Pride & Prejudice by Joe Wright

Although dramatized for TV several times (most recently in 1995), Jane Austen's classic “Pride & Prejudice” has been a feature film only once before, in 1940, directed by Robert Z. Leonard and starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. Now, “Pride & Prejudice makes its return as big-screen entertainment under the helm of Joe Wright, whose previous work, “Charles II: The Power & the Passion,” aired in the U.S. as “The Last King.”

Familiarity with Austen

I had never read “Pride & Prejudice,” nor seen a television version. I come from a background of television social realist drama, and so I suppose I was a bit prejudiced against this material, regarding it as posh. But as I read the script adaptation, I became emotionally involved and by the end I was weeping. So I read the book, and discovered that what Jane Austen had written was a very acute character study of a particular social group. She was one of the first British realists. She had read the gothic literature, that was fashionable at the time, and she turned away from that, and started writing what she knew, thereby inventing a new genre.

New Approach

I got excited about new ways to film the story, which I don't believe have been done before. I wanted to treat it as a piece of British realism rather than going with the picturesque tradition, which tends to depict an idealized version of English heritage as some kind of Heaven on Earth. I wanted to make “Pride & Prejudice” real and gritty and be as honest as possible. Austen's characters are young people–Lizzie is 20, Darcy 28, Lydia 15. The emotions they experience are those of young people falling in love for the first time. I was moved by that and sought to convey it.

The Characters' Ages

To hew as closely as possible to the ages of the characters as specified by Austen, we felt we should be going where the previous film version had not. Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson were in their mid-30s, so the whole notion of this experience being their first love was lessened.

Period Pieces

What I learned from directing my first period piece was that if you utilize the specifics of a period very precisely, in tandem with emotional truths, it all becomes relevant to a modern audience.

Research

While researching the late eighteenth century, we kept records of discoveries and facts that were not spelled out in the film, but which enhanced our understanding of Austen's finely wrought characters. The establishment of England was looking across the Channel at the French Revolution, and wondering how it might affect them. The upper classes were frightened, and made the decision to assimilate more with the lower classes. Hence, the Assembly Rooms dances in village halls, which people of Darcy and Bingley's class would now attend. There, they would mingle with people they wouldn't previously have ever met socially. It was a whole new era for society. For young women, this was very exciting, like, say, Prince William turning up at a High Street disco. Suddenly, marriage prospects were widened. Bingley handles all this well, whereas his sister Caroline does not readily embrace the idea of these new associations.

Dialogue

In the novel, Austen's characters are all very polite, waiting until the other person has finished speaking before speaking themselves. But I know that, particularly in big families of girls, everyone tends to speak over each other, finishing each other's sentences, etc. So I felt that the Bennet family's conversations would be overlapping like that.

Avoiding the Picturesque Tradition

I believe that when people do period films, they are reliant on paintings from the period, because there is no photography. But in a painting, everything is formally composed; it's not real life. They do wide shots to show off the period detail of the sets. I think that the detail is in the small things, like crumbs on a table, or flowers in a vase. Austen's prose gave me many visual references for the people in the story, so I used a lot of close-ups of them, too. I also tried to cut out carriage shots. In a modern-day film, it's not very interesting to see people simply get in a car and drive away, so why should it be more interesting to see people arriving and leaving in carriages There are a lot of period film clichs; some of them are in the film and some are not, but for me it was important to question them.

Elizabeth Bennet

Elizabeth is a character who has been strongly identified with, and cherished, by several generations. I originally hadn't considered someone as beautiful as Keira Knightely. I was looking for someone who didn't fit the normal feminine conventions, and was bright and slightly difficult. I figured Lizzie Bennet would be quite difficult to live with; she's tough-minded and questions everything all the time.

Keira Knightley

When I met Keira, I realized that she asks questions of herself and other people, and is really a tomboy. She has a lively mind and a great sense of humor. During shooting, she kept on surprising me. What does one look for in an actor Originality of thought; somebody who is able and willing to give their heart to what they are doing, and is able to really listen to the other actors. Keira did all of that, and was a hard worker”

Casting Fitzwilliam Darcy

Matthew Macfadyen was the only one for me. Darcy is 28, and Matthew was 29 when we were shooting. I had no interest in casting just a pretty boy; Darcy is more interesting and complicated than that. He's a young man who has less than ideal social skills and a huge responsibility. His parents have died and left him with a massive estate and a younger sister to take care of, and my sense is that he has had to grow up too fast. Matthew has incarnated Darcy as that complicated layered person who isn't easy in his skin and who isn't easy to love, yet who is a good person with a sense of honor and integrity. Matthew, unlike many actors, is not vain, and so was not afraid to be disliked by an audience at the beginning of the story; we have to dislike him because we are seeing him through Lizzie's eyes. And we grow to love him as Lizzie does.

Lizzie and Darcy

In the beginning, Darcy can't deal with the fact that he fancies Lizzie, so they are like children in a playground in the way that kids pull hair because they don't know how to express their feelings. He needs her to tease him and to be able to lighten up with her. She in turn needs someone who has as much integrity, honesty, and goodness as she has. These are the foundations for what will hopefully be a happy life together. They have a huge effect on each other's lives from the moment they meet. When he proposes in the rain, she says that she knew as soon as she met him that he was the last person she would consider marrying. If you meet someone with whom there is no chemistry at all, why would you think about marriage at all And while she is thinking how much she dislikes him, she is still thinking about him.

Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennet

Mr. Bennet is the lone male in a household full of women, and it was a thrill to cast Donald Sutherland. Donald is simply a legend. When I was a kid, I was an actor in a film called “Revolution,” more or less a glorified extra, and I used to watch him. Plus Don't Look Now is one of my all-time favorite films. Watching him recently with Nicole Kidman in “Cold Mountain,” I realized that he could access the tenderness that was required for Mr. Bennet. He did that, and he seemed to have a ball as the patriarch of this gorgeous bunch.

Brenda Blethyn as Mrs. Bennet

It's a tricky part, as she can be very annoying; you want to stop her chattering and shrieking. But Brenda has the humor and the heart to show the amount of love and care Mrs. Bennet has for her daughters. Mrs. Bennet has a very serious problem, which nobody except she is taking seriously; she has five daughters, for whom she has to find husbands, and eligible men are not so common around Longbourn. When the militia are billeted in the village of Meryton, she's delighted.

Authenticity

To ensure authenticity, the production employed members of the Napoleonic Reenactment Society for the scenes of the militia arriving and leaving the village (filmed in Stamford, Lincolnshire). It was at the start of the nineteenth Century that the British Army commenced a 15-year campaign against Napoleon's Army. Extras were schooled in how to march and wear the uniforms. The county militia would have mainly been made up of volunteers, with the officers being of a higher social status (those who had a stake in the particular county, perhaps a large parcel of land). It was seen as the duty of the upper-class male to serve his county for a time in this manner.

The purpose of the county militia was twofold: to act as the second line of resistance, should a foreign army invade the British Isles, reassuring the people of their safety amid rumors of invasion; and to discourage any possible riots or sedition, as the Crown and Parliament were ever wary that some subjects might decide to follow the French or the Americans and declare themselves to be a republic.

Rosamund Pike as Jane

To play the Bennet sister who is most affected by her mother's efforts, I was looking for the opposite of Keira; an actress who could portray the period ideal of what a woman should be, since Jane is hailed as the beauty of the family. Rosamund Pike was simply perfect and is wonderful in the role. The sisters all had to have similar characteristics so you can see that they come from the same stock and they all find each other funny.

The Other Sisters

Rounding out the Bennet sisterhood, screen newcomers Carey Mulligan and Talulah Riley play the roles of Kitty and Mary Bennet, respectively. This was the first film job for both, and they were both huge Jane Austen fans, so they were so excited about the whole process that it created a heightened atmosphere for the family sequences.

Judi Dench

The role of Darcy's formidable aunt Lady Catherine de Bourg necessitated someone with considerably more acting experience, and I felt fortunate indeed to secure the participation of Judi Dench. On our first day of filming, we shot a dining room table scene. Now, as any director will tell you, that is difficult. And, with Dame Judi Dench at the head of the table on the first day of my first feature, I was terrified. But she is a complete professional and a genuinely nice person; it was a joy to watch her transform herself into such a difficult woman.

Production Design

I called upon my frequent collaborator, production designer Sarah Greenwood. Sarah and I have a professional shorthand and understand each other. I always involve her as early as possible, and together we worked to inject reality into the locations for Pride & Prejudice.” Another early decision was the approach to wardrobe, in tandem with costume designer Jacqueline Durran. I find empire line dresses are very ugly, so I did some research. Although the novel was published in 1813, Jane Austen wrote her first draft of Pride and Prejudice, then called First Impressions, around 1797. So we used the fashions of the earlier period, where the waist on dresses was lower and more flattering. When Caroline Bingley appears, she would obviously be wearing the latest creation. But Mrs. Bennet's dresses are earlier than 1797, and Lady Catherine's are even earlier, because those two would have best clothes from previous years in their wardrobe. Jacqueline, working with Mike Leigh, comes from a very character-oriented British realist style of filmmaking, and her use of fabric and color for this movie was exquisite.

The Movie as a Fairy Tale

What Jane Austen wrote is a fairy tale on some levels. I believe that all the best fairy tales are based in social realism have inherent emotional truths, which remain relevant through the generations, and are worth telling over and over again. Today, people are still falling in love, people are still prejudiced against others, and people are still too proud on occasion. We like to be told that love exists, and this story is a joyful and satisfying affirmation of that. “Pride & Prejudice” is a love story about how to try to understand one another.

Joe Wright's Career

Joe Wright won a BAFTA Award for his work on the miniseries “Charles II: The Power & The Passion,” which aired in the U.S. as “The Last King”. The miniseries, which starred Rufus Sewell, won two additional BAFTA Awards, and was nominated for three more. His prior credits as director include another highly acclaimed miniseries, the epic drama Nature Boy (for which he was a BAFTA Award nominee), starring Lee Ingleby; the miniseries Bodily Harm, starring Timothy Spall; and the telefilm Bob & Rose (which won several international awards).

Wright has also directed two short films, The End (written by Kathy Burke, and aired on the U.K.'s Channel 4) and Crocodile Snap (starring Claire Rushbrook, and aired on the BBC). The latter was a BAFTA Award nominee. He directed his first short film, Whatever Happened to Walthamstow Marshes, back in 1991, while enrolled at the Camberwell School of Arts. From 1991 to 1994, he studied Fine Art, Film and Video at St. Martin's. In 1993, Wright was awarded a Fuji Film Scholarship to make The Middle Ground. As part of the development process, he spent six weeks teaching drama at Islington Green School, where the short was cast and subsequently filmed.