The Lisa Essays
(back by popular demand):
Originally posted on the Firthlist, reposted here on the P&P2BB with permission for the first time on July 24, 1996.
By Lisa in New ZealandAt the risk of rehashing old material, I'd like to talk (at length -- be warned!) about my impressions of Andrew Davies' adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, and to compare it with the earlier BBC version dramatised by Fay Weldon. Feedback very welcome indeed.
I've just been watching the Weldon version on rented video, not having seen it since it was first broadcast some years ago, and it was quite a shock coming back to it. Obviously, it had a much smaller budget, so it seems very pale (almost anaemic) by comparison with (say) the sumptuous parties and balls of the new version. It was made on video, using TV techniques - ie, long, slow takes, which lead to stillness and a certain lack of energy, as opposed to the new version, made on film with film techniques, and very clever editing. The only filmed parts of the older version are outdoors walking shots & a few scenes with people driving about in carriages -- all very sedate.
It is fascinating to see how two screenwriters can do such different things with the same material. Weldon approaches the task from the woman's viewpoint (not surprising!), which could be argued to be closer to Jane Austen's view. Weldon's Mrs Bennet is treated with a little more sympathy - it is suggested that what is wrong in her marriage is as much her husband's fault as hers, and she is much less strident than the newer Mrs Bennet, who sometimes teeters on the edge of caricature. Charlotte Lucas is given greater prominence, (and Jane Bennet less prominence, oddly enough) and as in the book, we see things largely from Elizabeth's point of view. For example, when she bumps into Darcy at Pemberley, it is a surprise to us as well as to her, as is her later discovery that he has engineered Lydia & Wickham's marriage - and this is how it happens in the book, where we are kept in a delicious state of suspense. A lot of the narrative of the book appears as voice over thoughts for Elizabeth, particularly when she is thinking about Darcy at various stages. This can get very pedantic and dull, and seems quite unnecessary - Jennifer Ehle & Colin Firth can convey all the same feelings just by their facial expressions and silences.
Weldon and Davies pick and choose from the dialogue in the book, and both are forced to make up a fair bit, since Jane Austen often only reports the gist of a conversation. (It always surprises me when I go back to the book and re-discover this -- the way she writes, you feel as though you know exactly what was in those conversations.) For example, describing Darcy during that surprise meeting at Pemberley, Austen only says: "Nor did he seem much more at ease; when he spoke, his accent had none of its usual sedateness; and he repeated his enquiries as to the time of her having left Longbourn, and of her staying in Derbyshire, so often, and in so hurried a way, as plainly spoke the distraction of his thoughts. At length, every idea seemed to fail him . . ." Colin, of course, played this scene quite beautifully. Still, there are at least two bits that Weldon included which Davies omitted that I think were worth keeping. One is a telling little phrase in Darcy's letter to Lizzie, in which he says of Bingley "I had often seen him in love before." This gives him maybe a little more justification for deciding that he could separate Bingley & Jane. The other occurs when Lizzie is at Netherfield to look after Jane, and Bingley says to Elizabeth "I assure you that if Darcy were not such a great tall fellow, in comparison with myself, I should not pay him half so much deference. I declare I do not know a more aweful (sic) object than Darcy, on particular occasions, and in particular places; at his own house especially, and of a Sunday evening when he has nothing to do." This is a lovely moment that helps to make real the friendship between Darcy and Bingley, and humanises Darcy.
Weldon's version spins out the final courting scenes of Lizzie & Darcy, using more scenes from the book than Davies does -- he just wanted to cut straight to the chase and marry them off. Mind you, the Weldon scenes are played with so little love and passion, so much polite restraint, that they don't add a great deal. The last image we have of Darcy & Lizzie is a tasteful long shot of them standing under the branches of a big tree, like some Regency chocolate box cover. My only regret is that the Davies version couldn't squeeze in some of my favourite moments from the end of the novel -- Lizzie teasing Darcy on why he was so quiet when he came back to see her at Longbourn, for example. Davies' wedding scene is masterful -- all those shots of the various couples, expressing different views of marriage -- for instance, the vicar talks about man's carnal lusts and appetites over a shot of Mr and Mrs Bennet, which perfectly sums up their marriage, and later he speaks of mutual society, help and comfort over a shot of Darcy & Lizzie -- the perfect couple. I love Darcy's huge grin of happiness when he comes out of church -- at last, he has learned not to hide all his feelings from the world, and he can just be happy.
