Monday, March 10, 2008

P&P vs. P&P part 2: Major Characters- the Ladies

Let's begin with the most obvious, shall we?

Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

Played in the A&E version by the lovely Jennifer Ehle, and in the 2005 version by the equally lovely Keira Knightley.

I know some viewers can be annoyed by Keira Knightley, but I happen to be one of her fans, so I'm not using that argument against her portrayel as Lizzy.

Actually, I think both women portrayed our heroine in very similar ways. I was watching them, and found that they actually use many similar mannerisims. I don't know if that was unintentional, or if Knightley or her director made a concious decision to imitate Ehle.

Lizzy Bennet is 20 years of age, and is known for her liveliness. She is the second prettiest of the Bennet sisters (as well as the second oldest) and is intelligent, fond both of reading and of walking. Both Knightely and Ehle do a wonderful job of portraying all of this. Ehle, however, comes across as a bit older (26 at the time), a bit more mature in her views, and it seems less likely that she would make the flawed character judgements that Lizzy does. Knightley is younger (20) and brings a bit more youthful energy to the role. This is no critique of Ehle herself, merely a questioning of whether she was a bit too old to play the part. She certainly took what she had and used it very well.

With Jane Bennet, Lizzy's older, sweeter and prettier sister, the A&E version did not do quite so well. Unfortunately their actress was pregnant at the time- having seen pictures of her later I can say she is a much more attractive lady than she appears on screen. However, in P&P I simply cannot accept her as Jane, for all of her sweetness, because Jane is over and over again declared to be the prettiest of the sisters. The 2005 version was daring enough to cast a secondary role that risked overshadowing the leading lady and in doing so they were more faithful to the Jane created by Austen.

Let me say now- looks are important. In a book we can overlook them, but on screen we must enjoy watching the characters- especially if we are asked to love them. When the production is 5 hours long, physical attractiveness is even more important.

It is because I love Jane that I make this distinction. I want to like her- she is one of the sweetest creatures to walk the pages of a novel and it is important that this translates to screen. Unfortunately so much of loving her depends on watching her- something that I cannot enjoy in the A&E version. Especially when they repeatedly say that she is prettier than Ehle's Lizzy- which I think any viewer would agree is an erroneous statement.


I'll deal with Mrs. Bennet and Lydia next and get the worst of the A&E critiques out of the way. In fact, my issues with them are so similar, that I shall treat them as one. (The same critiques go to Lady Catherine de Borough, by the way).

There is a certain kind of acting that works for the stage- and there is another kind of acting that works for film. On stage, over the top, caricature acting can be quite funny and enjoyable to watch. However, it simply doesn't work on film. I felt that Lydia, Mrs. Bennet and Lady Catherine, while quite funny in their own way, simply did not work on film. I could not take them as real people.

Now, that is one way to view those characters. Certainly they could be represented that way from reading Austen. However, when the rest of the movie takes itself seriously and attempts to portray events "realistically" it is quite jarring to find these characters that are so obviously exaguated.

Now in the 2005 version the actors were given many of the same lines, the same mannerisims, and yet they played them realistically, using those words and actions in a way that makes sense and is believable.

I'll come back to this topic again when I discuss Mr. Collins.

However, lest this post be seen as too harsh against the A&E version, I will discuss a rather intriguing character last.

Charlotte Lucas was, I thought, admirably portrayed in both versions. Yet she is portrayed differantly- and once again, looks have something to do with it.

A&E's version of Charlotte is actually rather pretty. And I'm not certain her age is mentioned. Thus her move to marry Mr. Collins appears less desparate and more cool and calculating.

2005's Charlotte is much more obviously plain, and her conversation with Lizzy reveals her desparation. She is 27- she doesn't want to be a burden to her parents.

And yet both portrayels are realistic. The first, is perhaps, a less sympathetic view, and perhaps a little less likely, and yet I like to see this character played both ways. A woman could marry Mr. Collins out of sheer desperation- or simply because one wants a house of one's own and doesn't particularily care who one is married to. (They're not exactly the same thing- if you've seen both versions more than once, I think you'll understand what I mean.)

Actually, although I suspect that my earlier comments will generate more controversy, I am most curious to hear the opinions that you all have of Charlotte Lucas/Collins. Do you prefer one of the portrayels, and if so, why?


eijtaeojoaehoj said...

Mrs. Bennet had me roaring in laughter! (A&E version.) The film doesn't do her any justice, and portrays her as a rather...unpleasant character.

Elenatintil said...

Paul- I've be VERY curious to see your comparison, if you watched the 2005 version.

Miranda said...

