Jane Austen’s novels are limited in scope, a fact she acknowledges in her famous, facetious comment comparing her writing to the painting of a miniature portrait, “the little bit (two Inches wide) of Ivory on which I work with so fine a Brush, as produces little effect after much labour” (16 December 1816). Though Austen was being playfully ironic in her letter to her nephew, her novels are indeed limited in one key aspect: they predominantly take place indoors, in drawing rooms and in ballrooms. Spaces, particularly interior spaces, embody the societal scrutiny under which Austen’s characters operate and indicate the limitations of her heroines’ worlds. Yet the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (dir. Joe Wright) alters the novel’s use of space, relocating key scenes outdoors and transposing other scenes indoors. This article addresses the effect of moving from interior to exterior space (or vice versa), as well as the general organization and representation of cinematic space in the film. In Pride & Prejudice, space is used to characterize individuals and households, and, ultimately, social spaces (and spaces of sociability) are left behind for the space of romance.
Space is more than art direction or set design, or even the country houses and landscaped gardens used as backgrounds for filming. Rather, space itself produces meaning. Henri Lefebvre notes that space is active, that it can act upon unaware subjects. In his book The Production of Space, Lefebvre argues that space is ideological, and that ideology in fact emerges from space: “What is an ideology without a space to which it refers, a space which it describes, whose vocabulary and links it makes use of, and whose code it embodies?” (44). Cinematic space is particularly telling because its onscreen presence can rival that of actors: “space can be seen to contribute to the dynamics of the narrative and can be shown to play an important part in the development of a variety of considerations, both ideological and artistic” (Konstantarakos 1). Depending on how a shot is composed, a space can even dominate the frame. And though both films and novels are heavily mediated forms, their visibility on screen grants filmic spaces an immediacy that descriptive spaces in novels lack.
Critical attention to space in film adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels has largely focused upon exterior spaces, particularly the use of landscape. Kathi L. Groenendyk, for example, analyzes the importance of the picturesque in her consideration of landscape in Persuasion (1995) and Sue Parrill examines how landscape can be employed thematically and for characterization in Pride and Prejudice (1995) and Sense and Sensibility (1995). H. Elisabeth Ellington argues that the lovingly shot, bucolic landscapes of the 1995 mini-series of Pride and Prejudice are commodities consumed by both Elizabeth Bennet, gazing out the window at Pemberley’s grounds, and by the viewer.
Certainly, spaces in films convey information about character. Ellington notes that “[o]ur understanding of the nuances of the story depends on our ability to read Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s different reactions to landscape” (94). In the film Pride & Prejudice, landscape is used primarily to characterize Lizzie Bennet as a free spirit who cannot be constrained by the rigid expectations of her society.1 After she refuses Mr. Collins’s proposal, Lizzie runs out of the house to a nearby lake, as if escaping the pressures to marry well for the sake of the family. The character’s association with the outdoors is best exemplified (and amplified) by the long, sweeping helicopter shot of Lizzie Bennet (played by Keira Knightley) standing on the precipice of a large cliff, the wind blowing her hair and the sun shining down, a shot so iconic that it is used as the background for the DVD’s main menu. The helicopter shot of the precipice is one of several shots of Lizzie in a beautiful landscape, including her trek to Netherfield to visit Jane, which is an extreme long shot of a giant tree on the left and Knightley’s silhouette walking across the field towards the right side of the frame. As a result of the long shots, Knightley’s slight figure is overwhelmed by the visual splendor of the shot and the swelling music of the score. Lizzie Bennet is in essence reduced to being a part of the landscape rather than just being in the landscape; the film paradoxically celebrates Lizzie’s independence while minimizing the percentage of the screen that she appears in.
For all the critical attention paid to landscape, interiors are equally significant to eighteenth-century conceptions of characterization. Austen’s famous description of Pemberley makes readers reconsider Darcy because we assume that a man with such a well-appointed house cannot be entirely disagreeable: Elizabeth “had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste” (245). Two eighteenth-century aesthetic concepts underlie Elizabeth’s praise of the interplay between nature and artifice. First is Pemberley’s adherence to the picturesque, a late-eighteenth-century aesthetic movement that favored a balance between natural beauty and artificial landscaping. Second is the concept of “convenience,” the idea that the house should reflect the character of its owner. A term mainly employed in eighteenth-century architectural writings to describe the appearance of houses, convenience was the concept that an exterior “should express the purpose of a building and the social status of its inhabitant” (Varey 156). Pemberley’s tasteful exterior indicates to Elizabeth (and the reader) that its owner is equally measured, elegant, and handsome.
