PERSUASIONS ON-LINE V.34, NO.1 (Winter 2013)

“Will You Dance?” Film Adaptations of Pride and Prejudice

Nora Stovel


Nora Stovel (email: is Professor of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta.  She has published on Jane Austen, D. H. Lawrence, Margaret Drabble, Carol Shields, and Margaret Laurence, including Divining Margaret Laurence.  She is composing Carol Shields's Vision and Voice and planning Women with Wings: The Romantic Ballerina.


“I fancy I could just as well dance for a week together as for half an hour,” Jane Austen writes to Cassandra (24 December 1798).  Joan Grigsby claims, “Dancing . . . sparkles through the pages of Jane Austen’s six finished novels like candles on a Christmas tree.”  Sue Birtwistle observes, “In Jane Austen’s time dancing was an integral part of social life.  Given her own love of dancing and the crucial role it played in courtship, it is no surprise that she set many key scenes in the book at dances or balls” (67).  The connections between dancing and marriage are clear:  Henry Tilney explains to Catherine Morland at the Bath Assembly in Northanger Abbey, “‘I consider a country-dance as an emblem of marriage’” (76), and he enacts his parallel by dancing with Catherine and then proposing marriage to her.  And at the outset of Pride and Prejudice the narrator remarks, “To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love” (9), so it is not surprising that Austen includes dances in her novel to catalyze courtship.


Since dance is central to Austen’s fiction in general, and to Pride and Prejudice in particular, considering how dance scenes function in various adaptations of the novel can help us understand the differences among these versions.  The major adaptations of Pride and Prejudice for large and small screen (from 1940 to 2005) demonstrate how the period and place of the creation, including political context and gender politics, influence the interpretation of Austen’s novel.  Interpretation is in the eye of the beholder, and these adaptations constitute translations from book to screen, from literary to visual medium.  Penny Gay points out, “The process of adaptation, like any reading, demands recognition of the historical distance between the original text and its new audience.  The challenge for filmmakers is to find the visual language and a reading of the original that allow the story to speak to that new audience” (108).  I will focus on how these adaptations recreate the Netherfield Ball, that little bit of ivory, to interpret Austen’s novel through the lens of their own time and place.



In Pride and Prejudice, dance is particularly important both to courtship and to the very structure of the novel.  Langston Elsbree states, “Of the six novels, Pride and Prejudice is the one in which the dance is most important in revealing a character’s class origins and values and in helping to create the initial rhythm—the pattern of the dramatic movement—of the relationships among the main characters” (121).  Austen structures Volume One around four scenes that ask the question “Will you dance?”:  the Meryton Assembly, the Lucas Lodge dance, the impromptu invitation to dance a Scottish reel at Netherfield, and, as the grand finale, the Netherfield Ball.1


Courtship patterns underlie the formal etiquette of the ritual.  Cecil J. Sharpe, in The Country Dance Book, says, “flirtation or coquetry lies at the root of nearly all of its figures and evolutions” (10).  These dance patterns render Austen’s novels implicitly sexual, while appearing very decorous.  In the restricted social intercourse allowed to single young men and women in Regency England, dancing was one of the few ways they could converse privately together or touch each other (albeit with white gloves)—a socially sanctioned method of establishing their mutual chemistry.  Darrel Mansell claims, “In dancing the sexual passions are celebrated in a ceremony that hints at their power while keeping them safely contained in art” (8), and Steven Lonsdale notes, “Dance . . . is an activity that can tame excessively brutal impulses while still allowing erotic expression” (71).  Darcy’s famous retort, “‘Every savage can dance’” (25), implies the primal, or sexual, nature of dancing.


As Henry Tilney suggests, dance patterns are models for marriage.  Lonsdale observes that they “sort out the weak and clumsy and match up those pairs most compatible for matrimony” (71); for Mansell, “The destined couples thread their way through an intricate design, to be united at the close” (8-9).  Lady Mary Wortley Montagu extends the country dance model to the afterlife, writing in 1721:  “I suppose we shall all come right in Heaven, as in a Country Dance, tho hands are strangly [sic] given and taken while they are in motion, at last all meet their partners when the Jig is done” (11).


