Pride and Prejudice, The Value of the 2005 Joe Wright Film, and Sex

Kirre just mentioned the 2005 film as one of her lazy cozy movie watches, so I am taking that as a sign and writing about it! Along with the novel itself.

Before I saw the 2005 film, I read an interview with Joe Wright the director which primed me to hate it. He said he hadn’t read the book before, hadn’t seen the BBC adaptation or any other, had no interest in it really until he was offered the job. And then when he started learning about the book what really struck him was how young everyone was back then when they got married. All of this made me go “what an idiot”. No duh people got married young in the Regency times! And who gets offered this dream job reimagining P&P and HASN’T EVEN READ THE BOOK??? Not to mention the pure chutzpah in thinking there is anything more to do with it after the 90s BBC adaptation with the One True Darcy, Colin Firth.

Colin Firth can't work out why people are attracted to Pride and Prejudice  character Mr Darcy - Mirror Online

So I went to the movie all set for a hate watch, and then, to my total surprise, I loved it! It converted me to seeing Pride & Prejudice in a whole new way, and it converted me to being in love with Joe Wright as a director in a whole new way. His visual storytelling is just so amazing. No wonder he comes off poorly in interviews, he’s a shower not a talker. All his movies, if you describe the plot in words, sound really really stupid/odd. And then you see how they play out in visuals and it’s gorgeousness. Gorgeousness, and also so much feeling. That’s why I haven’t seen all his movies. I saw a bit of Atonement, I was waiting for my movie to start and popped into the Atonement theater just for a bit out of curiosity. And he captures the experience of wartime so well that it made me physically ill. I had to sit down and put my head between my legs because the sort of blasphemy against all humanity and natural laws was so overwhelming. And then I got very picky which Joe Wright movies I watched, because if he was going to sweep me away with emotion, I wanted it to be only happy emotions.

Hanna,' With Eric Bana and Saoirse Ronan - Review - The New York Times
Hanna is amazing, and it’s about fathers and daughters and it will break your heart a little bit.

Which brings me back to Pride and Prejudice! Coming at the story totally fresh, what Joe Wright did was ignore all the talky-talky and look at the emotions underneath. It brought out a whole new layer that is normally hidden under the intellectual levels of the story. This isn’t only a story about social criticism and sharp observations, this is a story about growing up and growing older and how our perspectives change. It’s about the overwhelming emotions of teen years, and confusion, and sex, and parents, and all KINDS of things that I had never noticed before when I was just seeing the proper people in fancy clothes going talky-talk at each other.

Time is just so hard to ignore when you look at classic art. The people in Pride and Prejudice feel formal, feel unemotional, feel all of those things, because they are talking Old Timey. And in most adaptations, because they are also dressed Old Timey. We picture Elizabeth Bennet as a Grown Woman because she is behaving and talking like a present day Grown Woman, and because people are treating her as a Grown Woman. You would think that breaking away from the book, from the language that sounds very formal and mannered to us now, and putting it in a film version would make it younger. But instead, it makes it older! To deliver the dialogue, to handle the very old-fashioned formal kind of romance, you need to be an experienced trained formal actress, and then you end up with someone EVEN OLDER. Greer Garson was 35 when she played her in the 1940s, Jennifer Ehle was 26 in the 1990s.

Pride and Prejudice 1940 and 2005 Revisited | Austen Authors
I’m not saying she looked old in the face, but she just felt mature onscreen, it didn’t feel like I was watching a teenage girl who was too smart for her own good.

Joe Wright came at the novel without all that weight to it. He started not with the words, but with the central idea of a teenage girl and a 20-something man hating each other and then loving each other and then hating each other again. It’s all very high school, and that’s actually correct! It was high school! Teenagers are always teenagers, that’s not different just because society used to treat them differently. And in fact, that is the POINT of the book. Well, one of many.

This is a book about Pride and Prejudice, and how that youthful folly can doom you for the rest of your life when the rest of your life is decided as a teenager. It’s also a book about bodies and sex which I hadn’t fully realized until I saw Joe Wright’s version. He dumps great swaths of dialogue and replaces it with hands brushing each other, eyes meeting, bodies tensing, lips moving for a kiss. And that’s right. He is taking a novel, the written word, and translating it to film. He is dumping the words because, on film, the words can sometimes say things less clearly than what he shows. Jane Austen tried to convey sex, it’s there in the book over and over again, but in modern times readers (like myself) can lose it in the language, the formality, and mistake old fashioned conversation for asexual conversation.

