*Note: contains plot spoilers*      

Secretly perched at a small table near a creaky door that enabled her to make an escape
should visitors arrive, Jane Austen wrote the following words in 1797: “It is a truth
universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in
want of a wife.”  Over two hundred years and countless generations of fans later, the
marital plight of the Bennet family in Austen’s
Pride and Prejudice has inspired three
very different film adaptations from directors who now call Austen’s native England
home.  Most recently, the universal themes of love, equality, class, duty, honor and
manners have been faithfully adapted by filmmaker Joe Wright, transported Bollywood
style to India in Gurinder Chadha’s
Bride and Prejudice, and made the world fall in love
with the candidly funny diary of an overweight British woman named Bridget Jones.  
Looking at and comparing each of the versions to Austen’s masterpiece will enable
devotees a better understanding not only of the art of cinematic adaptation but of
and Prejudice
as well.

Originally titled
First Impressions, Jane Austen’s novel revolves around Elizabeth Bennet,
a fiercely independent, quick-witted, middle class young woman who, along with her four
other unmarried sisters, tries to find her way in eighteenth century England.  Elizabeth’s
eldest sister Jane catches the eye of Charles Bingley, a wealthy, handsome, and
exceptionally kind young man who has rented a nearby manor.  Bingley’s best friend, the
snobbishly proud and even wealthier Mr. Darcy finds himself tested by and attracted to
Elizabeth. The rest of the novel illustrates their evolving relationship and awkward
courtship as both must overcome their poor first impressions and personal prejudices of
one another. Their road to love is complicated by their association with Darcy’s nemesis,
Mr. Wickham, an attractive young soldier who initially pursues Elizabeth.  Wickham
misinforms Elizabeth about his association with Darcy, telling her that he’d been unfairly
cheated out of an inheritance and later runs away with Elizabeth’s fifteen-year-old sister,
Lydia.  This action holds the reputation and financial stability of the Bennet family in
jeopardy until Darcy heroically arranges for Wickham to marry Lydia, paying off the
soldier who had also tried the same tactics with Dacy’s beloved baby sister Georgiana
years before.  Elizabeth, whose feelings had been warming to Darcy throughout the novel
is touched by the selfless act he’d tried to carry out anonymously and at the end of the
book accepts his second proposal of marriage.

Emma Thompson, who penned the Academy Award winning screenplay of Austen’s
and Sensibility
was brought in to complete an uncredited/unpaid rewrite for the most
recent adaptation of
Pride and Prejudice directed by Joe Wright.  Wright, initially fearful
that actress Keira Knightley was far too beautiful to play brainy Elizabeth Bennet was won
over by the star’s tomboy attitude and made the most of her joking manner in the film
adaptation.  Her fine portrayal, which earned the actress an Academy Award nomination
is all the more impressive given that she was precisely the same age as Elizabeth in the
book and helped make her characterization that much more authentic.

The film, which takes place the year Austen first wrote the book in 1797 as opposed to
1813 when it was released, takes a more realistic look at the characters by making the
middle class Bennet family grubbier and earthier with darker lighting truer to the
setting.  The startlingly unkempt clan with oily hair and unfashionable clothing is a far
cry to the posh, elegant Bennets portrayed on film in other versions.  Providing a sharp
contrast to modest Elizabeth Bennet, the vanity of Fitzwilliam Darcy is magnified in
Wright’s version and the actor valiantly fights the urge to simply play the character as the
dashing hero early on, reveling in his gruff, cold, calculated dialogue.  His portrayal
makes it all the more fascinating for the audience to discover Elizabeth may have been
wrong in her first impression of him as an emotionless bore.  As the sweet-natured
character of Jane provides a nice foil to Elizabeth’s sometimes far too cynical prejudices
regarding men and courtship, the character of Bingley is characterized as even sillier in
the film version-- bumbling his lines Hugh Grant style and thus making it a real shock
that he would be stuffy intellectual Darcy’s best friend.  Possibly indicative of being the
only one of the three films crafted by a male director, the viewer is privy to a few scenes
from the male characters’ perspective that were unavailable in Austen’s female-centric
novel which, according to the producer, spoke to women in a way that men will never fully
understand. My personal favorite addition was a hilarious scene involving Bingley and
Darcy replaying and over-analyzing events by the riverside.  The previous scene had been
entirely shown from the women’s point of view but as the men speak, we realize that their
plan to visit the Bennet’s and make their intentions known to Jane and Elizabeth have
been dashed by Mrs. Bennet never having offered them a seat, ultimately giving them no
choice but to depart.  Any man who has walked away cursing themselves for
unsuccessfully trying to find a way to ask someone out will definitely identify and women
will smile in recognition that like us, men do obsess greatly.

