before dawn. The camera pans to Elizabeth as she walks along the currently dark field contemplating Lady Catherine’s recent visit. She is seemingly cold and alone; the field behind her looks rather barren. The camera then focuses on Darcy. He walks toward her as the sun comes up behind the trees. It is foggy and dark, but as he gets closer the sun rises above the tree line and the fog thins. The shot is kept wide in order to emphasize the visual aesthetic: the setting, Darcy’s costume (or lack thereof), and the dramatic lighting. The music is prominent as Darcy approaches Elizabeth. As the actors begin their dialogue the piano fades into background noise, swelling as the scene reaches a resolution. When the camera is next on Elizabeth the field behind her is blurry. Instead it focuses on her face. The camera slowly closes in on her and remains tight on the actor’s faces for the remainder of the scene. The scene ends with the couple close together and the sun peeking through the space between them. It concludes as the light nearly obscures the actors from the audience’s view isolating them and melding them together. The use of the sunrise, the swelling of the music just as the scene ends adds to the emotion of Austen’s proposal while staying true to the characters personalities. The characters are not dramatic, expressive people; their romance has always been subtle and slow building. By using these artistic effects the director can enhance the romance and drama of the scene without deviating too much from the characters.

While the book and The Constant include a lengthy conversation between Darcy and Elizabeth The Romantic chooses to condense the dialogue in the proposal scene. It prefers to utilize it’s visual medium; showing the audience rather than telling them what has occurred between the two characters. Darcy’s speech is brief but direct, and Elizabeth says very little in return. Keira Knightley uses simple affectionate gestures and well timed smiles to convey Elizabeth’s feelings. Matthew MacFayden adds a vulnerability to the characteristically stoic and proud Darcy. I think his speech and the emotion that he conveys suits Austen’s Darcy. The way that The Romantic has produced this scene isolates the moment and the couple.

Austen does a respectable job conveying to the reader the emotions of this scene. However, the films allow the readers the chance to look at these characters in their moment of resolution. This visual enhances the emotion of the scene, as the couple is not allowed to convey in words how they feel. Austen instead gives her readers a generic summary of the sentiments that were expressed and the countenance of each. The Constant relies on the acting to convey the emotion of the scene while the The Romantic more fully utilizes the visual medium.