Potter, pride and prejudice

We saw Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire last Friday night, and the Keira Knightley Pride and Prejudice Sunday afternoon. Potter was just okay – but Pride and Prejudice was a revelation.

Goblet is the best Harry Potter book – perhaps the only one that merits serious consideration. Rowling starts tackling Voldemort’s Hitler and terrorist allegories seriously in Goblet – only to let action flag and the ball drop in the next two volumes. It’s also a huge tome, full of intricate detail.

Fearful of being overwhelmed by the novel, the film reacts by leaving way too much of it out. We get lots of footage of Harry being chased by his dragon – but no coverage of how he learned the trick he uses to defeat it. Krum takes Hermione to the dance – but I don’t think he’s ever shown speaking to her, and certainly never calls her “her my own.”

Worse, the scenes lack continuity, and do not flow one into the other, building toward some larger effect. It’s as if director Mike Newell decided to channel Godard’s Masculin Feminin in an attempt to match the arthouse cachet of Alfonso Cuaron (The Prisoner of Azkaban’s director). The breakup of the school year at the end of the film seems little more than that – the wizard world-historical resonances of the novel’s ending are mostly lost.

Nevertheless, as a popular entertainment Goblet was enjoyable – if nothing more.

Pride and Prejudice was a whole lot more. We’ve seen this story countless times in recent years, both the classic Colin Firth TV version and the various literary and filmic adaptations of the novel, from the Bridget Jones books and movies to the recent Bollywood-style Bride and Prejudice.

Yet here it seems – and actually is – freshly imagined. The novel and all its other adaptations maintain a certain social-satiric (or at least historicist) distance from the story. This P&P dissolves that distance in favor of intensely emotional immediacy – it’s the Bronteization of Austen tout court, with Mr. Darcy a figure more akin to a happier Heathcliff than his own highly questionable self.

With all vestiges of Austen’s irony removed, Elizabeth Bennett’s own sarcasm and wit – and the trenchant ironies of her dramatic situation – shine through more brightly. Knightley’s wickedly twinkling eyes draw the viewer in throughout – even when they express the most tearful of regret. My own eyes welled with sympathetic tears numerous times – in happiness, not sadness – yet I rarely cry at films.

Alas, I must confess to having never read the novel through – why bother when it’s know to me so well at second, third, fourth hand? – yet even I could recognize that the words of the ending were not Austen’s own; my wife and I verified as much while watching Desperate Housewives that evening. Indeed, the final scene was apparently cut in England so as not to anger Austen aficionados, until audience demands resulted in its restoration.

Except for the oddly inappropriate words, however, I enjoyed the final scene – and consider its details perfect. A return to Pemberly and a post-coital tete-a-tete before its reflecting pool and fountain seems a fitting and highly satisfying filmic conclusion. Okay, it’s not Austen – but who cares? It’s certainly a better Bronte.

Posted Thursday, November 24th, 2005 under Uncategorized.

One comment so far

  1. Anonymous says:

    harry potter has got to bethe best children’s series of all time, wouldn’t you agree?

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