The four dances of Volume One of Pride and Prejudice choreograph the complex courtship of Darcy and Elizabeth and contrast the initially smooth sailing of Charles Bingley’s courtship of Jane, of whom David Monaghan says, “their relationship is one of approach and acceptance in contrast to the approach and rejection pattern that characterizes all meetings between Darcy and Elizabeth” (80).  The dance patterns established in Volume One are a model for marriage in Volumes Two and Three, as the uniting and separating of Elizabeth and Darcy’s dancing is replicated in the rhythm of their courtship—the pattern of “diverging and converging lines” (160) that Mary Lascelles observes as Austen’s structure.  These dance patterns, suggesting fencing more than flirtation, afford Elizabeth time to plan a sharp retort, while allowing her barbs to penetrate.  Elizabeth piques Darcy with queries, entirely neglecting to “‘furnish the fan and the lavender water’” that Henry Tilney specifies as woman’s duty on the dance floor (NA 77).  What Reuben Brower terms “the poetry of wit,” or “jeux d’esprit” of Elizabeth and Darcy’s exchanges (168, 171), Andrew Davies, writer of the 1995 adaptation, labels “a fencing match caught in dance” (Birtwistle 71).


Before Elizabeth is finally matched with Darcy as her appropriate dancing partner at the Netherfield Ball, she is besieged by the absurd Mr. Collins, who signals his wish to marry her by claiming her for the first two dances.  His poor performance as dance partner symbolizes his unsuitability as marriage partner:  “The two first dances . . . brought a return of distress; they were dances of mortification.  Mr. Collins, awkward and solemn, apologising instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of it, gave her all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give.  The moment of her release from him was exstacy” (90).  Collins’s invitation to dance—like John Thorpe’s engaging Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey—proves a prelude to a proposal of marriage:  the next morning, “Mr. Collins made his declaration in form” (104).  David Daiches observes, “The characters circle round each other with appropriate speeches and gestures, and occasionally a grotesque like Mr. Collins joins the dance as a symbol of one kind of fate that threatens the dancers” (291).



The 1940 Pride and Prejudice, the earliest surviving film adaptation, directed by Robert Z. Leonard and starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier, was strongly influenced by two factors:  the Great War and Hollywood.  Aldous Huxley, the English novelist famous for his satirical novels of the twenties and thirties, signed his contract for the screenplay mere days before England declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939.2  Europe was in turmoil, but the United States, true to its isolationist policy, almost immediately declared its neutrality in the war, despite attempts to recruit it to the British cause.  During the early days of the war, British propagandists such as Huxley infiltrated Hollywood, creating a pro-British attitude by portraying the “Old Country” nostalgically.  When the film opened in July 1940, the Battle of Britain was already at its height.  Karen Morley, who played Charlotte Lucas, recalled the disturbing effect on actors during filming of the unfolding news of Hitler’s march through the Netherlands and Belgium (Cartmell 61).


Not surprisingly, the film portrays an Edenic England worth defending.  New York Times reviewer Bosley Crowther praises the film as depicting “a charming and mannered little English world which has long since been tucked away in ancient haircloth trunks.”  Besides including a plethora of English actors, the movie displays propagandistic British imagery:  Elizabeth wears a plaid sash like a military decoration, and Darcy invokes Saint George, England’s patron saint, assuring Elizabeth, “If the dragon [indicating Collins] returns, Saint George [indicating himself] will know how to deal with it.”