Weldon goes for more comedy than Andrew Davies does in the Mr Collins/Rosings scenes. I actually like both versions of Mr Collins -- the earlier one is very tall and gangling, with a great comic walk. The recent one (David Bamber) hits the exact right note of Collins' pompous self-importance and obsequiousness, and does a nice line in subtext. It is clear at Hunsford that he is sending Lizzie messages about what she has missed out on by not marrying him. Taking her cue from the novel, where Jane writes that Lady Catherine "enquired into Charlotte's domestic concerns familiarly and minutely, and gave her a great deal of advice, as to the management of them all", Weldon writes long speeches for Lady Cath that flesh this out, and later shows us Charlotte carrying out some of these instructions at home. Davies' version just has Maria anxiously repacking to Lady Cath's specifications. Lady Cath is much younger and more glamorous in the Weldon version - more confident, less bitter and twisted -- less like Lady Bracknell. Weldon writes in scenes for the Collins's that aren't in the book - a wooing scene between Collins and Charlotte, and a silly scene where they are planting bullrushes, and he is wearing a 'life preserver' hat, recommended by Lady Cath. These scenes are quite lively and fun (interesting that they are new inventions), but in general, there is an air of polite restraint over the whole series.
The two Darcys are very different. Let me start by saying (no surprise here!) that Colin Firth is to me the definitive Darcy - impossible to imagine a better one. You will all know why, but I'll say it anyway. He brings passion, intelligence and a strong physicality to the role, as well as romance, complexity, delicacy, wonderfully observed subtext and let's be honest - gorgeous looks and sheer sex appeal. And of course he is helped by the Davies screenplay, which gives Darcy more screen presence than either Weldon's version or the novel. We lose that sense of surprise in Darcy's actions, because Davies shows them to us - we know Lizzie & Darcy will meet at Pemberley, because we see him arrive and take his famous swim in the lake; we see him hunting down Wickham in London. In fact, I have no problem with this, because there isn't a scene that Davies writes in for Darcy that does not make complete sense in the context of the story. When Darcy hands Elizabeth the letter he has written, in the novel and in Weldon's version, that's all that happens - he appears, hands it over, and goes, and in the Weldon version, we see him walking away in a very stately fashion while Lizzie sits down on a convenient tree trunk and calmly reads the whole letter, done as a voice over by Darcy. Actually, the novel tells us he wrote the letter at 8 o'clock in the morning, but despite this, the Davies version seems so right -- of course a man so caught up by passion, disappointment and injustice as Darcy *should* stay up all night, writing his little heart out! (And I prefer to close my eyes to the fact that it shouldn't really have taken him a whole night to write the letter.) The scene where Darcy chooses his clothes before riding over to see Lizzie at Lambton makes perfect sense (and makes me wonder even more -- exactly what was it he came by to ask her, since evidently she was scheduled to come over for dinner later that day?). Even the fencing scene seems quite justifiable, reminding us that Darcy has had problems of his own to deal with while Lizzie has been languishing back home at Longbourn. And of course, watching Colin being manly and dashing and ravaged by love doesn't hurt, either.
So what about the other Darcy, David Rintoul? Weird guy -- he has a pleasant, soothing, gentlemanly voice, he is tall and dark and could be called handsome, in a rigid, plastic sort of way. Odd head shape, I thought. He is also remote, passionless, virtually expressionless, and walks about as though someone has inserted a very stiff poker up his bottom. He has no life force, and no existence beyond the need for him to pop up in Lizzie's life on demand as the story dictates. There seems little excuse for this. I looked back at the novel to see how Darcy behaves, and he is actually a living, breathing, human being, with real emotions. Colin carries out some of Austen's "stage directions" to the letter - I wonder, did Davies write them into the screenplay, or did Colin actually go and read the book after all? For example, when Darcy encounters Lizzie at Pemberley, the book says "Their eyes instantly met, and the cheeks of each were overspread with the deepest blush. He absolutely started, and for a moment seemed immoveable from surprise." Or how about Darcy's first proposal at Hunsford? "In a hurried manner, he immediately began an enquiry after her health. . . He sat down for a few moments, and then getting up walked about the room . . After a silence of several minutes he came towards her in an agitated manner, and thus began, 'In vain have I struggled . . .' " etc.