Convenience (of the architectural kind) is also evident in Wright’s Pride & Prejudice, as the sets and décor of Longbourn and Netherfield correspond to the characters of the people living inside them. Though Longbourn seems a little too dilapidated to be a gentleman’s home, the marked contrast between the properties is a readily-grasped indicator of the disparity between the neighbors’ economic and social situations. Netherfield is an excellent extension of the Bingleys’ fortune: brightly lit to the point of sterility, large rooms sparsely furnished, and populated by a small army of servants. The perpetual neatness of the interior suggests an adherence to societal rules and propriety. Ironically, the décor and furnishings (new, immaculate) suggest characteristics of the Bingleys evident in the novel but not the film, namely their new-moneyed status and Miss Bingley’s aims for social advancement. In contrast, Longbourn suggests that the Bennets are one generation away from being downwardly mobile. The house is messy, cluttered, and in need of a new coat of paint. The color palette is noticeably earthier and darker than Netherfield’s pastels, and we see only three servants (Mr. and Mrs. Hill, plus the young maid). The state of Longbourn matches the state of the Bennet family: constantly disheveled, genteel but shabby, and in need of money. As a property, Longbourn is also strongly associated with agrarian labor. In addition to the pig that walks through a back corridor, we also see workers in the yard. The presence of the estate’s workers further emphasizes Longbourn’s seemingly lower social status.
The difference between the two households is also conveyed by the way that each space is shot. Longbourn is a more intimate, spontaneous space. Wright favors unsteady, hand-held cameras to shoot many scenes in Longbourn, including an early shot of Lizzie staring through the library window at her parents. The shaky shots are reminiscent of documentary and cinema verité styles of filmmaking. There are often quick pans and zooms at Longbourn as the camera seems to search for the most interesting moment. For instance, after Lizzie rejects Mr. Collins’s proposal, the door behind a kneeling Mr. Collins bursts open, and the other Bennet women spill into the room, laughing. The camera quickly pans up from a kneeling Mr. Collins to the sisters behind him and then pans slightly to the right and zooms in on Mary Bennet, staring at Collins with a look that clearly conveys her wounded love for him. The camera movement in Longbourn is active, itself reflecting the lively character of the Bennet family.
The fluidity of the camera movement at Longbourn is replaced with more staid, though still mobile, camera work at Netherfield. In that setting, Wright favors medium shots of actors sitting still, forming compositions reminiscent of tableaus (e.g., the Bennet women sinking into a sofa, Lizzie reading while sitting in the middle of a sofa, Bingley reclining at the end of the sofa across from her). Setting aside for the moment the sequences at the ball, Netherfield is generally filmed more statically than Longbourn is, suggesting the more formal character of its inhabitants and that the rooms are more interesting than the people in them.
For all its attention to art direction and the details of set design, though, Pride & Prejudice is a movie concerned more with how people fill a space, with how it feels to be within a space, experiencing it in three dimensions. The “you are there” approach is evident in the film’s large number of tracking shots, particularly shots where the camera moves through doorways. The viewer is introduced to the Bennet household via a long tracking shot in which a camera moves through the back door, down a corridor, into the dining room, and through one of two front doors to rejoin Lizzie on the front porch. In the case of Longbourn, the filmmakers of Pride & Prejudice benefit from filming in a house rather than on a soundstage that lacks a fourth wall. Not only does the camera show the space, but it shows how it feels to move through the space. Movement through doors is also evident at Netherfield, where the camera tracks into the drawing room, showing us the set of double doors on either side. Later, as servants prepare to close up Netherfield, the camera tracks backwards out of a room through a set of double doors, which then magically close themselves.
Tracking through doors and down corridors creates a space that is tangible and in some cases even claustrophobic. Longbourn in particular is a social space filled with noise, laughter and people. There is no peace or quiet in a house of five daughters, save perhaps in Mr. Bennet’s famous library. The claustrophobic nature of Longbourn is reinforced by the unsteady camerawork, including a shot from the point of view of the Bennet sisters as they eavesdrop on their parents through a crack in the door. Due to its limited square footage, the interior space of Longbourn offers little privacy; doors are not soundproof and beds are shared. Longbourn’s sociability is also conveyed by the often overlapping and sometimes indecipherable dialogue of the Bennet sisters, such as Kitty and Lydia negotiating to borrow Jane’s dress for the assembly ball. In the case of Longbourn, sociability means people, noise and no privacy, ironic for what would usually be considered the most private of spaces, the home.
