Pride and Prejudice (BBC Miniseries)

[Readings] (03.11.09, 9:24 pm)

The BBC adaptation makes a fairly accurate adaptation of the Pride and Prejudice novel. Because the show was produced as a miniseries, it was able to include most of the significant content without doing much compression.

The series is notable as a having reformatted the presentation of the story to be more inclusive of the perspective of Darcy. One of the notable scenes that involves changes is the scene wherin Darcy appears unexpectedly at Pemberly. Before he arrives, we see him fencing, and then leaving he shakes his fist and says “I will conquer this!” When he does arrive, we see him diving into the pond, a gesture of escape from the pressure and burden of authority. These scenes are noted in Wiltshire. Both are total fabrications, arguably pushing the series into a narrative frame more familiar to contemporary audiences. The scene where Darcy dives into the water supplants (or rather, augments) the scene where Elizabeth views Darcy’s portrait and sees his smile, causing her to rethink her original first impressions of him. The narrative emphasis in the series is on the audience’s discovery of Darcy’s sudden release of reserve, rather than the reader’s discovery, alongside Elizabeth, through the viewing of the portrait.

Filmic and visual language are also used to communicate much that is normally simply narrated in the text. This is most significant when put alongside scenes where Austen gives us glimpses into the inner minds of the characters via her distinctive free indirect speech. Instead of a voiceover or verbal description, there is a presentation of the character, usually as a close up, where we see significant emotional expressions. The view given this way is more distant, and thus justifies some of the fabricated scenes where the audience is allowed more of a view of Darcy’s character than would be originally present in the book.

Many lines of dialogue were also necessary to fill in the spaces that were subject to extreme narrative compression in the text of the novel. Very frequently, Austen gives the reader an important line of dialogue that occurs between two characters, but without any context or setting for it. Mrs. Bennett’s announcement to her husband of Bingley’s arrival is introduced in the novel simply with: ‘”My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”‘ The discussion that follows takes place in the series while the family walks from the parish church to their house at Longbourn. This presents a much more concrete picture of the events, whereas in the novel there is no context given at all. The daughters are not visbly present, and their whereabouts and the privacy of the conversation are left ambiguous. This ambiguity is removed in the series. Austen’s authorial and famous opening line “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Is moved from the space of commentary about the world into an actual line spoken by Elizabeth.

The introduction of new lines of dialogue becomes very significant in scenes for which there is no actual text other than Austen’s summarization of what was said. In Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth, the novel gives him his opening line, but the rest of his proposal is simply summarized. Austen tells us of Darcy’s reservations regarding Elizabeth’s inferior family and class, but we are left to speculate as to what it is that was actually said. The BBC series again was required to fill in his proposal in detail, to mention every detail about Darcy’s reservations, in such a way as to shock and disgust the viewer.

Many of the scenes incorporate new content, depictions and reifications of the events in the world of the novel. In the series, we see the shifting gazes between the characters during the various social events. The movement and grouping of the characters is carefully rendered, even when little information is given about this in the text. One of the arguable reasons for the textual omissions is that the actual written part of the novel explains what is not ordinary, and what can not be assumed or taken for granted. The omissions, therefore, can be taken for granted. Because the level of detail of the visual medium is so great, something must fill their place, and for that, the production must substitute something. They are afforded by this, though, to emphasize things that were alluded to in the text but could not be presented, for instance, the cold austerity of Rosings, the tastefulness of Pemberly, Darcy’s smile, and Elizabeth’s bewitching eyes.

All these changes, the differences between the novel and miniseries, I believe are not to be repudiated, but are inevitable consequences of adaptation. Both the novel and the miniseries have their own freedoms and constraints from their respective media. It is the role of the adapter to find a means of mapping those elements which may be unique to the source medium to analogous versions in the target medium. It is worth thinking at this point about how these elements might be translated into the format of a game.

Linda Hutcheon reminds us that having experienced a visual adaptation of a text, is difficult to strike that vision from one’s imagining of the text, and that furthermore, one’s perception of the text is fundamentally altered. I must admit that I saw the miniseries before I read the book, and that the experience of watching it was most strongly motivated me to choose it for the adaptation project. As such, the adaptation that I am planning on doing is likely to be at least as much inspired by the miniseries as the novel. The visual language of the miniseries is powerful, exceedingly effective, and a good subject for adaptation into the game. What strikes me as the most significant is the visual presentation of social etiquette (from Elizabeth and Jane’s politely reserved greetings to Lydia’s shouting), to the navigation between conversational clusters (during the Netherfield ball), and to the important role of attention and gaze (exchanged between Elizabeth and Darcy). These are layers that are not only primarily indirect or absent in the book, but also are spaces for meaningful engagement and participation. These layers are fully consistent with the social and moral world of Austen, and the central themes of Pride and Prejudice itself. My point is that where the BBC miniseries adds, it serves to complete the model.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorBBC miniseries
TitlePride and Prejudice
ContextFilm adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Notable for iconic charactarization and techniques to represent literary elements.
Tagsfiction, settings, media traditions, specials
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

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