Although not marketed as a war movie, this Pride and Prejudice contains allusions to Britain’s wartime situation:  Elizabeth asks, “Why is England cursed with so many more women than men?”  The decline in the male population during the war demanded that women play increasingly important roles in the manufacture of munitions and in other areas of the war effort.  The influential American image of Rosie the Riveter, derived from a 1942 song of that name, depicted a woman flexing her biceps with the caption, “We can do it!”  This image became a symbol for female power, as the female workforce in the United States, for example, grew from twelve to twenty million by 1944.  Deborah Cartmell claims that Pride and Prejudice was marketed as a comedy at the expense of women, but with the male population at risk, the women can be seen to be threatening their domination, appropriating male roles in their outspoken quest for partners (82).3


In this film Greer Garson plays Elizabeth as a strong personality, illustrated by an archery scene in which she, unlike Darcy, hits the bull’s eye every time, suggesting Cupid, the Amazons, and Diana, goddess of the hunt.  Austen’s portrayal of an aristocrat marrying a woman from the landed gentry appealed to the American democratic values that the film emphasizes.4  As her parting shot, Elizabeth urges Caroline Bingley to practice so she can direct her darts with greater accuracy.  Even Darcy acknowledges modern female superiority:  “I no longer instruct young ladies.  Now they instruct me.”  “Because Elizabeth is the heroine of the middle classes, the woman who democratizes the proud aristocrats,” Liora Brosh notes, “the film represents her as forceful, witty and strong” (149).


Hollywood was also a major influence:  the Metro-Goldwyn Mayer production was filmed in their Culver City, California studios and conceived in the Old Hollywood style.  The costumes are true not to Regency style but to the flamboyant Victorian or Antebellum mode of hoop skirts, mutton-chop sleeves, and picture hats used in the 1939 blockbuster movie Gone With the Wind.5  Garson, billed as “Our Mrs. Chips,” following her success in Goodbye, Mr. Chips, the 1939 British film about an endearing schoolteacher (Robert Donat), is arguably too beautiful, too glamorous, and too mature to play the twenty-year-old Elizabeth Bennet.  Her exaggerated false eyelashes demonstrate how Austen has been Hollywoodized.


Further, in an era of screwball comedies, the minor characters, such as Mrs. Bennet, Mary Bennet, and William Collins, are caricatured in a farcical manner that “degenerates into burlesque,” as Crowther acknowledges.  The trailer compares the film to Little Women, advertising “five love-hungry sisters and how they got their husbands.”  Screenplay writers Aldous Huxley and Jane Murfin played fast and loose with Austen’s plot in a screenplay based on Helen Jerome’s 1936 London stage adaptation.  For example, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, played by Edna May Oliver, is converted to a dea ex machina, visiting Longbourn as Darcy’s ambassador to test Elizabeth’s resolve—an aristocrat facilitating a bourgeois marriage into the nobility.  Crowther defines the movie’s appeal as “pure charm and romantic diversion, . . . bubbling and wholesome life.”


The charm of this film is enhanced by dance scenes although Huxley and Murfin telescope the four dances of Volume One into two and omit the Netherfield Ball altogether.  Austen’s scene at the Meryton Assembly is replaced by a party at Lucas Lodge, where the characters dance traditional country-dances and the daring modern waltz.  After repelling Sir William’s courtesies with the haughty retort, “Every Hottentot can dance,” Darcy offends Elizabeth by declaring, “I am in no humour to give consequence to the middle classes at play,” emphasizing class conflict.  In this version, Darcy does invite Elizabeth to dance, but she declines, accepting Wickham’s invitation immediately afterward and adding insult to injury by introducing Wickham to Darcy.


Instead of the Netherfield Ball, Huxley and Murfin feature a Netherfield garden party—to entertain the “rustics”—complete with the archery scene.  Into that event they incorporate the Scottish reel.  But Elizabeth and Darcy never do dance together.  Although Darcy invites her to dance, and she accepts, he is so outraged by overhearing Mrs. Bennet’s plans for the marriage of Jane and Bingley, witnessing Lydia’s tipsiness, and being accosted by William Collins, who assures him Lady Catherine is well, that he merely escorts Elizabeth indoors where, he says, many men may wish to invite her to dance.  We see Elizabeth dance the lively reel—hopping and turning with arms raised or akimbo and taking hands with Collins—as Darcy watches, with Olivier’s intense male gaze, through the window.


