Desiring Elizabeth Bennet, Character Development in 2005’s “Pride and Prejudice”

Desiring Elizabeth Bennet, Character Development in 2005’s “Pride and Prejudice”

In a post on my blog, I discussed how Andrew Davies “created” the image of a very masculine and virile Darcy by adding scenes to the 1995 Pride and Prejudice adaptation. Some of you reading this post likely participated in “Darcy Loving Parties” at the time of this mini-series’ release.

tumblr_n7ak9pPTe21qfisvuo4_250.gif Today, I would like to examine the visual shift of “desire” to Elizabeth Bennet in the 2005 film. Casting the beautiful Keira Knightley in the lead role changed the focus. Choosing Ms. Knightley, who had established herself in Bend It Like Beckham, King Arthur, Love Actually, and The Pirates of the Caribbean, was designed to appeal to a younger and wider audience. Add Joe Wright’s emphasis on social realism to Knightley’s casting, and we have a film that grossed over $125 million worldwide.

Knightley’s casting could have backfired. Remember that Austen describes the character as, “She (Elizabeth) is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.” and “But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face ….” and “Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form ….” Obviously, the casting of the equally lovely Rosamund Pike as Jane helped to “sell” the idea that Elizabeth’s fair face was less than her elder sister’s.

article-2544327-02CD763A0000044D-541_634x413.jpgIn the 2005 film, Elizabeth (Knightley) is found in EVERY scene, from the opening shot of her walking home while reading her book to the final kiss in the American version. The camera follows Elizabeth through the house. We see her world through Elizabeth’s eyes. When she walks away from Darcy at the Meryton assembly, everyone else pales, but our focus remains constant on Elizabeth. She is framed by the retreating camera lens.

When Elizabeth and Jane share secrets under the blankets, the audience is invited to join them. When she sensually traces Darcy’s belongings with her fingertips, we feel Elizabeth’s longing for a man she has allowed to slip through her fingers.

Through the camera, the viewer is always at Elizabeth’s side. We read over her shoulder in the opening scene. We enjoy the interplay between Elizabeth and Mr. Bennet regarding Mr. Collins’s pomposity. We hide behind a Netherfield column with her when her family’s actions bring humiliation. We observe Darcy’s approach through the morning mist as Elizabeth would, and we peek through the open door as she watches Darcy spin his sister around in circles.

2239782af7c7c9a67e48bf40eff1f8ea.jpgEven when we have the occasional film seconds when Knightley is not in the framing, the scene pans to Elizabeth’s presence. It’s as if the camera leads us back to her. The maid carries items through the Bennet household and ends up in Elizabeth and Jane’s shared room. The intimate scene of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s bedroom guides us to another meeting between Jane and Elizabeth. Darcy’s appreciation of Georgiana’s pianoforte skills lead the viewer to Elizabeth’s accepting his invitation to Pemberley.

Knightley’s star power is “lessened” by her appearance in dingy, drab dresses and having her surrounded by a “working” home: animals, a barnyard swing, the kitchen, clothes lines, disarray. These techniques “muffle” Knightley’s beauty and allow the viewer to accept her as Austen’s most famous character. In contrast to the 1995 film, Matthew Macfadyen’s Darcy is often shot from a distance and always fully clothed (minus the American ending again). Even his open-shirt appearance in the pre-dawn hours is viewed from Elizabeth’s point of view. He’s coming to her. She waits for him. Therefore, she remains the center of attention.

Wright’s “extra” scenes direct the desire to Elizabeth. Davies’s film showed Darcy in his bath and diving into a pond to increase Colin Firth’s role. Wright uses the near kiss from Darcy’s first proposal, the caress as Darcy assists Elizabeth to the carriage, and the seductive circling of Darcy and Elizabeth at the Netherfield Ball as part of the film’s sexual subtext. These and several other scenes amplify the desire for Elizabeth.

large One part of the film that has received much criticism is the way this adaptation minimizes the relationship between Elizabeth and Wickham and between Elizabeth and Colonel Fitzwilliam. Wright chose to omit Austen’s diversions because Elizabeth is the one to be desired, and Elizabeth desires Darcy. In this version, we do not consider her flirtation with either man as serious possibilities. In the 2005 film, Wickham spends more time with Lydia than he does with Elizabeth.