As for the dip in the lake -- well, there was clearly a lust factor built in here -- I know I was very thrilled by the scene, and by the sight of our hunky hero striding along dripping wet, shirt clinging to his chest. (And I might add it made Colin look a lot more gorgeous than if he had been actually naked, if the bathing scenes in The Advocate are anything to go by.) It works on all sorts of levels. First, it expresses Darcy's physicality, which the new version emphasises -- he is shown fencing, riding, shooting, swimming, bathing, walking -- in other words, he is a flesh and blood man full of energy and life, and not just some effete, genteel, posturing Regency hero (which is how I see Rintoul's Darcy). This alone would make him a worthy partner of Jennifer Ehle's feisty Elizabeth. I remember being utterly charmed by her from the very beginning, when we are introduced to her out walking, and she starts to run, revelling in the freedom and the exercise. I knew I was going to like this Lizzie straight away. Second, it makes absolute sense of the meeting between Darcy and Lizzie. It puts Darcy at a disadvantage, helps to increase embarrassment for both of them (and don't tell me Lizzie doesn't notice the way he looks . . .), and gives him a strong reason for excusing himself and disappearing up to the house. Not to mention the cuteness of him rushing off to get decently dressed, and dashing back out to catch up with her as soon as possible.
Jennifer Ehle is superb (I am so glad she won the BAFTA) - and boy, what a responsibility she carries! There isn't a scene in the series, from memory, that doesn't feature her or Darcy. I couldn't imagine a better Elizabeth, and I feel quite 'precious' about the character, since she's the heroine of my all time favourite novel. She is charming, funny, intelligent, pig headed, obstinate, very pretty without being a plastic beauty, she makes mistakes and gets angry and bored and frustrated and embarrassed -- she's a flesh and blood woman. Her solitary walks, which certainly exist in the novel, express her physical side well, and Davies caught her perfectly in the (invented) scene where she plays with the dog at Netherfield and Darcy spies on her from his bathroom. (Yet another great lust filled moment for Darcy watchers.) You can easily see why Darcy falls for her, and why she attracts Wickham, Col. Fitzwilliam, maybe even Mr Collins. Jane Austen describes the mixture of 'sweetness and archness in her manner' that 'bewitched' Darcy, and Jennifer Ehle has it in spades!
By contrast, Elizabeth Garvie, who played the earlier Lizzie, is quite pretty and intelligent (though she wears some very unflattering clothes) but she can also be insipid, simpering, coy and far too mild mannered. She walks about very sedately, and never shows any passion. The only time she actually runs is in a dubious inversion from the book. When she gets the bad news about Lydia, instead of Darcy walking in on her at the Inn, she runs all the way to Pemberley(!) and bursts in on him in his drawing room on the pretext of looking for her uncle. What can Fay Weldon have been thinking? What does it say about Elizabeth? Rintoul's Darcy, in this scene, is his usual polite, remote self, more like a distant relation than a lover. Colin is perfect (of course) -- I marvel every time I watch the scene at the suppressed passion and deep concern he shows for Lizzie -- as in the wonderful moment when he impulsively takes her hand in both of his, and then delicately releases her, first one hand, then the other, for propriety's sake. And you just know he wants to cuddle her and look after her, but he doesn't have the right to. I also like the little added scene of him moping about at Pemberley that night, being snappy to Miss Bingley, before deciding to put himself and his pride on the line for Lizzie.
On the subject of all those long, lingering looks - Jane Austen certainly refers to them, repeatedly. Eg, when Darcy leaves Lizzie at the inn, he goes "with one serious, parting look". Comments about Lizzie's fine eyes are rife in the novel. In Weldon's version, Lizzie talks about Darcy looking at her a lot, but they never show this in a single close up. Astonishing! Needless to say, I just loved to pieces all the great, sexy looks between Darcy and Lizzie in the Davies version -- like the rest of you, I imagine, I was blown away by the incredibly erotic Pemberley piano scene. Some great looks, too, when Darcy comes back to Longbourn with Bingley.
Colin & Jennifer conveyed so much attraction in so subtle a fashion. The kiss at the end, cute (and tame!) as it was, almost seemed unnecessary -- you just know that this is the perfect couple. They did great stuff with body language -- I loved the fact that, when they are walking together at Pemberley, they unconsciously mirror each other, walking along with their arms behind their backs. And it was so cute that, when they finally get it together, they keep gently bumping against each other as they walk along.