© 1940 MGM Pictures


While the dance scenes enhance Hollywood’s entertaining depiction of Regency society, they also emphasize the battle of the sexes that the courtship of Darcy and Elizabeth embodies.



The growing popularity of Jane Austen—perhaps stimulated by her 1975 bicentenary—coincided serendipitously with the age of the television miniseries.  The two BBC television adaptations—the 1979 and 1995 versions—are the most faithful to Austen’s narrative.6  As mini-series, they allow their adaptors time to recreate Austen’s novel more faithfully, a fidelity furthered by their being filmed in England.


Two factors in particular influence the 1979 adaptation, directed by Cyril Coke and starring Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul.  First, the focus on women reflects the second-wave feminism spreading across Europe and North America.  The BBC’s Pride and Prejudice came at the end a decade of political gains for women:  laws to decriminalize abortion and make available contraception in Britain; laws mandating equal pay and prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in the United States; and the rising influence of the Women’s Liberation Movement.  The 1970s in particular represented a strengthening of women’s political and economic equality, which, as Devoney Looser argues contributed to the “Jane Austen phenomenon”:  “Austen’s reemergence demonstrates progressive, feminist elements at work in popular culture” although “Austen herself was involved in mainstreaming feminist ideals when she wrote her novels in the early 1800s” (159).7  The screenplay was composed by Fay Weldon, whose novel Female Friends (1975) expressed the rising feminist consciousness of the seventies.  In the year Margaret Thatcher became the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the first female head of government in Europe, Weldon gave the 1979 series a feminist tone.


But conditions in England also darkened by the end of the seventies, mirroring the wartime context of the 1940 adaptation.  The frigid “Winter of Discontent” of 1978-79 saw inflation rise to over thirteen percent as one million workers were laid off in Britain, precipitating a recession.  Public workers went on strike in January 1979, and tensions between Northern Ireland and Britain escalated when Shadow Secretary for Northern Ireland Airey Neave was killed leaving the House of Commons by the Irish National Liberation Army.


In keeping with its BBC genesis, the 1979 Pride and Prejudice puts a greater emphasis on period values than did the Hollywood version.  The fashions are far closer to the Regency’s.  Moreover, this adaptation includes literary references to the era for further authenticity as well as a sly nod to character and theme:  Darcy reads Byron’s poetry while Elizabeth reads Mary Wollstonecraft’s 1792 feminist text, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Cartmell 62).  Indeed, Laura Boyle declares, “Elizabeth Garvie as Elizabeth Bennet is perfection—as clever and impertinent as her book persona.”


Though not playing the comedy throughout as broadly as the 1940 film, the 1979 version, like all the others, emphasizes Collins’s physical grotesquerie.  In the Netherfield Ball scene, director Cyril Coke (like Simon Langston in 1995) highlights the contrast between Collins and Darcy by employing different dance modes and music.  Here Collins is a lumbering figure, contrasting with Darcy’s graceful hauteur.  Collins rudely interrupts Darcy’s invitation to Elizabeth to dance to claim her as his partner.


© 1979 BBC


The music, a lively jig, gives Collins full opportunity to make a fool of himself:  he hops energetically with arms raised while everyone else dances in a restrained manner.  He moves embarrassingly close to Elizabeth and swings her wildly, finishing on the wrong side and quickly reversing himself before erupting into enthusiastic applause.


Before Darcy claims his dance with Elizabeth, her friend Charlotte Lucas warns her not to antagonize a man of Darcy’s stature because of her indignation over the absence of her beau Wickham.  Elizabeth’s graceful dance with Darcy to quiet, mellifluous music is precisely opposite to her dance with Collins:  they hold hands, and each other’s gaze, as they circle each other warily while she quizzes him about Wickham.