Most admirable in this cinematic version is the unabashedly romantic, old-fashioned
delight the filmmakers have taken by reveling in all of the details that Austen fans
cherish.  This is the only film of the three that has kept the beautiful, symbolic depiction
of Pemberley, Darcy’s grand estate and Elizabeth touring it while realizing her feelings for
the owner are changing as she stumbles on the man himself, having erroneously believed
she’d believed he’d been away.  It’s also much more old-fashioned in staying true to Darcy’
s selfless love for Elizabeth and the classy way he tries to win over her aunt and uncle,
save her family’s reputation without her knowledge and prove his love for her is pure and
true by trying to guarantee not only her happiness but that of her loved ones as well.  
However, the filmmakers quickly learned that Americans preferred a sexier conclusion to
their chaste courtship than the original ending shown to test audiences.  Staying true to
the novel and time period, Elizabeth and Darcy agree to marry and tenderly exchange
words of affection without any physical proof other than touching foreheads.  Americans
longed for a kiss and so grudgingly, and to the chagrin of Austen devotees everywhere, in
the American ending, the two exchange excessively sugary dialogue and finally kiss in the
last shot.  Personally, I felt the addition of the kiss actually lessened the romance, pulling
viewers out of Austen’s world and made us painfully aware that we were watching a film
and believe it’s even sexier to see the restraint because the intention was there and we
knew they’d get around to it eventually.

While Austen championed the subtleties of love and courtship, newspaper columnist
Helen Fielding relished in the post-sexual revolution liberties provided to female writers
in the 1990’s with
Bridget Jones’s Diary, her modern take on Pride and Prejudice. The
published novel, written in the form of a comedic diary by an overweight, single British
woman looking for love in London, quickly became one of the first and most successful
works of the now insufferably popular chicklit genre.  Sharon Maguire, real life friend of
Helen Fielding and the inspiration of Bridget’s curse happy friend Shazza in the novel,
was tapped to bring the book to the big screen.  Fielding adapted her own work along with
screenwriter Andrew Davies, who had penned the wildly lauded BBC version of
Pride and
starring Colin Firth.  Firth’s portrayal of Fitzwilliam Darcy in the BBC
miniseries helped solidify the Darcy archetype and caused women around the world to
fall for the actor, including Fielding who became so enamored of his portrayal that he
became her muse for the Darcy character in
Bridget Jones.  It was only fitting that Firth
starred in Maguire’s film as the Darcy update, now renamed Mark Darcy and given a sexy
Atticus Finch like career as a human rights barrister and champion for all things just.  He
serves as a nice counterpoint to Hugh Grant’s Wickham role as sexy cad Daniel Cleaver,
Bridget Jones’s boss at a publishing company named Pemberely Press as homage to Darcy’
s estate in Austen’s novel.  Native Texan Renee Zellweger was chosen after an exhaustive
search for the role of Bridget and, after adding twenty-five pounds to her thin frame and
disappearing behind a wonderfully convincing accent, earned an Academy Award
nomination for her role.

While the film stays remarkably true to Austen’s source material, the subplot involving
Lydia running away with Wickham in the original was changed in Fielding’s tale, which
finds insecure Bridget an only child with a self-created urban family of complicated, self-
involved thirty-something single friends.  Bridget’s mother becomes the replacement for
Lydia as she goes through a midlife crisis, leaves her husband for a smooth-talking
infomercial spokesperson with a fake tan and endless sexual experience and becomes his
on-air model before finally returning home. The updated plot change adds humor to the
story and also provides a nice feminist spin as we see a mother and daughter both looking
for independence and their place in life, having been raised in different eras.  Bridget’s
mother says she’d had no power, career, or a satisfying sex life as a housewife and longs
for the freedom that women have today.  Whereas in contrast financially stable Bridget
starts a sexual relationship with her boss but after he announces he’s engaged to a
confident, young thin American woman, realizes she wants a comfortable relationship,
most likely indicative of the one she’d known growing up but with more independence and
better bedroom skills.