Okay, it is your turn. Where else in the film is Elizabeth the point of desire? How has her character been created?



Holden, Stephen. “Marrying off Those Bennet Sisters Again, but This Time Elizabeth is a Looker.” Review of Pride and Prejudice. The New York Times. 11 Nov. 2005. {}

24 Responses to Desiring Elizabeth Bennet, Character Development in 2005’s “Pride and Prejudice”

  1. I found the scene at the parsonage where Darcy pops in, twists his hat, bids Elizabeth ‘good day’ and rushes out again interesting. It still featured Knightley but it also gave us a feel for what Darcy had been doing for a while: running away from her.

  2. No secret to any who know me even remotely that the 2005 version is my favorite. IMO Joe Wright is absolutely brilliant, and this is obvious in watching his other movies. At the time I saw P&P in the theaters in Nov. 2005 I had never heard of Wright, so did not appreciate the sheer mastery of his camera techniques, direction, editing, etc. I did, however, FEEL the subtexts and emotion! It is what instantly drew me, passionately, to the story. The rest is history, in so far as how this movie affected me. Reading analysis such as yours, Regina, brings it all back.

    One thing I especially loved is that Kiera, while undeniably beautiful, isn’t “perfect” in the supermodel, Hollywood tradition. Her features are asymmetrical, lips a tad too big, and her body not exactly lush. Personally a bit more bosom would be nice and Keira always looks like she is in desperate need of a dozen juicy hamburgers! Yet, the fact that she doesn’t scream “sex” is a plus in this role. It always felt to me that while Darcy clearly desires her, it isn’t solely the immediate rush of lust that just about any red-blooded man would experience when seeing a sexy woman. Rather, he desires everything about her, or perhaps desires who she is inside DESPITE her not being classically a beauty or with a voluptuous physique.

    Great insights, as always. 🙂

  3. Some months ago I watched a video of interviews with the makers of P&P1995. In it, Davies tells us that he sees the story as being about “sex and money,” and he wrote the 1995 version to be more from a male perspective. If you think about it, in many ways it is a story about sex and money: the pursuit of sex (and sometimes love) on the men’s side, and the pursuit of money and protection on the women’s side. This does not translate to sexy, and I agree that sexual tension is usually more appealing to the viewer than explicit sex. In the 1995 version, Elizabeth’s huge pulchritude is on frequent display, esp when she’s at the piano at Rosings or Pemberley. Again, you can almost feel Darcy’s desire. (When I first read P&P, and then saw 1995, I presumed that Darcy was in lust with Lizzy, and only later fell in love with her.)

    1995 and 2005 are so dissimilar that one can enjoy them for different reasons. I for one have always preferred Keira Knightly to Jennifer Ehle in this role.

    A very thought-provoking post, Regina.

  4. Even the entrance of the Netherfield party to the Meryton Assembly focus on Elizabeth view point and Darcy’s reaction to espying her on the sidelines. The jolt he obviously experiences tells even a newcomer to the whole movie/book versions that this is the interplay to watch.

  5. The scene that stands out for me in the 2005 version (which is NOT my favorite) movie version is the Hunsford Proposal…although it is NOT at the Hunsford parsonage in the 2005 version. (“It’s at the Temple of Apollo, a folly built in the gardens at Stourhead, at Stourton near Warminster in Wiltshire.”) The sexual tension between the two was so dramatic that I actually thought the director was going to have them kiss and I was saying to myself “That didn’t happen in the book.” The wet shirt scene with Darcy swimming in the pond in the 1995 version is often quoted or questioned in my JAFF circles as to whether it is what attracted the viewer to the whole story/book? They even put a “wet shirt/pond” scene in P&P and Zombies. I love sexual tension in the stories I read…does NOT have to go to bedroom scenes but some writers do that and it is fine with me if well written.

  6. I love your thoughts, Regina. When I saw this movie in 2005 I was disappointed, but it has grown on me. Now I love it for the reasons you described in your post.

  7. Great analysis, Regina.I never considered how Elizabeth is the center of this version and Darcy is amplified in the 1995 version. I think Elizabeth is much more modern in the 05 version. She isn’t quite as obedient and respectful as a Regency woman. She has a little feminist spice in her.

