My first thought upon seeing the opening shot of Joe Wright's Pride & Prejudice was that I might be about to watch a precursor to Andrea Arnold's muddy, sweary take on Wuthering Heights. Of course Wright's elegant, concise adaptation is nothing of the sort. Sure, a pig is briefly brought inside a house but Wright's shots of nature are more likely to be sweeping and stirring than grimy and grim. Furthermore much of the dialogue is taken directly from the source material and the actors are all professionals.
Despite this it's a pretty far cry from Masterpiece Theatre* so I thought I'd do something a little different on this blog and make some trite, grammatically challenged observations about its mise en scene. As to how this differs from my standared M.O. well, this time I'll be doing it with pictures! No more dancing about architecture!
To start let's return to that opening shot I mentioned. It looks exactly like this:
In the following scene, during which the central couple reunite after having dealt with all their hang-ups, Wright returns to the same landscape at the same time of day for the first time since the film began and I like to imagine that as soon as viewers see the following:
Wright doesn't just use repeated motifs to create a little extra resonance. Sometimes he deploys them in order to get across a plot point. For example the most urgent motivation for Catherine de Bourg to marry her daughter off her daughter to Mr Darcy.
Here is the establishing shot of her grand house as Lizzie Bennet and the newly married Collins approach:
Despite the house's overwhelming size it's clear, even from this tiny screenshot, that multiple windows are broken which suggests that, despite all of Mr Collins' effusive praise, the de Bourgs are something of a dynasty in decline and are no longer able to afford the upkeep that their stately home demands. I'd like to imagine that the placement of the tree on the left, which doesn't frame the house so much as obscure it, and the decision to shoot in the afternoon so that said tree's shadow looms over the house were deliberate but I'll admit they may well be serendipitous.
What is not serendipitous is the contrasting majesty of Mr Darcy's mansion:
Shots of the houses' interiors only reinforce this impression. The scenes at the de Bourgs' are shot in the late afternoon and the night. This is as bright as the house interior gets:
This house's gloominess is only reinforced by its colour scheme which, as you can see above, consists of a lot of browns and reds.
Meanwhile Darcy's mansion is only seen in the morning and comes across as lighter and airier. It helps that the interiors are largely white/cream (or something, colours are not my strong point) and that the rooms are larger:
It's never directly stated in the film that Catherine is bitterly upset about Darcy's interest in Lizzie because of money troubles; ostensibly she's far more concerned about their differing class status. The presentation of these two houses however suggests that she has more pressing motivations.
Speaking of Mr Darcy my favourite repeated motif in this film is the one I like to call "The Hand of Sublimated Passion". It's difficult to make a romance when your leading man's defining characteristic is his guardedness. Hence Joe Wright's use of "The Hand".
Here it is in its first appearance:
It's just been engaged in the uncommonly gentlemanly gesture of assisting Lizzie to board a carriage. Lizzie, who has been sparring with the hand's owner for some time now, is understandably surprised so the shot that precedes this one shows her looking quizzically after him. Obviously it would be a betrayal of Darcy's character for him to return her gaze so Wright shows us a close-up of his hand flexing instead which makes his feelings clear to the audience but no one else.
Darcy's Hand of Sublimated Passion sadly makes only one more appearance. This time it's after a meeting at which he and Lizzie are clearly smitten with each other but not yet ready to bust out the L word (no Scott, the other L word). The most romantic thing Darcy actually says to Lizzie here is something along the lines of, "Would you like a lift?" so the hand has to do the heavy lifting:
While Darcy's hand is regretfully denied a proper denouement (I was hoping it would find it's way into Lizzie's) the film's end is strong and a key part of it is this shot here in which Jane Bennet prepares to accept Mr Bingley's proposal (by the way that guy is such a dolt in this adaptation):
In much the same way that the shots I discussed at the beginning call back to one another this shot is reminiscent of the one in which the sisters first learn of Mr Bingley's arrival:
*Disclaimer: I have not seen any Masterpiece Theatre.