Friday, February 15, 2013

International Hug Your Favorite Novel-to-Film Adaptation Day!

So last night, some of the girls in the neighborhood threw a pizza-and-movie party. I thought this sounded like a great plan for Valentine's Day . . . though, heck, I think this is a great plan for any Thursday you care to name. So I dropped on by, ate some pizza, and enquired what the movie was.

"Pride and Prejudice," said someone.

"The new one, or the like six-hour one?" asked another.

"The new one. With Kira Knightley. Yeah, we're NOT gonna be here for six hours."

I flinched a little. I saw the new P&P when it was first released on DVD, and remembered not liking it. But, thought I, that was a long while ago, and I've studied a lot of adaptation theory since then. Maybe I'm prejudiced against it by liking the A&E version so much. But there can be two different interpretations of the same text, and they can both be good, right? Maybe I was just being a snob because it wasn't "the right" P&P. I may be a literature grad student, but that shouldn't make me into a jerk who can't enjoy movies. And wouldn't it be ironic if it turns out I'm too prideful and too prejudiced to enjoy watching Pride and Prejudice?

So, with the best of intentions, I sat down to watch.

I had to leave by the Netherfield Ball.

I respectfully submit that my early-planted aversion to this film is based on neither pride nor prejudice. It's just simply quite awful. I know that there are many folks who like it, and to them I say: I'm so sorry.  I really, really am. I'm so hesitant to declare myself a P&P snob when I so recently railed on the Les Mis snobs of my acquaintance. But to all you folks about there who like this movie, I say: there's so much more in this wonderful story for you to enjoy. It takes a bit of effort, and a bit of time, but hardly any money. You can love Pride and Prejudice for so much more than what you're seeing in this film.

Pride and Prejudice, right? Up there with the great novels of the English language. Seriously. Jane Austen was writing at the beginning of the Age of the Novel, when advances in printing technology and literary theory and paper-making allowed the novel, as we understand it, to emerge. Yeah, mid-1700s you get things like Samuel Richardson's Pamela and Henry Fielding's Tom Jones, and the late 1700s you've got the truly goshawful Coelebs in Search of a Wife (which qualifies as a novel in that it is long, prose, and fictional, but is an epic failure if you're looking for character or plot), but right around 1800 was when the English novel really truly took off, and P&P hit the market in 1813. That's two hundred years ago. Two hundred years people have been reading this book. Actually reading it. I mean, other novels from that period and earlier have survived and are still published, but how many have you read? Robinson Crusoe? Clarissa? The Absentee?

And it's never been outdone. P&P has some of the funniest, most human characters you will ever meet. Even with all we know now about psychology and behavioral theory, family relationships and human motivation, we can't harness all that information to draw characters any more engaging than the Bennetts, Bingleys, and Lucases. Part of the continuing delight of this novel is that you can read along and suddenly realize "Oh, my gosh, [character] is totally my sister, my roommate, my best friend, my mom!" That's part of the funniness of it: just the delight of meeting the caricatures of people you already know. When I'm watching a film adaptation of this book and can't remember which girl is Lydia and which is Kitty, there's a problem.

It's got some of the sharpest one-liners in the English language. "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." Two hundred years, and this is still funny. The dialogue and the details absolutely sparkle. It's like listening to a harpsichord: light, clean, quick, fun, emotive. It takes a meaningful level of neglect to make dialogue like this fall upon the ear like lazily-thrown bricks, which, unfortunately, the KN P&P achieves. It's so sad to listen to.

But here's my biggest concern about this film: the hair. The HAIR! In the brief portion I re-watched last night, KN was wearing her hair down (or half-down), in public, fully three times. Please, show me a fashion plate, a portrait, an engraving from this period that shows an upper-class adult woman wearing her hair down in public. Elizabeth should not have been allowed outside (or even downstairs) with her hair looking like that. It marks her as either a child, a lunatic, or a prostitute.*

Which unintentionally made her arrival at Netherfield really funny. She walks in to the room and my whole brain is like "Oh my GOSH her HAIR what is she THINKING?!?" However, the hypercritical Miss Bingley, who from a historical sense should have been even more shocked than I was, comments disdainfully on the state of Elizabeth's skirt. Because that's what's in the book.

There is a film adaptation of P&P that delights in the characters, celebrates the dialogue, and did its homework on hair and costuming. Yes, it's six hours long. Yes, that's a long time. But truly, my dear friends, it is worth it. I can't think of a better novel-to-film adaptation, period. I implore you to give it a try, and see what this lovely story when not just the lead actress, but the entire cast, are allowed to shine.

And if you enjoy that, I'd happily recommend to you the book itself. It is a delicious, sparkling, joyful commentary on the follies and merits of humanity. The text and the film aren't even in competition, as is so often the case: they enhance one another. The KN P&P, I'm sorry to say, just doesn't participate in that synergy at all. Which is sad. KN is a lovely actress and has done some great roles. She even does a darn good job here. But the costumers, screenplay writers, directors and supporting cast are just not where they need to be to let her performance blossom into a worthwhile story. Which is a shame, because it is a very worthwhile story.

So today, the 15th of February, I declare International Hug Your Favorite Novel-to-Film Adaptation Day! Because doesn't your favorite novel-to-film adaptation deserve a hug at least once a year?

*Maybe her house was on fire. It would be acceptable for her to go outside with her hair down if the house had caught fire while she was getting dressed. But if that were the case, you'd think it would be mentioned somewhere in the film. Also, you'd think that someone would do something to stop these house fires from happening three times in a single month.**

**A month with at least one day of pouring rain.


  1. Whoa. I just barely finished reading my friend Mary Mary's post on the Keira Knightley version. It must be a sign.

    I'm not sure what my favorite novel-to-film adaptation is... maybe The Princess Bride.

  2. So true! RoseE, I love you. I want to come to Utah right now, just so we can get together and complain about this version, and celebrate true Pride and Prejudice (and I don't just mean our Pride in better movies and Prejudice against inferior films). When I watched the newer movie, it just seemed all off too me. Her family was too poor, their house needed a painting, all the women looked too skinny, more modern American Waif than British and well fed. The ball was too crowded (as I saw someone mentioned on your facebook feed). And they had Elizabeth deliver a lot of her father's snarky lines. Something that a 50 year old man can deliver an unmarried 20 cannot, without making her look petty and mean. Not to mention the scene in the rain...Oh, dear. I submit that even fast forwarding through half the A&E version, to cut it down to size would still be 10 times better than the newer one.

    Oh, dear, I feel I am too full of vitriol. On the positive side, I really love the movie adaptation to Cold Comfort Farm. In fact, I saw the movie first, and loved it, and that caused me to search out the book, which I also loved.

  3. I saw the 6-hour version on VHS, so just picture an eager 21-year-old moving forward to put in the next tape as she eats up the whole thing. And then picture her mother chuckling in the backround because, due those being the days of one week rentals, she's finishing it the day it's due. No, not kidding.

    I couldn't muster up enough interest to watch the new one. If it's any less than six hours, then they left out *a lot* of plot, and that just didn't seem right to me. I have an issue with film adaptions, period, so I've had this problem with other movies, like the fourth Harry Potter (they left out SPEW! I was outraged. And still am apparently). If' I'm going to hug a film adaptation *aside* from P&P, though, it's the third Harry Potter. Yes, it's not faithful to the plot, either, but I loved it! Maybe it's the wonderful chameleon Gary Oldman, but I just can't help watching it over and over again. I once greeted the new year with Harry Potter.

    Hmm. I wonder if I could get Daniel Radcliffe to let a crazy American girl give him a hug...