Capitol screens 'Pride and Prejudice' Saturday | Rome Daily Sentinel

The starting point of Pride and Prejudice is that Mr. Bennet married Mrs. Bennet purely in impulsive youthful sexual attraction. He grew to deeply regret his marriage, and the couple ended up isolated from each other as they had nothing in common beyond physical attraction. Now there are 5 girls. They have no money and their mother is encouraging them to use their own sexuality to find marriages. She may not be happy in her own marriage, but the reality is that a woman needs security through marriage even if she does not find happiness. All 5 girls are immature in their own way, resisting their future. Jane tries to be the opposite of her mother, to repress all emotion, to the point of driving away her preferred suitor. While Lizzie focuses on her father, imitating his bitterness and wit and belief that somehow he can see more clearly than others. Lydia and Kitty are a bit wild but, in their own way, wiser than their older sisters. They know this is their only time for fun, they are open about their desires, they are not repressed and confused and unaware. And then there is Mary who, with a knowledge of her lack of physical attraction, has made a decision to retreat from the games entirely.

These 5 girls are MESSED UP. Yes, they are very pretty and very smart, all of them. But the conflict between their parents, and the mixed message from their father of “sex is a snare and an illusion” and from their mother of “sex is the only fun you will ever have in life, take it while you can” has them completely unbalanced. Look at Lizzie, easy prey for Wickham because she believes she is incapable of being tricked by sexual attraction and comes up with all kinds of explanations for other reasons she likes him. They talk real pretty and the clothes are nice, but this is a dysfunctional family in all kinds of ways.

And then there is Mr. Darcy, Bingley, and Wickham. The thing about all 3 of them is that they are also very young, only in their mid-20s, but have been forced into leadership decision making roles. All three of them have dead fathers, all three of them have responsibilities that they were not ready for. Darcy is the only one at all fitted for responsibility, and he is punished for it by having Bingley and Wickham dump their problems on him along with his own. Mr. Darcy has to believe in his own decisions, in his own certainty and perfection, or else he will crumble under the weight of his power. The men in this book are a wolfpack, the cool boy clique at a high school. Darcy is on top, Bingley is a follower, and Wickham is the reluctant nasty one who joins in when it is to his advantage.

PRIDE & PREJUDICE UNSIGNED photo - K6477 - Keira Knightley and Matthew  MacFadyen - £1.20 | PicClick UK

To put this in full high school terms, this is the story of the Golden Boy Most Popular Boy in School, falling for the weird Goth girl who sneers at people and challenges him to be better. He tries to break cliques and make a connection, but does it in a way that implies her Goth group is messed up. Years later, she matures and stops being Goth and sees the problems in her group, and she sees that he really HAS become better in the way she recommended. And then since he made the first move last time, she makes the first move this time and they finally get together.

I say “falling for”, but I should clarify, the Golden Boy Most Popular Boy in School is super SUPER sexually attracted to the Goth Girl in a way that makes no sense at all because he should be all hot for the cheerleader. And vice versa, the Goth Girl sneers at him but can’t resist him. That’s what is underneath all the back and forth in the first half of Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Darcy ends up proposing to Lizzy even though he knows it is a TERRIBLE idea because he really REALLY wants to have sex with her. Mr. Bingley never proposes to Jane because he isn’t sure she wants to have sex with him. All the Darcy talk about Lizzie’s “fine eyes”, and the way she looked after walking over to the hall, it’s just “I want to get with that” but old-timey.

And Lizzie’s come back, that she is terribly insulted by his proposal, is an old-timey “But will you love me tomorrow?” Because she knows he is saying “I really really want sex with you and I’ll marry you for it” not “I like to spend time with you”.

That’s the thread that weaves through the whole book. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet married just for sex. Lydia and Kitty have hormones and no sense and it makes Lydia vulnerable to Wickham. Wickham is a pedophile only interested in sex with young girls. Mr. Darcy’s sister is a survivor of statutory rape and it has made her fearful of life and the world and added to Darcy’s need to control his own desires. Our main characters know enough to be afraid of Sex, but not enough to conquer that fear. This book is the story of them getting passed their fears.