I would agree with your comparison of the two versions. I know that when I was in middle school and junior high, the A&E version was beyond popular with my friends. They could practically recite the episodes by heart. To this day my friend Kaela can't see how Matthew McFayden could hold a candle to Colin Firth in the role of Mr. Darcy. Firth is her Darcy. In my case, somehow I never had a chance to watch the mini series when I was in Junior High, and I didn't see it until after I had seen and adored the 2005 version. I really agree that looks count. The ages and the looks of the actors (2005 P&P) correspond much more closely in my mind to the book than the A&E version. But to the credit of A&E, their P&P casted much better actors than in many of their other interpretations of Austen. Now that Masterpiece Theater is coming out with new Austen interpretations, it will be interesting to see the reactions of Austen fans. So far, I am impressed with the new versions.

Elenatintil said...

I still need to see the new BBC versions. I'm not quite sure yet how I will...I especially want to see Northanger Abbey though, now that my sister has read it. I think it would be fun to watch with her.

More about my opinions of the two Mr. Darcy's in the next post!

Clare said...

I'm very much in agreement with you about Jane. While I like the A&E Jane as an actress, every time someone commented that she was prettier than Lizzy, my eyebrows went up. 2005 Jane is an awesome actress (we also love her in Wives and Daughters), and she also pulls the role off better looks-wise. I just wish they'd had her hair a bit neater! I'm so sensitive to hair, and when I see all those scraggly bits hanging around her face I feel a torturous longing to fix them up a little bit.

I liked both Knightley and Ehle, for different reasons. I think the majority of what I didn't like about the Knightley Lizzy was actually more to do with script. 2005 Lizzy had a bit more modern attitude... for instance, her: "You can't make me!" when referring to marriage with Mr. Collins.

I'll confess honestly: I actually prefer Mrs. Bennet in the A&E version. Over-the-top she may be, but in this instance it really tickles me rather than annoy me.

Now, as to your question about Mr. Collins and Charlotte Lucas...

I like all of the three Mr. Collins I've seen (A&E, BBC, 2005). I really don't think I can choose one. Each actor put a unique spin on the character. The A&E Mr. Collins was a bit creepier, the BBC Mr. Collins was a bit more a buffoon, and the 2005 Mr. Collins was... a bit spacey? I love them all, but Mr. Collins in himself is one of my favourite characters from the book.

As far as Charlotte goes, I don't think I really liked either. I can't put my finger on what I didn't like about the A&E Charlotte... I'll have to watch it again. But the 2005 Charlotte felt a little... intense? I think this is another case where I didn't like what the script did for her. Her, "Don't you dare judge me, Lizzy," seemed a little out of the blue, and out of character.

I'm really interested in hearing your thoughts on her when you get around to it.

I hope you'll forgive me for rambling on so... P&P and film comparisons are such a fun topic for me.

Elenatintil said...

No, I'm delighted by your long comment! This is exactly the sort of discussion I want to encourage.

I think the two lines you mention actually really help bring the emotion home to the modern audience. A classic is a classic because it can relate to us 50 years after it's been written, and obviously we can all still relate to Austen. The problem is that the formality of her writing makes her a bit unaccessable to a lot of modern readers. Even more on film where every word counts (because you should never say something if you can show it). A good scriptwriter (and I will get more into this later) has to analyze every line and figure out exactly why it is in the script, if it sounds realistic, and if there's another line that could serve the purpose better. Then the director has to do the same thing, and finally the actor. In a good movie, all three of these people will take that part of their job seriously and the end result will be fantastic. (A good example would be LOTR. Another pretty good example is Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, translated to film by Kenneth Branagh. The ammount of work that the ACTOR's had to put into determining how to say their line is insane.) Again...more about all this later.

Clare said...

I agree with you to a certain extent... I've never been irked by more modern renderings of classic lines and characters, providing that they keep the same essence of the line and character.

I think the lines of Lizzy and Charlotte put a weird twist on the characters that I didn't see in the books. Lizzy's: "You can't make me," as well as her: "Why don't you just leave me alone!" seemed to convey more of a teenager's attitude and disrespect for parents rather than the classic Lizzy spiritedness.

But now that you mention it, Charlotte's line doesn't seem so out-of-character for her as it does out of place in the setting. It's true I never pictured her being quite so intense, but thinking on it, that would be a very valid interpretation.

It was the frantic defensiveness that puzzled me. Lizzy may have looked a bit shocked and disbelieving, but for such close friends, there didn't seem to be enough display of disapproval on Lizzy's part for Charlotte to pounce so quickly and angrily.

Anonymous said...

Aren't you going to continue with these comparisons?