It had only been about thirty minutes into the film’s two-hour runtime before Ellen Fuller jumped up, pointing at the screen.
“Where are your sleeves?” she asked, pointing aggressively at the exposed shoulders of Caroline Bingley. “I know the neoclassical style was very in but that doesn’t explain why it looks like you’re wearing your underthings to a ball! No way in hell would a fashion-forward woman like Caroline Bingley wear something so ridiculous. I can see her whole arm for god’s sake! It looks like she came to a ball in her petticoats!” Ellen wailed and buried her head in her hands.
“I mean, you can still see everyone else’s arms through the fabric,” Eleanor noted.
Ellen looked up, with a sigh. “That’s more a la mode. A lot of them are wearing white muslin which can be an extremely sheer fabric. It’s not really about the fact that we can see her arms – it’s the fact that everyone should have sleeves, even just little capped ones that barely cover the shoulder.”
“It’s such a plain dress too,” Ellen added, after half a moment’s pause. “She’s barely wearing jewelry! And Regency styles are so fun! It’s not like the costume department would have any trouble putting her in a period outfit that let us know she was The Baddest Bitch.”
Ellen slumped back into the couch, as Dania laughed aloud.
“Can’t you get lost in the romance of the story?” she asked, sipping rosé.
“Not if she’s going to dress like a harlot,” Ellen shot back.
At this, even Gwen chuckled.
“I read an article about the film,” Gwen said. “Apparently, Joe Wright wanted the film to feel less like a costume drama. More like it was about real people. That’s why things feel out of time period, and there’s a darker, more grimy palette to the colors.”
“Sure,” Dania said. “But I sort of like color.”
“Exactly,” Ellen agreed. “The only problem is, the Bennets are quite well off. They’re members of the landed gentry. If it weren’t for Longbourn being entailed away or if Mr Bennett had bothered to save some of his yearly income the girls would have decent dowries.”
“This whole preoccupation with making things feel ‘real,’” she scoffed. “People like the Bennets did exist. They still dressed in pastels and jewel tones and didn’t share their houses with pigs!”
“What about the pig balls, is that accurate?” Dania smirked.
“The fact is,” Ellen continued, “if the Bennet girls had failed to marry, they would have been penniless at their father’s death. The threat of poverty and hunger is very real. Especially to Jane Austen – after her father died, she and her mother and elder sister had to depend on Jane’s writing and her brothers for their income. I don’t think they ever starved, but they were lucky. Everyone associates Austen with the ‘light, bright, and sparkling,’ but her novels are full of real dangers faced by young women.”
“Can we just watch the movie?” asked Eleanor. She tucked her feet up under herself, and snuggled in for the remainder of the ball scene.
– – – – –
The rest of the viewing went down in a similar manner: occasional interruptions by Ellen, the girls’ longtime friend and resident opinionated Janeite, and Gwen, the self-appointed interpreter of Joe Wright’s vision – often shot back down by Eleanor and Dania.
“Okay, see, this is the one good scene that they added,” Ellen admitted at one point. Onscreen, a distant Darcy and Bingley were discussing ways of wooing a lady, backlit through the dappled elms. “Austen never wrote scenes between men without a woman present. But look at these two nerds!”
“He’s such a little cinnamon roll,” Dania said. “Just get together with Jane already!”
“It’s gonna take time, Dania, they have to court and things like that.” Eleanor said.
“There’s not that much courting actually shown in the movie,” added Gwen. “It’s pretty condensed, as far as Jane Austen adaptations go.”
“Well, the best Pride and Prejudice adaptation is the 1995 BBC miniseries,” Ellen pointed out. “And that’s at least six hours long. You try to cut it down to two hours and you get choices like…”
Her eyes rolled upwards, and with a grumble, added: “That swing scene with Charlotte..”
“What’s wrong with that?” Dania asked.
“It’s just so blunt!” Ellen continued. “I get that there needs to be some explanation of why she’s marrying Mr. Collins. Goodness know, in the book the two discuss it briefly. But the scene here betrays such a lack of trust in the audience. We know that Charlotte is “plain” and we know Mr. Collins has a comfortable living. I don’t think we need it spelled out why a women of a certain age would grab that offer with both hands. There’s a whole emotional journey the film set up that we never get to see! It’s carelessness is what it is.”
“I think it holds off from being too didactic” Gwen said. “Honestly, it’s less smarmy and cliché than the ending.”