© 1979 BBC


Unlike later versions, Elizabeth and Darcy never change partners but remain stationary, conversing, at the head of the line.  Their curtsy and bow—the honor, or reverence—is restrained, suggesting unexpressed hostility, as they hold the other’s gaze without applauding.


Scripted by Andrew Davies and starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, the 1995 Pride and Prejudice attracted, according to Linda Blandford, ten million viewers a week in Britain alone.  Ginia Bellafante declared, “Lavish and piquant as a mini-series should be, this co-production of A&E and the BBC never misses a note of Austen’s arch comic tone.”  It offered “romantic candy with a bracing slap of social truth.”  Factors influencing the 1979 adaptation—political and economic difficulties, and especially the continued impact of feminism—also influenced the 1995 adaptation.  Dark days predominated in the mid-nineties in the form of Irish Republican Army attacks on Heathrow Airport (9 March 1994).  A readiness of Britons for change might be indicated by the fact that the Conservative Party had the worst election results of the century in this fin de siècle decade.


While the 1970s had experienced a wave of feminism, the 1980s witnessed what American journalist Susan Faludi termed a backlash.  Though in some areas women were gaining agency—in March 1994, for example, the Church of England ordained its first women priests—the 1981 wedding of the century of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer represented, in Martine Voiret’s words, “the renewed but somewhat ambivalent ‘postfeminist’ interest in marriage”—an ambivalence this adaptation addresses with its emphasis on romance and courtship (233).


Critics read the 1995 adaptation in widely different terms.  Cartmell, for instance, claims the bonds of sisterhood are here prioritized over the obligations of marriage, as Mrs. Bennet, rendered ridiculous in the 1940 movie, becomes the unsung hero of the piece in her emphasis on her daughters’ security.  Cartmell also considers this version comes closest to questioning the heterosexual values of Austen’s novel (63-64).


On the other hand, a good part of those ten million viewers were pulled in by the emphasis on romance and courtship.  Actually, both genders are sexualized in the 1995 version:  while men wear the Regency tight breeches and cut-away coats that reveal the groin area, Jennifer Ehle is costumed in plunging necklines, to which her ample figure does full justice, unlike Elizabeth Garvie’s usually restrained high-necked dresses.  Pamela Church Gibson considers the “foregrounding of issues around gender and sexuality” potentially “progressive” (182).  Recognizing the 1990s audience for Austen adaptations to be largely female, the creators intensified the focus on the male hero, subject to the female gaze.  Who can forget Darcy’s bath or dive into the river at Pemberley, scenes not, of course, in Austen’s novel?  Lisa Hopkins views this production as “unashamed about appealing to women and in particular about fetishizing and framing Darcy and offering him up to the female gaze” (112), and, as a consequence, in Ronnie Jo Sokol’s words, “ignit[ing] ‘Darcy-fever’ worldwide” (94).8


Colin Firth’s Darcy provides an ideal vehicle for the male gaze, as his fixed attention on Elizabeth could be interpreted as admiring or condemning (51).  Laura Mulvey theorizes that heterosexual males employ the camera to objectify women erotically, suggesting power asymmetry and appealing voyeuristically to patriarchy.  In that line, Narelle Campbell argues that Andrew Davies’s emphasis on sensuality and Darcy’s smoldering gaze overwhelm Austen’s female viewpoint and “position Elizabeth Bennet as a sexual commodity” and so “reassert patriarchal paradigms of power” (149, 159).


Appropriate for an era when women were becoming empowered, however, Ehle’s inquisition of Darcy at the Netherfield Ball is more incisive and angry than Garvie’s gentle catechism.  That Ehle won a BAFTA Best Actress award indicates how enthusiastically this interpretation was received.


The 1995 adaptation also plays up Elizabeth’s “dances of mortification” (90) with Collins, played egregiously by David Bamber.  This Mr. Collins prances to a lively jig, mistakes the intricate pattern, turns the wrong way and collides with an indignant woman, to the humiliation of Elizabeth and amusement of the observant Darcy.


© 1995 BBC


The contrast between this dance and Elizabeth’s graceful pas de deux with Darcy is vivid.