Like domestic interiors, public interiors in Pride & Prejudice offer little privacy but much sociability. The film’s two ball sequences represent another sense of the social world, the public aspect. Domestic and public sociability hardly differ. There is as much gossip at the assembly and Netherfield balls as there is at Longbourn, as much criticism of neighbors and playing out of courtship rituals (e.g., Mr. Collins). The lack of privacy is even more acute: though one could conceivably hold a private conversation masked by the general noise of the room, the larger number of people also increases the chances of being overheard, much as Lizzie overhears Mr. Darcy insult her at the assembly ball or Mr. Darcy overhears Mrs. Bennet touting Jane and Bingley’s advantageous match at Netherfield. Moreover, one’s actions are always subject to everyone else’s observation. At the assembly ball, Lizzie notices Jane and Bingley looking at each other. What both balls convey—which the Longbourn scenes do not—is the physicality and immediacy of being in a large room with many people. The dancers are sweaty, people fan themselves and chase after refreshments, hair becomes messy and clothing askew.
The sheer dizzying effect of the Netherfield ball is best demonstrated by a tour-de-force, three-minute-long take in which the camera tracks from room to room, through hallways and a foyer as different characters move in and out of the frame, finally ending on an overwhelmed Lizzie catching her breath in a quiet, moonlit hallway. Long takes cede a certain amount of control to the viewer, who must decide what he or she wants to focus on: “the eye is free—or rather compelled—to roam where it pleases, like one of the bedazzled guests” (Winter 83). The roaming eye, analogous to the roaming camera, finds it impossible to light on only one character, one conversation, one room. Watching the movement through the social space becomes analogous to moving through the space itself.
If interior spaces in Pride & Prejudice are associated with sociability, what of the exterior spaces? As I have discussed, outdoor spaces in the movie are used to emphasize Lizzie Bennet’s free spirit and independent thinking. The shift in meaning from indoors to outdoors is evident when key scenes are relocated from interior to exterior spaces, or vice versa. Among these scenes is the aftermath of Lizzie’s rejection of Collins’s proposal. In the novel, Mr. Bennet’s famous “‘unhappy alternative’” speech (“‘From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents.—Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do’” ) occurs in his library. Throughout the novel, Mr. Bennet’s library is his sanctuary, the quiet space from which he holds court (e.g., it is where Bingley and Darcy meet with him to request his daughters’ hands in marriage). The library, however, is also his hiding place, a physical manifestation of his neglectful parenting. In the adaptation, Lizzie Bennet runs out of doors immediately after the rejection, with Mrs. Bennet comically chasing after her. Mr. Bennet’s speech occurs beside a lake on the Longbourn property. The conversation pressuring Lizzie to accept no longer takes place in her father’s realm but in hers; it is less about his failures as a parent and more about her status as an independent young woman. Setting the scene in a space associated with Lizzie’s independence means that there is never any real doubt about the outcome of the conversation. However, the impact of Lizzie’s defiance is lessened by being outside, as the exterior location itself lends her a modicum of power in the film’s spatial code. Lizzie seems less rebellious by being more at home outdoors.
If Lizzie draws power from exterior spaces, moving her confrontation with Lady Catherine indoors seems illogical. Lady Catherine’s arrival in the middle of the night means that the confrontation cannot possibly take place in the “‘prettyish kind of a little wilderness’” where it occurs in the novel (352). Sue Parrill, referring to the 1995 miniseries and the novel, notes Elizabeth’s advantage in such a location: “Perhaps Lady Catherine should have chosen a more formal location for her demands, since Elizabeth’s defiance finds an appropriate setting in this natural environment” (42). Yet counter-intuitively setting the confrontation indoors renders Elizabeth’s logical dismantling of Lady Catherine’s argument more striking. By this point in the story, Elizabeth’s self-knowledge has developed; she knows that she is in love with Darcy. Her self-knowledge translates to strength of character, and the fact that she successfully confronts Lady Catherine in an unnatural, interior space not usually associated with her independence speaks to her growth and her strength.
The most significant relocation of a scene from interior to exterior space is Darcy’s proposal to Elizabeth. While the filmmakers retain Darcy’s first awkward visit to Hunsford where he attempts to propose before being interrupted, the second attempt takes place at what appears to be an eighteenth-century neoclassical temple, though finer details are difficult to discern in the pouring rain.2 The location of the temple and its place in the film’s world is unknown. Is it a part of Lady Catherine’s estate at Rosings? If not, how far is it from Rosings and Hunsford Parsonage? That we cannot literally place the scene anywhere within the world of the film indicates how out of place it is. The scene is literally and figuratively set apart from the rest of the movie.
