Pride In 'Prejudice'
200 Years Later, Austen's Powers Have Not Diminished
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 31, 2013 00:01
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a literary masterpiece, beloved by esteemed literary critics and general audiences alike since its first publication in 1813. Austen’s tale of love, manners, and marriage has proved indelible, inspiring a profusion of pop culture items from conventional TV a movie adaptations to outlandish literary pastiches. This week marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, and to celebrate, The Scene looks at the extent of the novel’s continued influence, encompassing zombies, Bollywood, and everything in between.
The BBC Pride and Prejudice Miniseries
Arguably no other adaptation of Austen’s novel has received the accolades BBC’s Pride and Prejudice miniseries did when it premiered in 1995. The five-hour retelling of canonical romance novel was presented in six installments. It resonated with audiences as the proper marriage of Austen’s storytelling and riveting visuals of the English countryside—the series was praised for this faithfulness to detail. BBC’s Pride and Prejudice miniseries marked a revitalization of television drama, and served as inspiration for other shows about the British upper class, including PBS’s Downton Abbey. Additionally, the career of Academy Award-winning actor Colin Firth was launched by his dishy portrayal of Mr. Darcy. Firth’s performance was brilliant enough to inspire Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary, a novel re-imagining Pride and Prejudice in the modern era. He later played Mark Darcy in the book’s film adaptation. In 2010, Firth won Best Performance in a Leading Role for his portrayal of another iconic Brit, King George VI, in The King’s Speech. – J.W.
Bride & Prejudice
The 2005 release of Bride and Prejudice truly put the universality of Austen’s “universal truth” to the test. Switching Empire waistlines for traditional Indian saris and classical pianos for bhangra beats, the movie proves that a rich man, regardless of his culture, is usually looking for a wife. Essentially, Bride & Prejudice is a modernized, Bollywood adaptation of the 200-year old, Austen classic. The storyline hardly veers from the novel’s: a young girl, a wealthy man, a doting father, an eccentric mother, and spirited sisters are all staple elements of any Pride & Prejudice spin-off. Some of the characters, including Mr. Darcy, even keep their names. Others, like the film’s protagonist, Lalita, receive more localized names that are similar in pronunciation to their original counterparts. Directed by Gurinder Chadha and starring actress Aishwarya Rai, Bride & Prejudice provides viewers with a vibrant picture of Indian culture. It includes a number of energized Bollywood dance numbers too. More than that, though, the film proves the vitality of Austen’s work: change the time, the place, and the names, and her stories are still as lively and colorful as ever. – A.I.
Although Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directing debut Don Jon’s Addiction and Daniel Radcliffe’s appearance in Kill Your Darlings stole the headlines, the 2013 Sundance Film Festival this week also saw the premiere of Austenland, the story of a 30-something A pilgrimage to a Jane Austen theme park. Director Jerusha Hess—known as screenwriter for Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre—hopes to finally reach a female audience with this comedy, as she is admittedly “sick of making movies for little boys,” according to her interview with Time magazine. Throw Twilight author Stephenie Meyer into the mix as producer, and suddenly, all the ingredients are in the oven for the perfect disaster. The film examines the anglophobia responsible for Pride and Prejudice’s resurgence and Mr. Darcy’s timeless sex appeal. Critics panned Austenland for its lightness and questionable affinity with its source material. This 1 percent milk of Austen’s triumph is said to provide little sustenance for the true aficionado, and as Napoleon Dynamite once suggested, “You could be drinking whole if you wanted to.” – J.W.
Death Comes to Pemberley
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies isn’t the only genre mashup derived from Austen’s classic novel. Occupying a more elevated level of literary pastiches is P.D. James’s 2011 follow-up Death Comes to Pemberley, which picks up six years after the events of Pride and Prejudice and recounts a mysterious murder case on the grounds of the Pemberley estate. James, the 92 year-old British writer most famous for her long-running Adam Dalgliesh detective series, merges her usual mode of intelligent, literate mystery stories with a narrative voice and style straight from Austen. The last time James attempted such a dramatic change from her usual style was the dystopian science-fiction novel Children of Men, which inspired the acclaimed 2006 movie. It’s not likely that Death Comes to Pemberley will make as much of a splash as that book—most agree that Pemberley is an enjoyable but minor work by James. Still, reviews were largely positive, with the New York Times Sunday Book Review singling out the author’s “unforced, effortless, effective voice” which gave “the impression that it is Austen herself at the keyboard.” For any writer, it’s hard to receive higher praise than that. – S.K.