Although the film’s plot is very similar to
Pride and Prejudice, the story is told in a way
that makes it play more successfully as a comedy but definitely damages the spirit of
Austen’s novel.  While it’s refreshing to see a flawed heroine that women can look up to,
making our beloved Elizabeth into a chain smoking, vodka guzzling, clumsy, awkward,
and none too bright woman who puts men’s needs first and hops into bed with her boss is
a bit disheartening.  Eventually Bridget wises up, tries to kick her bad habits, and buys
herself some self-help books without the word “men” in the title but it’s disingenuous that
the big turning point for her comes after being disappointed by a man.  The filmmakers
try to camouflage this with plenty of R&B girl power music on the soundtrack but astute
viewers will see right through their ploy.

While she has fleeting daydreams of marriage to Cleaver, Bridget ultimately finds
happiness with Darcy.  Instead of offering a marriage proposal like in Austen’s book,
Darcy informs Bridget that he likes her just the way she is after they keep bumping into
each other awkwardly in embarrassing situations that lead to misunderstandings and
unflattering impressions.  Staying true to modern romantic comedies, the film ends in a
clinch, although instead of the couple agreeing on his and her towels and a church
wedding, the two agree to first take it back to her place—something Austen would never
dreamed have writing back in 1797.  However, like the newest version of
Pride and
, which was incidentally produced by those responsible for Bridget Jones’s
, the film also had a different ending in its American release than it does back home
in England.  According to the Amazon website, in the British version, the credits roll along
with stills from the film and humorous interviews about the leads with supporting
characters. In the American finale, viewers are treated to home movies of a young Bridget
and Darcy who had played together as children.  Honestly, I’ve never cared for the tacky
home videos so in this case, I’d have to side with the original British ending as well.

Pleasing international audiences is a daunting goal for any movie, let alone a film such as
Bride and Prejudice, Gurinder Chadha’s inventive adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
Whipped up into an infectious blend of the Hollywood musicals that delighted her as a
child and the Bollywood films of her native India, Chadha’s opus takes viewers on a
whirlwind tour of England, India and America, thereby proving that love is the universal
language and the best way to speak it is through song.  As the title promises, marital
union is the overwhelming theme of the film and shows up frequently throughout, from
the opening line that is taken right from Austen to the memorable song “No Life Without
Wife,” which was a famous saying of Chadha’s father.  In
Bride and Prejudice, the Bennets
become the Bakshis, a middle class Indian family, sans one daughter, as four girls singing
and dancing proves to be much more symmetrically beneficial to the musical rather than
keeping the fifth from Austen.  While at first the idea of a musical telling of Jane Austen
seems a bit too radical to be successful, I found myself extremely impressed by Chadha’s
usage of songs as a way for the women to have a voice.  The music serves as a narration for
the women in a male dominated Indian society where their worth lies in the type of
husband they can attract and every single song adds something to the story in a way
beyond their being simply a spectacular showcase for the filmmaker and stars.  

The breathtaking Aishwarya Rai, Bollywood’s most popular star, was selected to portray
Lalita, the Elizabeth character, in her first performance entirely in English.  The actress
chose to gain twenty pounds for the role because she felt it was important for her not to
look like a fashion model—a courageous decision that probably wouldn’t have been made
by an American star. Rai wanted her beauty to shine through naturally from her fiery wit
as she challenges millionaire hotel chain owner Will Darcy, played by Martin Henderson
in a role first considered by Oscar nominees Johnny Depp and Joaquin Phoenix.  
Henderson was drawn to Chadha’s script (which in its earliest drafts included lyrics
written by an Indian songwriter) because he was taken with the naïveté and innocence
lacking in Western cinema.  He felt that most Western scripts were far too cynical in their
romantic attitudes and loved Chadha’s wholesome celebration of life, love and marriage.  
Henderson felt that as Darcy he could represent the audience as a Western spectator to
the director’s visual feast.  The actor said above all he wanted to pay respect to the Darcy
archetype set forth by actors such as Colin Firth and welcomed the opportunity to do so
in a telling that is completely unique.