“It’s the worst ending,” Ellen added. “I mean, my gods, these are some of the wittiest characters in literature and they’re reduced to mumbling ‘Mrs. Darcy?’ And all that, ‘My Jewel’ business was just so…mushy. Some things should be left to fanfiction.”
“I just think it’s boring,” added Eleanor, as the credits began to roll. “Like, I feel like I never actually got to know anyone. It’s so dull.”
“Except Mary, I got to know Mary immediately,” Dania argued. “I connected with Mary Bennet on a deep emotional level.”
“Georgiana, too,” Eleanor added. “It’s all the side characters, the ones with personality.”
“The leads have personality,” Gwen said.
“They do their best, I suppose.”
Gwen shrugged. “It’s going to be difficult to adapt any way you try. The filmmaking, for what it’s worth, isn’t terrible.”
“Oh, no, it’s quite beautiful,” Ellen added. “The cinematography and the score are the best parts of the movie.”
“It’s just those damned actors…” Dania smirked.
Ellen shot her a look. “Pretty much,” she concurred.
“Well, I thought it wasn’t bad,” Dania said, shifting her weight on the couch. “I haven’t read all the Austen on earth, though.”
“It’s fine as an introduction to Austen,” Ellen agreed. “There’s a good movie in there somewhere. It’s just a shame it’s not…well, better.”
“Yeah,” Eleanor said, before giggling to herself. “I’ll absolutely agree though: the rain scene is stupid.”
“It totally is!” Ellen agreed, sitting up on the couch. “For one, staying out in the rain like that is absolutely idiotic in an Austen adaptation. In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne takes to walking in the rain and gets a ‘putrid infection’ and almost dies from fever. Modern medicine saves lives! Vaccinate your kids!”
“I don’t…” Dania began, looking to the others. “None of us have ––”
“It comes across as really cliché, honestly,” Eleanor said. “What the weather magically corresponds to the way they’re feeling internally?”
“And it’s distracting!” Ellen added. “Two ridiculous people arguing in the rain is far more Brontë than Austen.”
“So how does it happen in the book?” Dania finally asked.
Ellen was happy to explain: “Elizabeth has just been on a walk with Colonel Fitzwilliam who tells her how Darcy separated Bingley and Jane. She goes back to the Collins’ abode with a stress headache and then Darcy comes calling and they have their knock-down-drag-out fight in the drawing room.”
“Like sensible people,” Gwen added.
“Okay, wait. There’s a great parody version on youtube.” Ellen grabbed the laptop and typed into the search bar: “Pride and Prejudice 1995 first proposal get wrecked”
“This is it,” she chimed, clicking on the video. One minute and eleven seconds later, the four young ladies had collapsed in laughter.
“Is there an actual version like that?” Dania asked. “Because I would watch the hell out of that.”
“The Kate Hamill stage adaptations come close,” Gwen pointed out. “They’re in vogue right now. Each of them are about ten actors doing everything, and there’s roller skating and things like that.”
“Honestly, I’m dying to see one,” Ellen said. “Austen’s comedy tends to get lost in the shuffle when it comes to certain adaptations. Or, most likely, there’s stuff that’s funny to me because I’ve been immersed in it for so long, but it’s harder for casual viewers to pick up on. After all, love stories are a dime-a-dozen. Austen resonates because she’s got this arch humor that, in some of her earliest works – the Juvenilia – is positively goofy. I think Kate Hamill captures the spirit and adapts it to the theater without losing the heart. It surprises people and gets them engaged in the material. “
“So you don’t mind changes?” Gwen asked. “You seem like a stickler for detail.”
“I think changes have to happen when you’re adapting a work, especially to a different medium.” Ellen sat up straighter. “The key is to keep the emotional truth of the story while not sacrificing the audience’s intelligence on the altar of marketability. My all-time favorite adaptation of this story is Bride and Prejudice, which sets it in modern day India with Bollywood dance numbers.”
“Color me intrigued,” Dania interjected.
“They change names, circumstances, plot points,” Ellen continued. “But they do it without losing sight of the story: two headstrong, witty people realizing they don’t always have the right answer and falling in love, bickering every step of the way.”
“And at the end of the day, isn’t that what we all want?” Dania grinned.
“That,” Ellen said, “and some damn sleeves.”
Ellen Fuller is an actress, bookworm, and dragonslayer in the Chicago area. You can find her on twitter: @a_little_fuller. She has been a Janeite since receiving her very own VHS of the Kate Beckinsale Emma at the tender age of 3.
Image Credit: Universal Studios