It is a truth universally acknowledged that every Pride and Prejudice fan has their favourite screen adaptation of the beloved book. Maybe it’s the web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, the new spin on the tale in the form of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, or perhaps it’s one of the two most popular adaptations that constantly vie for first place in all the rankings: the BBC miniseries from 1995 or the 2005 film.
However, as far as popularity goes, Pride and Prejudice (2005) definitely takes the cake in today’s world. Hardcore fans sometimes sound like they’re speaking a different language when they talk about “the hand flex” or “Fordyce’s Sermons.” This single adaptation has produced a dedicated following that has especially spiked over the past 5-10 years.
But why? What sets this adaptation apart from the others? It’s astounding to me that this 2-hour long film can take precedence over adaptations that are hours longer and truer to the book when it comes to scenes and dialogue. If so many Pride and Prejudice fans love it, then there has to be something that sets it apart.
Regardless of whether or not you’re a fan of Pride and Prejudice, I invite you to join me in taking a look at why this film is so successful as a book to movie adaptation. In doing so, I hope to learn valuable lessons that we can use as writers to craft good adaptations and just good stories in general.
“Oh, Mr Bennet, how can you tease me so? Have you no compassion for my poor nerves?”
“You mistake me, my dear. I have the highest respect for them. They’ve been my constant companions these twenty years.”
To start, we’ll talk about a more general idea. Anyone who has read Pride and Prejudice and seen the 2005 film knows that the movie leaves out quite a lot. While some book purists will fall on their knees and yell “Noooooo!” in Darth Vader fashion, I’m going to come out and say that that’s not necessarily a bad thing; and this is from the woman who has been a bibliophile her whole life!
The thing we need to keep in mind is that adaptations are just that: adaptations. They are not the original. Most of the time, adaptations are told through a different medium than the source content, which means, guess what? The material needs to be adapted. It wouldn’t make sense for Pride and Prejudice to be told exactly like the book in a film format; even the BBC miniseries, which nearly quotes the book word for word, doesn’t include all the narration, right? The story has to be adapted for film because you tell stories differently on film than you do in a book.
With that being said, I believe that the important thing is not necessarily how much you leave out, but what you leave out of the adaptation. The 2005 film was immediately set up with a good framework by condensing the book material really well. To make a 2-hour film, there obviously had to be serious decisions about what was necessary and what wasn’t, and for the most part, I think they did a near-perfect job. For example, Maria Lucas, Charlotte’s sister, doesn’t appear in the film; in the book, while she’s there with Elizabeth as she goes to visit Charlotte and Mr Collins, she doesn’t really play a significant role, so it made sense to leave her out.
The book also includes several more dinners and parties than the movie does, but the movie takes everything significant that happens on those occasions and condenses it into a smaller amount of encounters between Lizzie and Darcy. We still perfectly understand the dynamic of the relationship, just in a shorter amount of time.
By making these necessary cuts, the makers of the movie refrained from bogging down the audience and allowed themselves space to focus on the heart of the story, which we’ll talk about towards the end.
“So what do you recommend to encourage affection?”
“Dancing. Even if one’s partner is barely tolerable.”
Casting, Acting, and Directing
This aspect doesn’t have much to do with writing, but all three of these things very much rely on the writing and are so important to the success of the adaptation. The casting in this movie is superb and the acting is spot-on. While the BBC miniseries also has a great group, there’s something special about the cast from the 2005 film. All of the actors have fantastic chemistry with each other, which is absolutely essential for a period drama like P&P.
And do I really need to talk about the directing or the work of the camera crew behind the scenes? The cinematography in this movie is just beautiful, from the sweeping shots of breathtaking scenery to the focus on specific moments like The Hand Flex™️. There’s a timeless, gorgeous quality to this movie that is achieved just by the camera/directing work, and while it may not be the first thing you think of, it’s definitely a contributing factor to why this movie is so popular. It’s just a work of art.
“What a superbly featured room and what excellent boiled potatoes!”
Show, Don’t Tell
Just because this is a standard of writing, it doesn’t mean that everyone adheres to it; but this movie certainly does.
The script for P&P 2005 gives the characters a new life on the screen, painting them with unique personalities that really shine in the film. Mr Bingley is a particular example; his character was practically made to be onscreen. He’s endearing in the book, but seeing him fidget and stumble over words and awkwardly chuckle in the movie just makes him even more captivating. Mrs Bennet’s over-the-top movements to go with her over-the-top personality perfectly add to her hilarity.
You can see lines of dialogue from the book in simply a single expression in the movie. One particular example comes to mind, though this happens throughout the film. In the book, it says that Elizabeth had to stop herself from laughing after Mr Collins says “before I run away with my feelings;” in the movie, while Lizzie has been horrified up to this point in the proposal, at that moment, she tries to fight a smile. You get the same impression that she was trying not to laugh, but it was shown rather than told. It’s the best way to compress paragraphs of inner monologue/description in a single look, and the fact that the script allowed the director and actors to do that is one of the most notable things that makes this movie especially good.
That may seem like a no-brainer, but I can’t tell you how many people who make movies still don’t know the intricacies of this art. The subtleties of it being placed all throughout the film are one of the things that make it so fantastic.
“If any young men come for Mary or Kitty, for Heaven’s sake, send them in! I’m quite at my leisure.”
The Heart of the Story
I told you we’d get here! The thing I love most about Pride and Prejudice (2005) and the top characteristic that I think has made it successful is that, after bringing all of these elements together, the movie is able to convey the beautiful complexities of the original story in visual form. Because not only is Pride and Prejudice the love story between Lizzie and Mr Darcy, but it’s also a story about standing up for yourself, about growing up, about family, about friendship, about admitting mistakes, about, well…pride and prejudice! When it comes down to it, these are the things we love the most about the story, the qualities that we care about more than an attractive man playing Mr Darcy, and the movie was able to convey these things brilliantly through the writing, directing, acting, etc.
So what do you think? Is the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice your favourite, or do you have another? Why do you love the version that you watch over and over again? I’d love to hear it!
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