I’ve owned and/or viewed many adaptations of Pride and Prejudice on both film and stage and, of course, I’ve read the book. Needless to say, I am a complete fan of Austen’s work. So when I saw an adaptation available with an African American cast, I truly did a double take. I was BEYOND excited!
And then I watched it and I was like, <deep sigh>. So, in short:
Did I love it? No.
Did I hate it? No.
Would I watch it again? Probably, if I had nothing else better to do.
Where does it rank among the versions I’ve seen? Running neck in neck with Bollywood’s Bride & Prejudice, it ranks at the bottom of the list.
Oh, Sis. What happened? Well . . .
**SPOILER WARNING!! IF YOU DON’T WANT THIS RUINED FOR YOU, DO NOT READ BEYOND THIS POINT!**
As much as I truly wanted to LOVE this movie, I really couldn’t. Not that the whole thing was a complete wash. I did feel myself smile on occasion. There were things I could totally see modern versions of the characters doing or aspiring to be: Elizabeth as an outspoken Community Outreach activist, Lydia clubbing and hanging at gambling tables, Darcy running for Congress. It was fun seeing how some of the more famous parts played out and there are some interesting twists to some of the characters (i.e. Bingley has something of a reputation and Caroline, while still a hater, is not so much of a “mean girl.” Mr. Bennett, here, is not so passive and there’s a cute scene with Lizzie trying to cut his non-existent hair.)
Overall, I liked the cast. Most of the actors give solid performances for what they had to work with (Victoria Rowell totally brought it as Lady Catherine) and the story does stay pretty true to the source material.
Things fall flat, however, with generally weak dialogue, sloppy character development and some pacing issues. Add to that, there were some scenarios that just made me go, “Huh?”
Case in point, the main plot of Austen’s novel rests on the fact that Elizabeth finds that she has fallen for Darcy after he initially puts everybody off with his snobbery. In P&P Atlanta, the blossoming romance between Darcy and Lizzie doesn’t really exist. Unlike other versions of his character, the “Atlanta” Darcy is actually quite likeable pretty much from the start. When we first meet him, he willingly joins in a wedding celebration. From that point, and throughout the film, he’s at ease with generally everyone except Lizzie. His first and, to my recollection, only slight is when he tells a colleague that Lizzie is not his type. This is nothing more than a slap on the wrist compared to the original “she seems tolerable . . . but not handsome enough to tempt me.” Because this Darcy is not in the least as harsh as his muse or even provokes argument, Lizzie’s challenges toward him are absolutely nonsensical and often make her look rather foolish.
Another example: Lydia gets pregnant but declines Wickham’s marriage proposal. She’s her own woman, so ok, but then she says she’s done giving away her goodies as if that’s the reason she’s turning him down. Wait a minute, Lydia. Shouldn’t you have thought about that BEFORE you got knocked up? When has marriage been the equivalent of giving your goodies away? Having this line after the proposal, again, made no sense. Also, I’m gauging that Lydia is in her early 20s. For someone that age, I wouldn’t think that a pregnancy would be considered so devastating that Lizzie would have to rush home to be with the family. If she was perhaps 15 or 16 and had had a pregnancy scare, both scenarios would have been more believable.
Due to the watered-down characters and plot, a few people could have simply taken a seat. I had actually forgotten that Kitty, Mary, and Caroline Bingley were even in the movie. Their lines could have easily been given to someone else.
This adaptation also loses the Wickham/Georgiana angle and, as this Wickham is not at all the rat we know from the novel, or is in any way an interesting variation, his existence here is kind of pointless. Lizzie’s outreach project nemesis, Antwon Tippet, is truly more “Wickham-ish.” The story would have actually been far more interesting if Lydia had fallen for him and seeing where that would have led to. Of course, since Georgiana doesn’t exist in this P&P universe, the Darcy/Wickham dynamic changes, too, taking away from the film.
Some personal observations/pet peeves: when we are first introduced to the Bennett girls, we’re presented with a lovely array of darker-skinned women. Jane Bennett, noted in most adaptations and the book, as the sweetest, most genteel, and most beautiful of the daughters, is played by a light-skinned actress. Not at all trying to take anything away from Raney Branch’s looks. But yet again, the casting feeds into the narrative that light-skinned women are the epitome of black beauty and set the ideal standard of manners and character. Why wasn’t the stereotypical “hood rat” Lydia, cast as a light-skinned actress as well? Finally, an agenda, even done as a throw-away one-liner, is still an agenda. Some people just want to watch a movie.
As I mentioned before, there were some pacing issues which made the movie feel a bit rushed, but all things considered, would I have really wanted this to be any longer than what it was? Hmm.
This was a Hallmark movie, plan and simple, with Pride & Prejudice as the backdrop. This could have easily stripped its title and been called something else and no one would have been the wiser. Unfortunately, I went into this with the mindset of a blockbuster film and maybe that’s my own fault but with the wealth of talent they had on hand, this had the potential of being something amazing. Is it a decent attempt to modernize a classic? Yes. The thing is, modern adaptations of P&P have been done, and frankly, it’s been done much better.