Elizabeth and Darcy are granted a dignified dance to slow, stately music.  As they circle each other warily in the “siding” step, their awkward, stilted, and increasingly hostile conversation contrasts ironically with their elegant, restrained movements.


© 1995 BBC


Firth remarked, “I think the scene where they dance together is wonderful because it lays out the whole of their relationship at that point perfectly” (Birtwistle 102).



Pride & Prejudice, a 2005 Anglo-American collaboration, directed by Joe Wright and starring Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightley in an Oscar-nominated performance, reflects a twenty-first-century urge to democratize Austen.  Here the Bennet family is less genteel and more rustic than in other versions while Longbourn is surrounded with mud, laundry, and pigs.9


Nevertheless, Wright’s version, filmed in in Berkshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Wiltshire, and Kent, is distinctly Anglophilic, lingering lovingly on both romantic landscapes and architectural treasures.  Following the 11 September 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the subsequent American invasion of Iraq, and the London bombings of July 2005, reassurance regarding family, marriage, and traditional definitions of Englishness was welcome.  To highlight an England threatened by a foreign enemy, Wright moved the novel’s action from the Regency to the late eighteenth century, to an England influenced by the French Revolution.  The cinematography lovingly presents English landscapes, again, as worthy of defending, and the film claims authenticity by employing costumes accurate to the era.


English novelist Deborah Moggach provided the screenplay with a feminist perspective.  The cinematography emphasizes Elizabeth’s point of view.  In contrast to the 1995 adaptation, in which Darcy’s gaze is a metaphor for the camera, here the gaze is Elizabeth’s.  Keira Knightley’s strong jaw and emphatic eyebrows underline the strong character suggested by Moggach’s script, with an excellent foil provided by sweet-faced, blonde-haired Rosamund Pike as good-natured, uncritical Jane.  Knightley’s is a more modern feminine beauty:  whereas Ehle was buxom, Knightley is spare.10  Wesley Morris declares, “Knightley boldly creates Elizabeth’s most modern-seeming incarnation.”  For “modern-seeming,” read “most intensely feminist.”  Knightley’s Elizabeth is more outspoken than any predecessor in fiercely criticizing Darcy.


Again, the Collins character is played for comic effect.  Tom Hollander’s Collins dances too close to Elizabeth while staring at her fixedly—a parody of the male gaze—to her amusement and irritation.  The intricate figure eight dance pattern is employed cleverly and humorously to cut off Collins’s comments.


© 2005 Focus Features


In contrast, the dancing of Knightley and MacFadyen is rife with drama—attraction and hostility being paramount in this war of the sexes.  Jackie Pinkowitz claims, “The dances . . . offer a way of narratively tracing the development of Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship, of materializing their back-and-forths, which Wright visually expresses in his elaborately choreographed ball sequences.  His camera’s intricate choreography mirrors this social ‘dancing’ and utilizes minutes-long continuous tracking shots in its seamless following of the various people and their diverse interactions.”  Elizabeth and Darcy dance to “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot,” from Playford’s English Dancing Master, and the filming of the scene recalls the earlier BBC productions.  As their discussion of Wickham evinces hostility, however, they stand stock-still, surrounded by moving dancers, until the other couples suddenly disappear.  This isolation of the central pair reflects a more modern psychological, subjective perspective, as they circle each other silently.


© 2005 Focus Features


When the other dancers reappear for the reverence and applause, Elizabeth and Darcy delay applause as she curtsies with ironic courtesy while glaring with blatant hostility.  Although Jane and Bingley wear gloves, in this scene Elizabeth and Darcy do not.  Clearly, the gloves are off and the wigs are on the green.



There are other recent adaptations that translate Austen’s novel to another time, place, and culture altogether:  Pride and Prejudice: A Latter Day Comedy (2003), an American attempt to recreate Austen’s novel in a Mormon community, and Bride and Prejudice (2004).  Since the Mormon version contains scarcely any dancing and no Netherfield Ball, it will not be discussed here.  But dance is central to Bride and Prejudice.