Thanks for reading this far. Eventually, I'd like to talk about the Olivier film version, as well.
Lisa in New Zealand
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By Lisa in New Zealand
In those idle moments when I rank my favourite scenes in Andrew Davies' Pride & Prejudice, I have come to the realisation that the Netherfield ball scene, though not the one I would have expected to pick first, is the scene I am most drawn to - I have watched it many times, in fascination. As I have been threatening to do for some time, I wanted to write down my impressions of this scene. I don't have any amazing new insights, I just wanted the chance to lay my thoughts before a generally sympathetic audience of obsessed P&P watchers! It is fun, just trying to commit what one thinks to paper.
To begin at the beginning:
When Lizzy arrives with her family at Netherfield, she is pleasantly anticipating an evening of dancing and flirting with George Wickham, for whom she has dressed with particular care. The screenplay stresses this point - note how many people tell Lizzy how pretty she looks, from her mum through to Denny. Were they worried we wouldn't notice? It's a lovely moment that the first person she sees is Darcy, looking from a window. And why is he there? He's been watching out for her, of course! The man is a mess in this scene - it's a turning point in his feelings for Lizzy. He's been haunting the window, wondering when she will arrive, and as soon as she does, and catches his eye, he stalks away. The pattern is set for the evening. He can't stand to be near her, and he can't keep away from her.
Jane Austen (and Andrew Davies) plant all sorts of loaded clues about Wickham in this scene, which Lizzy is in no mood to pick up. For example, Denny tells her that Wickham stayed away "because he wished to avoid a certain gentleman here". In other words, even though Wickham expressly told Lizzy he would keep silent about Darcy ("Till I can forget his father, I can never defy or expose him."), he has already told at least his fellow officers (and gradually, everybody else in Meryton, until the scene where we learn from Mr Bennet that Wickham has told his tale of woe to the entire Bennet family over afternoon tea! - "It was very good of him to entertain us so eloquently with stories about his misfortunes."). After Lizzy's dance with Darcy, she is told the truth about Wickham by the one person she (and the viewer/reader with her) is least likely to believe - Miss Bingley. Another cunning ruse of JA's! And of course, Lizzy's sister Jane always preaches caution and moderation, and Lizzy, like the rest of us, writes off her sister's comments as stemming from her own ultra-goodness and naive view of the world.
Andrew Davies has taken everything Jane Austen offers, and adds elements of his own which make the whole scene even more delicious and tortured. The entire prelude to Lizzy & Darcy dancing is designed to put her in the worst possible frame of mind, from her mistaken conviction that Darcy has somehow been responsible for Wickham's absence (and her consequent disappointment) to the anguish of having to dance with Mr Collins - a fate she has brought entirely on herself, by being far too smart for her own good. The image of Mr Collins' black clad legs, flailing like a randy grasshopper as he dances, will long stay with me. Her mood is capped when Darcy approaches her just as she is venting her feelings about him to Charlotte, and she is embarassed in case he has overheard her. No wonder she is lost for words, and accepts his dancing offer. JA simply tells us she was engaged in conversation with Charlotte when Darcy came up, so this is Davies' clever idea for stacking the cards against the poor man. Darcy walking away immediately is straight out of Austen, but Colin shows us clearly why he does it. (He talks about Darcy's terribly mixed and confused feelings in this scene very articulately in the "Making of P&P" book.) The poor man just can't help himself, and hates himself for giving in . . . He is also laying his pride on the line, since Lizzy has already rejected him once as a dancing partner (at Lucas Lodge). (And a second time in the novel, during an evening at Netherfield.)
Then there is "Darcycam", as our hero walks about observing the ballroom, trying not to stare at Lizzy all the time, but inevitably drawn back to her. Great sequence! It's also fun to spot the other characters in the background, all acting their little socks off - watch Mary, for example, while her sister is dancing. Or Jane and Bingley dancing together. I loved the uncharacteristic smirk on Darcy's face as he takes a moment of malicious pleasure in Mr Collins' dancing mistake. Of course, Lizzy notices him immediately, and is furious and embarassed that he has been watching her agony. As many of you have commented, she is completely aware of Darcy's presence at all times, showing that, subconsciously at least, she is very attracted to him. And when he's not around, she still seems to be talking about him all the time. Wake up girl! Recognise your malady and join the Firthlist!