That’s a lot of barely connected random thoughts, but really all I want to tell you is to watch the Joe Wright interpretation with an open mind. Even if you don’t love it, acknowledge that he is getting at a valid version of the text, a version in which they aren’t all super witty smart proper people, but messy muddy sexy people with emotions they can’t understand or control.

18 thoughts on “Pride and Prejudice, The Value of the 2005 Joe Wright Film, and Sex

  1. There are things I would quibble with in his version, but they are really minor. What I really like is the casting, especially the two youngest sisters. Lydia is very, very young, as she should be. And Donald Sutherland really captures Mr. Bennett’s boredom and obtuseness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! The book underlines again and again that Lydia is a child. Mr. Wickham running off with her isn’t some kind of social propriety being crossed, it’s actual rape. I’m watching all these true crime shows right now, and Austen was showing the grooming process, and picking the perfect victim. Wickham smelled the dysfunction in that family, distracted the two people who might have suspected him (Lizzie and Jane) by pretending to romance Lizzie, and then leaped down on his victim. And in the same way, Mr. Darcy understood that his sister was preyed upon because he left her vulnerable by not creating a stable environment around her and it has made him super super protective.

      The Joe Wright casting made Lizzie and Jane look like the late teens/early twenties they are, which means their younger sisters could suddenly be the 13-14-15 year olds they should be. And it made us see how Lizzie and Jane really weren’t qualified to be the only voices of reason in the lives of their sisters either, the parents needed to step up more and take control of those kids instead of leaving Lizzie and Jane to flail about trying for maturity they didn’t have yet.

      On Thu, Mar 4, 2021 at 1:02 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  2. This movie is such a comfort version for me, along with the soundtrack. Sure, it’s not “historically accurate” in terms of costuming, which makes it a love-hate divide in the historical costuming community (that I’m not a part of, but who I follow) and all the rest. It is just comfy in every sense and McFayden is such a dreamy teenager’s Darcy and his and Bingely’s scene as he acts out the proposal is adorable. There is such energy to the scenes and the whole film feels breezy while watching it. There is energy and there isn’t the stiffness that is quite prominent in previous versions (including the 1995 version, which I love). Also, the whole family feels like an actual family, instead of characters who act dramatically who happen to be related, and the added layer of love for Mr and Mrs Bennet is so sweet to watch I squeal every time.

    I am so happy you made this post! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! The only thing I find book untrue is the Mr-Mrs Bennet love. But it also makes me so happy to see Mr. and Mrs. Bennet love each other, that I don’t care.

      And that proposal practice scene! Totally one of the best parts of the movie. And absolutely not in the book, probably just improvised by the actors (at least that’s how it feels). And yet it adds so much warmth and realness to their relationship, we hear that Darcy encouraged Bingley to propose, but now we get to really see it happening. Oh! I have to rewatch that part again right now!

      On Thu, Mar 4, 2021 at 1:17 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

  3. It took me forever to see this movie for precisely the same reasons you said (who would ever dare replace Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy) and then I ended up loving it. Same with Hanna. It was so so good. Now, on the other hand, I LOATHE Atonement. I had not read the book and went into the movie unprepared (this is why it is so important to ALWAYS read spoilers first) and I felt so much during the movie and had the rug pulled out of me in the end and just was so angry and frustrated with the senselessness of it all the destruction certain actions caused, it was all way too overwhelming. But to Joe Wright’s credit, he was able to evoke such intense emotions. You are smart to be very picky with his movies! Now I want to go watch Pride and Prejudice again and be happy!


    • Here’s my thing with Atonement: I think we are supposed to loathe it. I think it is probably the truest war film I’ve ever seen. War isn’t romantic or noble or anything, it is a terrible hideous thing that destroys lives in so many senseless terrible ways. He is saying to the audience “you see the pretty stories and the nice endings, but that’s not the reality.” He evokes the feelings of war time, the fear and anger and disgust and misery and then the lingering regrets over lives cruelly taken. But that’s HORRIBLE!!! I don’t want to feel that!!!!