Rather than celebrating Austen’s Englishness, as Joe Wright’s film does, Bride and Prejudice, directed by Gurinder Chadha—who is able, Manohla Dargis says, to sell “multiplex multiculturalism”—transports Austen to a very different context.  The film is set in India, with jaunts to England and the United States.  It features “The Queen of Bollywood” Aishwarya Rai, Miss World 1994, as Lalita Bakshi and Martin Henderson, whose blue eyes constitute a perfect vehicle for Darcy’s male gaze, as American hero William Darcy.


Appropriately, the film contrasts American and Indian cultures, with Darcy cast as a wealthy American seeking a location for another link in his mother’s hotel chain.  Culture more than class is at the heart of these lovers’ clashes, as Lalita accuses Darcy of prejudice against Indians.  As the action moves from Mumbai and Amritsar, Punjab, India, to London and Los Angeles, culture clashes are highlighted.  Jane falls in love with the Westernized Balraj (Bingley), and Chandra Lamba (Charlotte Lucas) marries Lalita’s comical cousin, Mr. Kholi, an accountant who has emigrated to Los Angeles.  The movie is billed, modestly, as being merely “inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice,” but it is also inspired by Hollywood and Bollywood.  This witty metafilm shows Lalita reading Pride and Prejudice at the beach and quotes the 1940 Mr. Bennet:  “Perhaps we should have drowned one or two of them at birth”—a line not in Austen’s novel.  Suchitra Mathur claims this film “has an ‘almost the same, but not quite’ relationship not just with Austen’s text but also with Bollywood.  Such dual-edged mimicry, which foregrounds Chadha’s ‘outsider’ status with respect to both traditions, eschews all notions of ‘authenticity’ and thus seems to become a perfect embodiment of postcolonial hybridity.”


Bride and Prejudice contains numerous song-and-dance sequences resembling Hollywood and Bollywood musicals.  Jackie Pinkowitz makes the connection between Austen and Bollywood:  “Pride and Prejudice and Bollywood cinema share the ritualized, choreographed dances which function as a sanctioned means of socialization between the sexes as well as a literal and thematic way of expressing the ritualized choreography of manners in society and courtship.”  In particular, the “Dandiya Raas,” or “Garba,” a traditional wedding dance performed before a Gujarati marriage, replaces the Netherfield Ball.  The Garba features gaily-painted bamboo sticks that dancers strike together as they move in opposing circles. Chadha employs this dance to dramatize the love triangle of Lalita, Darcy, and Wickham.


© 2004 Miramax Films & Pathe Pictures


Although Darcy has made his dislike of dancing clear, he invites Lalita to dance to demonstrate overcoming his prejudice against Indian culture.  But Wickham cuts in and dances off with Lalita in a very sensuous manner calculated to inflame the jealousy of Darcy, who stalks off in high dudgeon as the film blurs to emphasize the dance’s frenetic quality.11



In a 1997 piece in The New York Times, Linda Wolfe claimed that the dance scenes in Austen adaptations work primarily to propel viewers back to the more ordered world of Jane Austen:  “For many filmgoers and television watchers, the stately dancing in the recent spate of Jane Austen dramatizations stirred a touch of culture envy:  a longing for a presumably lost Eden of elegance, for forms of social intercourse less brash and brazen than our own.”  While Wolfe’s sentiments at least partly ring true, the dance scenes in these adaptations do more than appeal to our romantic nostalgia:  as they cross historical, geographical, and cultural boundaries they dramatize the gender conflict between Austen’s heroine and hero as her clever choreography succeeds in eventually leading them to the altar.12





The clips used in this essay satisfy the criteria for fair use established in Section 107 of the Copyright Law of the United States of America and Related Laws Contained in Title 17 of the United States Code.