  8. I was not going to comment, but was encouraged to go ahead and give my opinion, so here goes.

    I will honestly say that sex and desire never crossed my mind in viewing any of the films, but especially not the 2005 version. One of the reasons I fell so in love with it (and by extension, Jane Austen’s book) was that it was a *clean” love story. There was no sex! One can fall in love without wanting to jump someone’s bones, as unpopular as that idea is in today’s society.

    I do see your point, though, that we see the entire movie from Elizabeth’s perspective. Really, that’s how Jane Austen wrote the book, if you think about it. Thanks for the interesting post!

    • If you think I am turning this piece into a “sexy” evaluation, you have erred. I am speaking of the visual subtext of the film. Every director uses visual subtext to tell the story. For example, when Elizabeth is spinning on the swing, it can symbolize her life spinning out of control, but it also shows the passing of the seasons, moving the story forward from November to April when Elizabeth visits Charlotte Collins at Hunsford. The spinning takes the viewer forward in time while we assume that Elizabeth evaluates some of her earlier assumptions about Charlotte – for if she erred in her opinion of Charlotte, she could be in error on Darcy and Wickham.
      Davies turned Darcy into a “sex” symbol in the 1995 mini-series. Wright brings the emphasis back to Elizabeth by placing Keira Knightley in every scene. We see how Darcy’s obsession with her grows. We see how she matures enough to accept him. Even in “clean” love stories, there is a certain amount of sexual undertone.

  9. Hi Regina,

    This is a thing I don’t know about, the ‘American’ ending of the movie. How is it different from the ending used outside of the United States? Why did they do two different ones? I often get the idea people making films for the United States feel we can’t take non-Disney endings, but I know how Pride and Prejudice ends and it’s happily ever after enough to satisfy just about anyone, I would think. I’d love to here what the difference is and your thoughts on the reason for it.


    • The British version ends with Mr Bennet in his study saying he is quite at his leisure! Why we had to be denied the balcony at Pemberley and the kiss I will never know!!!! We got the kiss in the mini series so what was the point of doing separate versions just for the matter of a few minutes. I have to watch it then go to the extras to watch the U.S. ending!

      • Thanks Glynis. I had no idea.

        I suppose it’s all well and good that they kissed, but I’m not actually a fan of the balcony scene. It’s too . . . gooey for me 🙂 I’ll trade you our ending for yours! Let’s just let the studio know.

    • Glynis explained the difference before I got back over here today. Personally, I would have preferred a wedding scene to the one on the balcony, but that has nothing to do with the balcony scene. I think it shows Darcy’s softening his ways because of Elizabeth’s teasing. It serves as the equivalent of the scene from the book where she says she will tease him from his sour moods.

      • I read some place that a wedding scene was shot for the 2005 but wound up on the cutting room floor apparently. Nuts! I would have loved to have had more. Joe Wright did a genius job with this film.

        • They must have shot a wedding because someone once posted a photo from it. So what I want to know is if they weren’t going to use it in the film, why couldn’t they at least include it in the extras? ?

  10. Thanks for the post, this is something I never thought about before with the 2005 movie but I see your point. The scenes that come to mind for me are when she is at Rosings playing the pianoforte and when she comes to Netherfield to care for Jane. I love how even with her looking so disarrayed that Darcy is still so entranced by her.

  11. Definitely the scene when just the two are dancing at the Netherfield Ball. They may be irritated at one another, but he is lost in love with her, and she’s just irritated. I thought Joe Wright made a smart move when everyone else disappeared. It made that scene. 2005 is definitely my favorite, and I appreciate how Joe Wright handled the whole movie. He didn’t follow canon as such, but he captured the essence of what Jane Austen depicted in her book especially the emotions. Thank you for this post, Regina.

  12. I agree that the film version does concentrate on Elizabeth. 2 other scenes are when she arrives at Netherfield to look after Jane and when she watches Darcy leave the letter at Hunsford. I love the film and the mini series equally I think and am in danger of wearing out my DVDs. Thanks so much for this lovely post Regina.

    • Do you not love the scene when she enter Netherfield with her hair down and blown about? It is almost as if the viewer can see Darcy swallow his desire.
      I, too, love both versions, but I am a bit of a film nut. I watch them for different reasons or when I require a quick Austen fix or the slow boil. LOL!

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