Movies vs. Books: Are they the same Austen?

Lizzy-Janedear mr knightley coverThe other day, as I was trolling through the Internet, I came across a 1996 article by Martin Ames. (Attached below if anyone is curious.)

It was published in the New Yorker as the Austen tsunami was still rising – not yet peaking – across our literary, cinematic and cultural landscape. BBC just released Colin Firth’s Pride and Prejudice (Is it any other’s?) and the remakes were rolling out apace. We had yet to see Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey, but, twenty years later, we know they came.

What struck me, however, was not his commentary about Austen’s popularity or the burgeoning industry or this newfound enthusiasm of ours, but his comment on the very words, the very scenes, as portrayed through these new movies.

For instance – In Pride and Prejudice, cast your mind back to the moment when Lydia’s elopement over Elizabeth and Darcy leaves her in the inn near Pemberely. Ames notes that the book states: Elizabeth felt how improbable it was that they should ever see each other again on such terms of cordiality as had marked their several meetings in Derbyshire.

The BBC’s 1996 Davies movie, however, reveals this moment, Elizabeth’s thoughts, within one line: “I shall never see him again.”

Ames comparison reveals that Austen’s lines show a brave face in adversity, and that Davies’ interpretation puts forth a premature admission of love. Austen hasn’t revealed that yet. Ames further asserts “each shifted brick threatens the whole building.” And the more I thought on it, the more truth I found in his logic.

Now to be very clear, I’m not condemning the movies – and I’m not sure he is either. I adore them – each and every one, including those delightfully formal ones of the early 1980s. But I am wondering how much of what I adore is truly Austen and how much is my perception of her – as tasted through spectacular costumes, soft lighting and carefully choreographed sexual tension? And are they different stories completely?

P&P peacockI may need to return to my source material and find out.

What do you think? One thing I love about this blog is that we talk… So let’s talk… How different are the movies from the books? Is that an issue at all? And do you prefer one over another? I’m still pondering it all myself.

Thanks for stopping by!



13 Responses to Movies vs. Books: Are they the same Austen?

  1. Just a quick thought of the difference a book or a movie makes for me. I enjoy both, but with a book, I have to think about it more to fully appreciate it. With the movie (2005 is my fav) all I have to do is feel.

  2. I was lucky enough to read all of Austen’s work before seeing any of the movies and I must say, the omniscient narrator POV is hard to accomplish in film. Jane’s voice is another character, a lot of the material is not said in dialogue but in the narrator’s observations Consider this in Chapter 1 of Pride and Prejudice “Mary wished to say something sensible, but knew not how.” How does an actress demonstrate this in a way that communicates the wry observation of an observer? If you’ve read A Tale of Two Cities, you’ll see this POV done to the extreme, the story is almost trifling in comparison to the voice, style and thoughts of the narrator. I’ve seen that movie, wished it were remade but, at the same time, I realize there is no possible way to communicate Dicken’s brilliance.

    Another point I would make as someone who was unaware of the P&P storyline, Austen does an incredible job of misdirection – I found myself just as surprised as Elizabeth that Mr. Darcy was in love with her because Jane begins the novel with the typical “most beautiful girl in the room” as the central heroine of the story and the romance seems to focus on these two. There are of course fore-shadowing of his feelings but the subtlety creates a good deal of surprise for the reader just as it does for Elizabeth Bennet. This is simply not possible in the movies which clearly follow Elizabeth from the beginning.

  3. I think they all have their charms, for the most part. Once in awhile I come across an adaptation that is so badly done that I just cringe. I think there are some elements that play worse havoc with Austen’s story than others. I disagree, however, that the 1995 adaptation gave Elizabeth a premature admission of love. She herself (seemingly in jest) admitted that she first started loving Darcy upon seeing Pemberley, which had already happened. I think it’s not too much of a stretch to portray Elizabeth as realizing she had developed feelings for Darcy at this point in the story. Ah, but we do all have our opinions, don’t we!

  4. I have always found that movie adaptations are not true to the books no matter how close they are and do prefer the books, but movie adaptations have their place too. They, many times, may introduce a person to the story, just as a JAFF story may bring someone to read the original. To me, the movies are very siilar to a JAFF story; someone’s visualization of the story. Thank you so much for this thought provoking post.

  5. Katherine,
    This was an interesting look at the differences in movies versus books. I imagine that a movie or film must work to appeal and be understood by a wider audience. That may explain the softening of the language. There will be those in the audience who are not familiar with Regency English and may drift from the lovely plot unless the language is made more contemporary. IMHO. 🙂

  6. I do notice any changes from the books for all movies and variations but can still enjoy both if they are well done. But don’t name your characters Darcy & Elizabeth just to sell a story. I have read some and don’t hesitate to call the author on it.

  7. Well, I guess I’m not a purest because I love the movies, even when they don’t get it right. Not that I can’t be critical when a scene is left off or they stray too far from the original. I love the visual of the sets and costumes, the mannerisms and “the world of the play.” Being a musician, I particularly love the sound tracks. Then not being form the UK, I absolutely adore the way the British actors speak. It creates great images for me in my “what if” view of JAFF. After all, we all seem to want more and are “addicted” to variations and keep reading and writing to fulfill our need. Of course without our dear JA we would have none of this and in the end, I am eternally grateful for her legacy in the written word. ~Jen

  8. I find it best to enjoy the movie versions in the same way as I enjoy JAFF. They also are adaptations, and I enjoy them very much. Like you said that you adore the movies, I’ve read many readers say the same about some JAFF. I suppose it’s just the way various aspects of the original are portrayed that we adore.

  9. Every film adaptation of every book I’ve ever read is never “right”. There is just something lost in the translation and the script writing to make it short enough and a commercial draw. That said, I own and enjoy all the adaptations of lovely Jane’s books. I see them as I do JAFF. They are characters that I love in a variation, modified for the screen. I guess that is my opinion in a nutshell. The adaptations are more JAFF for my collection. 🙂

  10. I prefer books to the movie. The movies are a fun way to “see” what may have been going in the story.

  11. We should just enjoy or not enjoy the adaptations for what they are – someone’s view of the books with time constraints for filming, – and just remind ourselves how wonderful the books are by re-reading them

  12. I agree nearly every TV or Movie adaption of any book including Jane Austen’s is exactly that An Adaption, I find that some take a huge licence from the original book or books, particularly the movie versions. I general prefer the BBC adaptions because the interpretation is generally closer to the book although they do take some licence. I find the movie’s, and that includes the 2005 P&P and the 1996 Sense & Sensibility change too many parts of the story, whereby characters are omitted that are in the books and too much is changed e.g. proposal in the rain in a Folly and not at the parsonage, to name just one. And the Hollywood version which starred Greer Garson and Lawrence Olivier was just too much, even the clothing for the Regency period was completely wrong, it was more Victorian or as I like to say left overs from Gone With The Wind. My niece loved both the 2005 ans 1996 movies but I did tell her to read the books so she got the idea of what was actually written. Of course this is just my opinion and many probably would not agree. But that’s life, we all have our own opinions.

  13. The biggest difference for me is the “ridiculous” characters. When I read the books, I was so annoyed and frustrated by them, but in movies, with the right actor/actress and a few sympathetic dialogue changes, I find myself softening towards them. This holds true across all the books! Even Anne’s father in Persuasion, who is so abhorrent in both, manages to eek out a bit of sympathy from me in the film versions!

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