What are the effects of the relocation? While the proposal scene retains most of the novel’s dialogue, its tone is a departure from the formal conversations of the interior spaces of Netherfield and even Longbourn. The outdoor setting, the dramatic music, the pouring rain and the near kiss are more keeping with a small-r romanticism that becomes increasingly evident in the film, a shift which has been noted by numerous reviewers (Lane, Lacey, McBride). The proposal exemplifies the change in the film’s tone and use of space that occurs once Lizzie arrives at Hunsford. Spaces are shot less fluidly as the conventions of the romance plot take over: “As it builds in melodramatic momentum, however, the film relies more and more on close-ups and the conventional rhythms of shot and reverse-shot” (Winter 83). Gone are the long takes and tracking shots of the sociable spaces; the social world has been left behind for the space of the romance plot and conventional film grammar.
Much is lost with the removal from the social world. The proposal scene itself is intensely performed, and handheld cameras are still used to convey intimacy and urgency. Yet setting such an emotionally intense scene, and one of the main turning points of the novel, outdoors is parallel to relocating the “‘unhappy alternative’” scene: the setting leaves no doubt about the emotional nature of the conversation. Austen’s interiors stand for more than just the social world; they also stand for social constraints. Austen heroes and heroines struggle to convey their deepest feelings through the minutest of gestures. Any confession of feelings renders a person vulnerable. The lack of privacy in interior spaces is the reason Darcy leaves abruptly after his first abortive attempt at Hunsford, demonstrating that exterior spaces are ironically more private than interiors. However, interior spaces reify the social constraints that all Austen characters operate under. Even in the film adaptation, Lizzie rejects Darcy’s proposal for social reasons: he separated Bingley and Jane, “exposing [his] friend to the censure of the world for caprice and [her] sister to its derision for disappointed hopes,” refused to help Mr. Wickham advance in the world, and behaved in an un-gentlemanlike manner. Standing as a reminder of the social world during the proposal scene in the novel, Hunsford is a multivalent space, a nexus of motives for marriage. Hunsford parsonage is a site of dependence, as Lady Catherine can dispose of it at her will. It is a site of Charlotte’s independence from spinsterhood achieved though her own “advantageous” marriage, her opportunity to have her own much-desired establishment (122). It is also a place where Mr. Collins can subtly show his cousin what she has lost by rejecting his proposal. In fact, it is heavily ironic that Elizabeth is proposed to in the home of a man whose proposal she rejected. Overall, Hunsford represents an opportunity that Elizabeth deems insufficient, a quality that can also be applied to Darcy’s proposal.
Setting the proposal outside in a neoclassical temple removes all the earthbound concerns associated with Hunsford, the rich ironies and the social satire. Entering a romantic space entails leaving behind social space. In the movie, romantic space is about the individuals—individual lovers, specifically—who rise above the world. The otherworldly aspect of Lizzie and Darcy’s love affair is reaffirmed by their reconciliation by sunrise. As she walks through a field, Lizzie spies Darcy striding towards her, emerging from the mist. As they reconcile and almost kiss, the shot is framed so that the sun appears behind them, shining through as if ordained by the heavens (or the director?) to do so. The final scene of the North American release, in which Darcy and Lizzie kiss repeatedly at Pemberley, is another instance of the fairy-tale nature of the film’s latter half. From the establishing shot of Pemberley with four swans in the reflecting pool to the ridiculous sight of Darcy and Lizzie in their bedclothes on the balcony (one wonders if all the servants had the night off?), the final scene is a significant departure from the grounded representations of the social world that comprised the film’s earlier moments. It is pure romance as the camera tracks forward not through a space, but towards the lovers, culminating in that most romantic of gestures—a kiss.
Spaces in films and novels are often imbued with meaning, suggesting readings that correspond to or deviate from the narrative. The 2005 film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice takes pleasure in representing interior spaces, specifically by using long tracking shots to create the illusion of moving through a three dimensional space. The interior spaces pulse with energy but yield to a more conventional romance narrative and therefore more conventionally shot spaces, particularly exteriors. By the movie’s end, melodramatic representations of romantic space are a far remove from the keenly observed social world that characterizes Jane Austen’s work. By turning its focus to romance and the creation of romantic spaces, Pride & Prejudice (2005) embraces grand exteriors at the expense of social interiors, ignoring the old maxim that it’s what’s inside that counts.
1. To be consistent with the practice of Pride & Prejudice (2005) and its reviewers, I refer to the character played by Keira Knightley as “Lizzie.” “Elizabeth” denotes the character in Austen’s novel and in other adaptations. While Austen spells Elizabeth's nickname "Lizzy," I defer to the DVD's subtitles and the film's reviewers in the spelling "Lizzie."
2. In the director’s commentary on the DVD, Joe Wright indicates that the proposal was filmed at the Stourhead estate, and that it was the only scene filmed at that location. The specific building is the Apollo’s Temple at Stourhead. The location is at least appropriate for the novel’s time period; Stourhead’s gardens were opened to the public in the 1740s (Troost 481).
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