What fascinates me the most is the central dance, in the way it is scripted, directed, edited and performed. The words, of course, are Jane Austen's, though not for the first time, Davies has to supply dialogue you could have sworn Jane wrote - her prose is so vivid you think she has written dialogue when she often hasn't. In fact, many of Jane Austen's lines are cut, and significantly, Davies chooses to particularly edit Darcy's contribution to the conversation. JA almost allows him to be charming - in the book, he is extremely gallant to Lizzy, given the smart arse comments she makes - but Lizzy doesn't want to acknowledge this side of him. In the film, of course, he is tongue tied and lets Lizzy run rings around him, writhing inwardly, but not as quick with repartee as she is, and prohibited by the movements of the dance from replying immediately in any case.
The choice of dance is perfect, as many have noted. Wonderful music ("Mr Beveridge's Maggot", right?), with charm and dignity, and simple but beautiful patterns of movement. I loved Andrew Davies' comment that the steps of the dance echo a combat, a fencing match, the steps of a matador (eg, that wonderful arm posture as they make their turns - very pasa doble!). I agree entirely. All that touching and turning and hand holding and weaving around one another. Oooh, it's quite erotic, and very combative, and is as significant as the dialogue in developing this stage of their relationship. I love the fact that they gave the dance such "space" - nearly six minutes of it! I was in awe as it went on and on when I first saw it. And beautifully edited, so that every turn and step matches in every shot. (Though I did spot a couple of shots of Jennifer that featured the infamous hair trapped in the camera as described in Making of P&P book.) Of course, editing a dance should be relatively easy, as the actors are forced to repeat the same patterns at the same pace each time. Still, look at the number of angles they filmed it from - imagine how many times they must have had to repeat the dance! (And that doesn't include the number of repeats for errors of one kind or another.) The steadicam shots are great, travelling fluidly with them through the movements of the dance, adding to the sinuous effect of the dance and the debate.
Aren't Colin and Jennifer graceful dancers. Logically, of course, the dance should not have ended when it did. They may stop and bow with confidence because the choreographer told 'em to, but they should have continued until they were at the head of the line again. I love the expression on Darcy's face while he waits gravely to bow at the beginning - one of those editing choices I marvel at. I think I fell in love with him during that beautiful bow. (An oddity - when the camera focuses on the women's faces before the opening bow, Jane's head nods in slow motion - why did they need to slow this shot down? Well, I guess for editing reasons - they were cutting to the music at that point, and the shot clearly wasn't long enough.) It seems to me that, as the dance progresses, Darcy's moves become more perfunctory - he rises on his toes and is very graceful at the start, and once he gets more and more entangled in Lizzy's snappy remarks, he starts to walk through the thing, only recollecting himself in the final measures.
I love the expression on Darcy's face when he finally introduces a topic of conversation - "Do you often walk into Meryton?". It's a mixture of smugness ("there! I'm playing the game, now, try and make fun of *that* innocuous comment"), tolerance and conviction that he is holding up his end of things. Poor boy, little does he know what an opening he has just given Lizzy. . . (On the other hand, since he cannot have forgotten seeing Wickham in Meryton, perhaps he is offering her a chance to raise the subject . . . ?) Also loved his long, searching look at Bingley and Jane once Sir William has alerted him to the danger of their pairing, and the way that preoccupation with this new thought intervenes between him and Lizzy. The choreography is perfect at this point - the logic of the dance separates them as they walk forward as the outside couple of a foursome, whereas earlier in the dance they are the inside couple. A physical manifestation of the barrier that is growing between them.
If I was to nitpick, I would have to ask, why make every other guy in the dance (except maybe Bingley) short and ugly? Darcy towers over them all. And no one else wearing black was allowed in the frame with him. Colin can handle some competition! Perhaps this is in his standard contract, along with the 'nudity required' clause. : - ) There was a query on the list a little while ago about Darcy's final line in this sequence: "I would by no means suspend any pleasure of yours." By this stage, he is angry with Lizzy, and this line is icily polite, with veiled sarcasm. In other words, "if you want to pursue this pointless probing and needling, feel free (but don't expect me to hang around and participate.") As Jane Austen tells us, however, "in Darcy's breast there was a tolerable powerful feeling towards her, which soon procured her pardon, and directed all his anger against another."
A beautifully handled, complex scene. And I haven't even found space to talk about the supper scene which follows it! Well, as I said at the start, no amazing insights, but I had fun writing this. Feedback and comments always welcome!
Lisa in New Zealand
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