Adaptations and Accuracy: Literary Favorites from Page to Screen

During my 9th grade year, I was assigned to read and report on Pride and Prejudice over Christmas break. I procrastinated until the final weekend of the holiday, and frantically ran to the city library. While checking out the book, the kindly librarian asked if I’d ever seen the 1940 Laurence Olivier/Greer Garson adaptation of the novel. Thinking I had just scored an easy way out of my assignment, I grabbed the movie as well. One trip home, a bowl of popcorn, and ninety minutes later, I was writing my report.

The next morning, I felt guilty for not following the assignment (yes, I was one of *those* students). I determined I could at least start reading the book so I wouldn’t feel like such a cheater. A mere five chapters in and I knew I’d made a bigger error than not reading the book: I’d picked a movie that was basically nothing like the novel upon which it was supposedly based, save for its title and character names.

I read hurriedly and not altogether carefully, but soaked up enough information to write a bare-bones essay. Two lessons were learned that Christmas break: don’t procrastinate, and don’t trust a movie.

Ironically, I’ve kept a date with Jane every Christmas since. It’s my annual holiday treat to myself to read through Pride and Prejudice, then watch the 1995 adaptation. I chase this with the 2005 adaptation because I could listen to Matthew Macfadyen recite the ingredients on a cereal box.

Oh – there’s one more thing I learned to do. It’s pretty unconventional and probably considered blasphemous: I sometimes read books *after* I see their movie. For some reason, I can appreciate the well-made movies that aren’t not completely faithful to canon as long as I don’t know the canon going in. This plan has allowed me to enjoy North and South, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and The Hobbit. If, however, I read the book first and then try to sit through a less-than-accurate adaptation…well…it’s nothing but a big bowl of disappointment. I’m talking to you, The Scarlet Letter (1995), The Great Gatsby (2013), and Water for Elephants.

Read on and weigh in with your opinion on Mimi Matthews terrific post about accuracy and adaptations…

Mimi Matthews

“If, however, your feelings have changed, I will have to tell you, you have bewitched me body and soul, and I love…I love….I love you.”

(Pride and Prejudice, 2005.)

 Photograph: Focus Features.Keira Knightly and Matthew Macfadyen as Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, 2005.
Photograph: Focus Features.

If you are a serious, literary-minded Jane Austen fan, it may raise your blood pressure a bit to learn that there are many people who believe the above quote was actually said by Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.  Similarly, there are those who are convinced that the famous scene where Darcy leaps into the lake at Pemberley is an accurate depiction of something that Austen wrote on the page.  In fact, as most of you reading this will know, the above lines are said by actor Matthew Macfadyen in the 2005 movie version of Pride and Prejudice and the scene with Darcy…

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4 thoughts on “Adaptations and Accuracy: Literary Favorites from Page to Screen

  1. Thanks for reblogging my article, Renee! I love your story about watching the old 1940s version of Pride and Prejudice. Ironically, it is one of the most inaccurate adaptations ever. Studios of that era were notorious for “improving” novels when they adapted them to film. I like to think that 21st century filmmakers have a bit more respect for the original material, but then again, judging by some of the recent adaptations, it seems there are still those who believe they can make a classic novel into something even better.

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