The modern woman in Wright’s “Pride and Prejudice”

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a homesick British girl in possession of a Netflix subscription must be in want of a sprinkling of Austen. Or the “Great British Bake Off” (GBBO), I’m not fussy. Whilst I could wax lyrical about GBBO (and I’m sure many Vassar students could too; I’ve been surprised by how many Americans avidly watch our scrumptious TV show), this film review is concerned with all things “Pride and Prejudice” (2005).

Before moving to the U.S. to study abroad, I confidently (and a bit foolishly) stated that I wouldn’t get homesick. How could I when I’d just spent the last six months at home in the British countryside? I was dying to leave and finally begin the adventure that I had fought so hard to preserve in the midst of the global pandemic. So, thanks to the exasperating Netflix auto-play feature, when the haunting love theme “Dawn” burst from my laptop speakers, I was surprised by the intense pang of homesickness that hit me. 

From the moment you hear the first chirps of the early spring dawn chorus against the black screen, you are enveloped in a genteel society that is exquisitely English and Austen-esque. The essence of the Regency period, with all its refined and poised designs, is captured in the tentative opening strains of composer Dario Marianelli’s “Dawn.” However, this grandeur that is perhaps alienating for present day viewers is rapidly disrupted by shrieks of laughter from Lydia and Kitty, the two youngest Bennet daughters. The lively, high-spirited personalities of the sisters intertwine at the breakfast table; the comfortable chaos of many hands reaching over each other for food forms a lasting image that seers into the mind of the audience long after the dialogue has vanished into the ether.

Elizabeth Bennet has always been adored because of her candor, but Knightley brings an edge of intelligence and ferocity to the character that intensifies the passion on screen. The cinematography accentuates Knightley’s frank expression throughout the film; Lizzie’s face is a canvas for her undisguised emotions, simultaneously revealing her youthful pride and belief in her own self-worth. It is this quiet dignity that endears Austen’s fiery character to the contemporary audience: She is every inch the modern woman because she prioritizes her happiness over satisfying social customs (and her overbearing mother).

While the narrative is slow-moving in comparison to action-packed blockbusters that have taken the world by storm, there is something refreshing for the soul in unwinding and taking a long, honest gaze at the surrounding world. Indeed, the cinematographic influence even pervades the natural environment: the trees and early flush of the sun against the wooded skyline, the ducks waddling amongst the Bennet’s laundry and the torrential downpour which leads both Mr. Darcy and Lizzie to unwittingly take shelter under the same neoclassical temple. 

The intense veneration of nature in “Pride and Prejudice” is highly relevant, Lizzie’s desire to walk across the fields to Netherfield instead of taking the carriage is all the more compelling in the aftermath of lockdown, which saw many of us confined to our apartments in formerly bustling metropolitan areas. Even among the breath-taking fall colours of Vassar’s campus, it is easy to get swept up in online classes, midterm assignments, org meetings and calls with friends and family back home. “Pride and Prejudice” offers a window into the mellow British countryside that is so lovingly commemorated in the poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge. The snapshot of Lizzie on a cliff edge, bathed in a golden glow, has become a sought after location in the Peak District, the film taking on a life of its own in the imagination of the audience.

In a world where we are constantly moving forward, rushing about in our daily lives, “Pride and Prejudice” (2005) reminds us of the enduring importance of family and appreciating the fecundity of the natural world. In my mind, it is the perfect film for a lonely pandemic day.

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