I was initially going to make one big post about my favorite movies based on books, but then I realized it was going to be a reaaaalllly long post, so I’m breaking it up into parts.
Here in part two, I’m going to talk about the films I love that are based on classic novels.
Pride & Prejudice (2005)
I’m sure I’m going to catch a lot of hell for this. I’ve already endured a spirited conversation at book club, where I was assured that I was dead wrong, but here it is: the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley and Matthew McFadyen is my favorite, far above the 1995 mini-series with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth.
Go ahead and throw your fits in my general direction. I’ll just wait over here.
All done? Okay. Why do I prefer the 2005 version? Several reasons, many of them involving Matthew McFadyen. And Keira Knightley. Also, the Bennet sisters who feel like real people making up a real family, all with their individual personalities and hopes. The sisters from the 1995 mini-series felt more like caricatures to me, like they were one-dimensional and only served to act as foils to Lizzie, rather than being human beings in their own right. The mini-series also suffers from that very even, boring lighting I associate with 1990s films. As a photography nut, the lighting drives me nuts. It takes away the dimensionality of the environment and strips the cinematographer of a key element of storytelling. Joe Wright is not afraid to let things get a little dark (light wise) now and then, or let it get bright and sunny when needs be.
Lizzie and Mr. Darcy’s journeys from the beginning of the film to the end are clear all the way through, and the changes they undergo are wonderfully naturalistic. In this version, Charlotte lets Lizzie know when she’s being a judgmental jerk (even when Charlotte really has made a bad decision to marry Mr. Collins), and you can see the change that occurs in Lizzie when she realizes that she has misjudged Mr. Darcy and his intentions. That’s not to say that Mr. Darcy isn’t flawed, but he, like Lizzie, manage to overcome those flaws to find each other in the end.
And that ending, where the sun is rising and Mr. Darcy is striding up the hill to meet Lizzie… Fairy tales don’t have such gorgeous endings. It makes me happy.
Jane Eyre (2011)
Like Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre is another novel that took a while to grow on me. When I was younger, I didn’t understand how Jane could be such a passionate soul when she was little more than a plain-faced governess who didn’t stand up for herself in company and was content to let her talents and imagination go unused while dealing with Mr. Rivers. I thought it was about a mousy girl who fell in love with her employer, even as he was hiding his insane wife up in the attic. The appeal was lost on 20-year old me.
Little did the younger me understand.
There is a lot of subtlety in Jane Eyre’s little, plain self. And also a lot of courage. How many governesses would stand up to their hot-tempered employers and declare her own humanity, and that she has an independent spirit that is equal to his? Not many. Confined as she was by custom and geography, Jane still found a way to let her spirit soar.
The 2011 film version starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender is directed by Cary Fukugawa. It is pared down to the essentials, and is sometimes as bleak as the landscape Thornfield Hall is set in. The cinematography and soundtrack reflect the moods of the film, whether they’re dark and lonely or sweepingly romantic. Wasikowska’s Jane is a superb foil to Fassbender’s Mr. Rochester
Far From the Madding Crowd (2015)
I saw the film before I read the book. I know, I know. It’s bad form. But after reading Jude the Obscure, I had it in my head that Thomas Hardy’s novels ended tragically. Shows what I know.
This film entranced me within the first few minutes with the cinematography, costumes, and music. And then Carey Mulligan and Matthias Schoenaerts showed up and started talking, had their fortunes reversed, found each other again, and were kept apart by a string of circumstances that nearly kept them apart forever. They were falling in love, but simply could not admit it to each other or act upon it. And it nearly cost them everything.
I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I walked into the theater, and I’m kinda glad for that. I got a copy of the book soon after watching the movie, and so I was better able to imagine the world and the characters in my mind, as well as having a better understanding of the missteps and mistakes that characters like Fanny Robbin made. I recently re-watched Far from the Madding Crowd, and was just as swept up as before.
I mean, how can you not like a 19th century heroine like Bathsheba Everdeen, who outright says, “I’d hate to be some man’s property. I shouldn’t mind being a bride at a wedding if I could be one without getting a husband!”
This is another movie I watched before reading the book, and once again I have no regrets about it. Knowing the structure and the truth of the story from the film allowed me to understand the nature of the book and the story that Briony Tallis tells. Reading the book later also gave me a greater appreciation for how Joe Wright brought the story to life on the screen, as I think this is the most faithful translation from book to film that I have ever seen. I can remember one major change, and that was done because the circumstances- easily explainable in a book- would have been tedious to explain in a film.
The camera work in Atonement is brilliant, focusing on tiny details that seem like artsy elements at first until they’re revealed as being critical to the story and to how events fall apart and drastically affect the lives of Cecily Tallis and her love, Robbie Turner. A thirteen year old Briony (Cecily’s little sister) sees things happen between Cecily and Robbie. She thinks she understands what she’s seen, but she doesn’t. She’s too young. And so, when a crime happens later that night, Briony lies about what she saw and spends the rest of her life trying to atone for what she’s done.
I cried at the end of this movie, and I don’t cry at very many movies. The detail and adherence to the book were astounding, and I still can’t get over that amazing green dress Cecily wears.
Anna Karenina – It took me years- literally years- to finish this book. I got it for Christmas when I was in high school, ambitiously started it over the holiday break, and stalled out around page 55. I’d start again and get a little further, but it wasn’t until I was out of college that I made a concerted effort to finish the book. It didn’t help that there is so much farming. So. Much. Farming. I grew up in a farming community, so the descriptions of farm life being this idyllic existence read a little like Marxist propaganda to me (“ah, yes. The life of a farmer, so beautiful in its simplicity..). And there were times during the romance between Anna and Vronksy that grew dull, too. But I kept pushing through and eventually made it to the end. The Joe Wright/Keira Knightley match-up (there’s a trend going on here..) was a stylized, simplified version of the book that mostly kept up the tangled relationships, and even managed to make farming look good. (2012)