by Christopher Roberts
“Personally, a great film needs to have a well-developed plot and realistic characters. It does not matter how impressive the technical elements are if the story has no substance.”– Eunice Tam
Hello everyone and welcome to the first ‘Their Favourite Film’ article of the new year. A month where we make resolutions, plan on how we change and prepare for the future ahead. I decided for this month to have someone who has so much to look forward to in the coming year, student Eunice Tam.
Eunice is a second-year student at The University of Essex, studying film theory and filmmaking. Having made several short films working in editing and sound operation at university, Eunice has plans to break into the post-production sector of filmmaking and I wish her all the best. So let us hear what Eunice has to say about her favourite film – an adaptation including of one of the literacy’s greatest feminist icons.
Eunice Tam – Pride and Prejudice (2005)
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” In just one sentence, the central themes of the story are inscribed: gender, class and marriage. Jane Austen’s classic story, Pride and Prejudice, is a timeless piece about human relations. There are many adaptations in film and television, but Joe Wright’s version captures the spark of life in Austen’s world and so it has snuck to the top of my list of favourites.
When I first encountered the film, I was immediately drawn to the protagonists, ‘Elizabeth Bennet’ (Keira Knightly) and ‘Mr Darcy’ (Matthew Macfayden) for their grace and sophistication. I especially admire the heroine’s wit and unconventionality. To me, ‘Elizabeth’ is the ideal feminist, she is not opposed to the idea of marriage, but she rejects a socio-economically advantageous union. In a patriarchal society, where women had no rights, her non-conformist actions show bravery, solidifying her identity. She establishes her grounding as a woman, not a potential wife.
Part of what makes the story genuine is the exploration of human behaviours. We follow ‘Elizabeth’s’ observations of her family. What makes her and her sister ‘Jane’ distinct from the family is that they do not have a desperation for marriage. They believe in marrying for love, so they do not change their personality or lower their standards for others. It is not to say that she is perfect, though. Her flaw is her pride in her intelligence. Putting aside one’s pride to admit you’re wrong is something people still struggle with nowadays. It’s interesting to see how the environment we live in evolved but not our egos.
Other than the characters and themes, I was also entranced by the elegant style of cinematography and accompanying humble, yet grand soundtrack. ‘The Netherfield Ball’ is a prime example of compelling visual storytelling. When ‘Elizabeth’ and ‘Mr Darcy’ are dancing, they converse as if no one else is around them. The transition from a room full of people to just the two of them and then going back to the room to end the sequence is so smooth. The cuts are not jarring and even add a layer to the tense character dynamic, without destroying the lively atmosphere of the setting, thanks to the soundtrack.
The brilliance of ‘The Netherfield Ball’ does not end here. We are presented with a continuous shot combining tracking and panning techniques packed with details. We can see all the characters in action as they come and go, in and out of focus. ‘The Ballroom’ scene is not overwhelming, capturing just the right amount of liveliness of the romantic era. Though short and fleeting, the dialogue that comes with the shot pushes the characterisation of each individual in the story as well. The design of this shot shows how much thought and effort goes into filmmaking, which I appreciate immensely. Personally, a great film needs to have a well-developed plot and realistic characters. It does not matter how impressive the technical elements are if the story has no substance. The film has highly commendable techniques, but the best part is that it epitomises the period drama/romance genre, capturing humans at their best and worst. To me, Pride and Prejudice is a beautiful critical reflection of human nature.
Now for people who know me, it might not surprise you to hear that I have never really read or seen any of Jane Austin’s work. I am not a fan of the romance genre or costume dramas. I never saw the appeal of watching the drama unfold among the upper class. The closest I ever came to watching anything like this before was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (what can I say? You throw zombies in it, and you got me). But after reading Eunice’s thoughts on it and why it’s her favourite film, I now see that I let my bias towards the genre stop me from watching what’s meant to be; not only one of the literature’s most significant feministic stories, but also one of cinemas best adaptations of it. And as a film enthusiast, not watching a film like this, for that reason is a great sin.
So keeping Eunice’s words in the back of my mind, I sat to watch the film and honestly, at first, I struggled a little – As I watched the sisters gossip and bicker about the new wealthy bachelor who moved nearby and who could be a suitable husband for one of them. But, as the film progressed I became enthralled with the story, gasping in shock at the twists that unfolded and rooting for ‘Bennet’ to make the right choice of who to be with. I was even shouting at the TV for ‘Bennet’ and ‘Darcy’ to “Bloody kiss already!”.
It’s easy to see why this story was so beloved; not only to people back then, but also in today society. It’s a story transferable through time. In a time when money and status were put above love when seeking a suitable partner, Jane Austin’s work showed that this shouldn’t be the way to reach the minds of women across the country. And while times have changed, the message is still strong now, reaching women worldwide.
This isn’t a story about needing to find a husband; this is a story about finding a husband for the right reasons, as well as the strength in one self. There, of course, have been many adaptations of this story. Still, the reason this one stands out among others is because of the brilliant work done by Director, Joe Wright and cinematographer, Romin Osin (who also did Austopsy of Jane Doe, another beautifully shot film I’ve talked about in a past article). It’s through their vision that we are given a film where every scene looks like Jane Austin words come to life.
Every shot is integral in telling parts of the story that can not be said out loud. A perfect example of this is the one shot at ‘Mr Bingly’s’ party: As the camera moves through the rooms of the house and as the party energetically continues, we witness the many characters in the story interact with each other, allowing the audience to understand their relationship towards each other. A simple and yet effective way to tell the story, it feels more natural than heavy exposition. Then there’s ‘Elizabeth Bennet’ and ‘Mr Darcy’, the iconic couple played by countless actors through the years. This time it’s Keira knightly and Matthew MacFadyen, who perfectly capture the traits that make these characters so iconic. ‘Bennet’s’ rebellious and prideful nature and ‘Darcy’s’ cold, dark demeanour, making him the original. But more than that, their chemistry perfectly captures the love shared between them. Even in scenes where they’re at each other throats, you can feel the love ensconced behind their words and the tension between them. It’s one of literature’s greatest love stories, and they capture it skilfully.
So as you can see, despite my lack of interest in watching something of this genre, I realised that like the characters in the book, I let pride and prejudice stop me. My prejudice against the love and costume drama genre and my pride in thinking I knew what was best for me. In doing so, I prevented myself from seeing a film that should truly not be missed. An important message to all film enthusiasts – “Don’t knock it, until you watch it.” Still though, can’t go wrong with adding zombies into the mix!
My Favourite Fact
It is reported that Director Joe Wright managed to cast Dame Judi Dench as the judgemental ‘Lady Catharine’ by writing a letter to her saying: “I love it when you play a bitch; please come and play a bitch for me.”
Chris Roberts has worked on many film projects across Essex as a boom operator and production assistant. Chris is a full time film trivia expert!
Eunice Tam is a second-year student at The University of Essex, studying film theory and filmmaking, hoping to go into post-production.