Perhaps indicative of the economic situation in India, the class struggle of the Bakshi
family and the pride Lalita feels for the poorer, hardworking native Indians who choose
not to sell out and go to America is heightened greatly.  As a viewer with plenty of blue
collar pride and an admitted distrust of the unfairly privileged and/or snobbishly
wealthy, I had finally found an Elizabeth that hit home.  Most of the disagreements Lalita
and Darcy have center on culture clashes, racism, Eastern and Western thinking and
more than half of them revolve around economic issues which makes Austen’s work seem
much more timely and vital than being viewed simply as merely a comedy of manners.  
Balraj, formerly Darcy’s best friend Bingley, is finally given some justice as this is the only
version wherein he is actually sexy, intelligent and given a bit more to work with than the
otherwise bumbling, kind foil to play off Darcy’s snobbery.  Balraj also helps serve as a
middle ground in the war of the East and West.  The role of boorish Mr. Collins, a distant
relative of the Bennet’s who unromantically proposes to Elizabeth is also augmented in
the film’s most successful comedic element as Mr. Kohli, an accountant who left India to
become wealthy, living in a Los Angeles subdivision complete with a basketball hoop.  
Wickham is also made a bit more dangerous in his attraction to younger women as Darcy
informs Lalita that not only had he tried to elope with his sister but he’d gotten her
pregnant as well.  The results of the pregnancy are never revealed but a baby is never
mentioned later on, making the viewer wonder if possibly Chadha is implying that Darcy’s
sister had had an abortion.  

Strengthening Lalita’s attraction to Darcy, Chadha gives them something else in common
by replacing the role of Austen’s Lady Catherine De Bourgh, Darcy’s aunt who wishes him
to marry her homely daughter and instead giving Darcy an overbearing mother equal to
Lalita’s.  The difference between the two is that while Lalita’s mother acts foolishly
pushing her daughters into engagements, she has their best interests at heart whereas
Darcy’s mother tries to arrange his marriage to a non-ethnic blonde, heightening the
undercurrent of racial prejudice. Chadha, who is married to a man of a different race
herself, dealt with interracial romances in earlier films such as
What’s Cooking and Bend
it Like Beckham
and does not let viewers forget the issue, making a few good points in
showing the ways that both families would have a problem with the interracial match.
Finally, the two realize their love is worth defying prejudice, parental obligation and
societal pressure and manage to make a commitment to each other at the end of the film.

In Nora Ephron’s
Pride and Prejudice influenced You’ve Got Mail, Meg Ryan tells Tom
Hanks that Elizabeth Bennet is one of the greatest and most complicated literary
characters ever written.  It seems that everyone identifies with Jane Austen’s works, for,
as Keira Knightley stated in a behind the scenes look at the newest version, every girl who
Pride feels that it is uniquely her own story and feels a strong sense of ownership for
it.  While cinematic adaptations of the works of William Shakespeare have always been in
fashion, the post-feminist era of the 1990’s found a new source of inspiration in the novels
of Jane Austen with her characters and plots showing up in a variety of films.  However, it
wasn’t until the new millennium that suddenly audiences began seeing one Austen
adaptation after another, with several based on her masterpiece
Pride and Prejudice even
including a Mormon comedy by the same name.  In setting out to choose three works that
would best represent both the voice of Austen with the modern day feminist ways of
thinking and cinematic technique, I chose the ones I’d most frequently settle in with on a
rainy day when one doesn’t have the time or patience for the six hour BBC miniseries.  
While the three titles all come from England, wildly different approaches were taken in
the works.  The directors set out to highlight themes that resonated with them most
profoundly such as race and class in
Bride and Prejudice, women’s roles and the quest for
independence in
Bridget Jones’s Diary and making sure male viewpoints were included
as well in
Pride and Prejudice, the only one of the three helmed by a man.  While I
honestly feel that Austen would have enjoyed all three, personally I was the most
impressed with the authenticity of
Bride and Prejudice which plays even better the
second or third time around but I feel that those who have never read the book would
probably do best to rent the meticulous adaptation by Joe Wright.


    Amazon.com.  Trivia and technical data on Bride and Prejudice, Pride and
    Prejudice and Bridget Jones’s Diary.  24 February 2006.

    Austen Jane.  Pride and Prejudice.  New York.  Barnes and Noble Books,

    Bride and Prejudice.  Dir: Gurinder Chadha.  Miramax, 2005.

    Bridget Jones’s Diary.  Dir: Sharon Maguire.  Miramax, 2001.

    Douthat, Ross.  SparkNotes on Pride and Prejudice. 16 Feb. 2006.  

    Pride and Prejudice.  Dir: Joe Wright.  Focus Features, 2005.  
The Cinematic Makeover of Elizabeth Bennet:
Three Versions of
Pride and Prejudice
By Jen Johans
(c) Jen Johans.   filmintuition.com
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