      On the other hand, Pride and Prejudice is pure love and happiness. And Hanna is pure growing into your adulthood and figuring out the world. Eric Bana breaks my freakin’ heart in Hanna, but that’s part of it, you grow up and figure out the world and your parents have to deal with letting you grow up and go away from them.

      On Thu, Mar 4, 2021 at 2:04 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



    • Ha! That’s how I felt about the book Atonement. I was so annoyed with Ian McEwan it kind of put me off him as a writer. I did see the movie but I knew what was coming so it was mostly watching Keira Knightley and her dresses.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This was such a good write up I signed up for a Showtime trial to watch the movie while folding laundry. I need more laundry now.


  5. So I saw the Joe Wright film! Once all the way through, and then twice fast forwarding through most except the Mr. Darcy bits. Then I saw the BBC version with Colin Firth, but okay I didn’t watch it all, I figured it hewed more closely to the book so I watched all the dances and all the Mr. Darcy bits and some more bits as well, but each episode took me half an hour or less so lots of skipping. I did love the bits that showed Darcy’s thinking in the BBC version, which I will assume was actually in the book? But the repartee between the two characters in the Joe Wright movie kicked the BBC version in the butt. You understood why Darcy fell for Elizabeth with Joe Wright, where the BBC version it was less obvious, she was pretty, but the wit was watered down. Keira Knightly did a great job and they seemed to work hard to water down her beauty with mousey hair. And the Joe Wright rain scene where he first proposes and she rejects him – FANTASTIC! First the chemistry was off the hook, it really looked like they were magnets getting closer and closer through their conversation, second the rain, the literal and metaphorical storm. It was so much MORE than the BBC version accomplished. Also I liked Joe Wright’s Mr. Collins better, however I liked Joe Wright’s mother, Mrs. Bennet less.

    I did not get the sense that they were young in the Wright version. Indeed in the BBC version I thinks she says she is 21(which she does not seem), but in Mr. Wrights she never gives her age, and her best friend is 27.

    Another thing though, with the Regency Period and having seen the Bridgerton series, it made me appreciate the gorgeousness of the sets and clothing in Bridgerton. The Bridgerton visuals really are something special.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So, I am guessing you liked the Joe Wright film 🙂

      It’s totally that kind of movie, the “I want to watch the best bits again!” sort of movie. And not in a “so I can scholarly analyze them and think deeply” rewatch, but in a “I want to make my heart go pittapat!” way.

      I really loved the casting of Jane in the Joe Wright version. First, because she is a FANTASTIC actress and has gone on to justifiably win all kinds of awards for other things. But also because she is such a Traditional English Beauty of that era. I saw some complaints about casting gorgeous Kiera and plainer sister Lizzie. But the skinnier brown haired sister back then would have been considered less pretty than the blonde peaches and cream fully figured sister. They didn’t really do anything to Kiera, it was more a matter of taking away, like you say, giving her slightly less interesting hair (but still more or less her natural color), and slightly less spectacular clothing.

      I was sad because this Mr. Darcy isn’t really much to look at face wise. The actor is sort of average looking. But I think that also worked well, it was about the chemistry between the two of them more than any abstract physical attraction. The same way the conversations and everything else were more about these two people fitting together and liking each other, not that they were The Bestest Ever in general. And of course the Mr. Darcy actor is tall (which is the main thing), and not unattractive, and when he turns on the sexual chemistry, it is sizzling.

      I agree that the regency period look just isn’t as Big as it could be. But I also kind of liked that. They live in a small noisy smokey house, people have dull colored clothing that will wear well, England isn’t always sunny. It helped with the whole feeling of this being a sexy real romance not a fairy tale.

      On Tue, Mar 9, 2021 at 3:58 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

      • I did not find either Colin Firth or the other dude drop dead gorgeous. But other dude had great love eyes that only appeared on Colin Firth a few times. And it isn’t so much that I wanted the movies to look like Bridgerton, but it is that it made me realize how special Bridgerton’s look is.


        • He had such great love eyes!!!!! And love body language, all the little leaning and hand clicking out and straining not to lean or flick out a hand, just swoony.

          On Tue, Mar 9, 2021 at 4:14 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



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