1. The Netherfield Ball was recently recreated at Chawton House Library by the BBC to celebrate the two-hundredth anniversary of Austen’s novel.  Here is the link to Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball:


2. The 2006 Warner DVD release of the movie includes Eyes of the Navy, a documentary intended to recruit Americans.


3. During the Depression, while many men became unemployed, more women were hired because they could be employed at lower wages.


4. Carol Dole argues that “Jane Austen’s novels hold a mirror up to our own society even while not seeming to do so” as they focus on class, a topic that American films have “resisted confronting openly” (58).


15. Mary Favret observes that, ironically, “being true to Austen involves a recourse to things Victorian” (66).  Greer Garson reported that the film reused costumes from Gone with the Wind.


6. According to Laura Boyle, the BBC produced four previous adaptations Pride and Prejudice for radio and television in 1938, 1952, 1958, and 1967, although the 1979 version was the first broadcast to North American audiences.  To commemorate the 150th anniversary of Austen’s death, in 1967 the BBC filmed a television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice directed by Joan Craft and starring Celia Bannerman and Lewis Fiander.


7. Deborah Kaplan notes, Pride and Prejudice is “one of the models for the late twentieth-century’s mass-market romance” (177).


8. Voiret claims “gendered identities” are the focus of Austen movie adaptations from the nineties onward:  “representations of the male heroes are appealing not only because they recognize the sexual subjectivity of their female viewers but also because they present an image of masculinity that transcends the restricting conceptions of manhood presently available” (230, 232).  Firth explained his smoldering male gaze to Linda Blandford:  “I’d imagine a man doing it all, and then not doing any of it.”


9. Whereas the two BBC mini-series were British (although the 1995 version was supported by the American Arts & Entertainment network), the Anglo-American collaboration on Wright’s film may have intensified the urge to democratize Austen.


10. Stephen Holden emphasizes Knightley’s attractiveness in his review.  Wesley Morris calls it a “radiant take on a classic love story”:  “Pride & Prejudice is an exhilarating affair.”  Roger Ebert declares it “one of the most delightful and heartwarming adaptations made from Austen or anybody else.”


11. I wish to thank Amy Stafford and Carol Moss for their expert assistance with the film clips in this essay.


12. Other adaptations stretch Austen’s novel further.  The Off-Broadway musical, I Love You Because, set in modern-day New York City, reverses the gender of the main roles.  The Japanese comic Hana Yori Dango by Yoko Kamio, in which the wealthy, proud protagonist, Doumyouji Tsukasa, falls in love with the poor, lower-class girl, Makino Tsukushi, is loosely based on Pride and Prejudice.  And a 2008 Israeli television six-part miniseries titled Pride and Prejudice sets the story in the Galilee with Darcy as a well-paid worker in the high-tech industry.



Works Cited


Adams, Timothy Dow.  “To Know the Dancer from the Dance: Dance as a Metaphor of Marriage in Four Novels of Jane Austen.”  Studies in the Novel 14.1 (1982): 55-65.

Austen, Jane.  Jane Austen’s Letters.  Ed. Deirdre Le Faye.  3rd ed.  Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995.

_____.  The Novels of Jane Austen.  Ed. R. W. Chapman.  3rd ed.  London: Oxford UP, 1933-69.

Bellafante, Ginia.  “Sick of Austen Yet?”  Time 15 Jan. 1996: 66.

Belton, Ellen.  “Reimagining Jane Austen:  The 1940 and 1995 Film Versions of Pride and Prejudice.”  Cambridge: CUP, 2003.  175-227.

Birtwistle, Sue, and Susie Conklin.  “Dancing.”  The Making of Pride and Prejudice.  London: Penguin, 1995.  67-77.

Black, Andrew, dir.  Pride & Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy.  Excel Entertainment, 2003.  Film.

Blandford, Linda.  “Beware the Insidious Grip of Darcy Fever.”  New York Times 14 Jan. 1996: H31.

Boyle, Laura.  Rev. of Pride and Prejudice, dir. Cyril Coke.  Jane Austen Centre.  17 June 2013. Web.

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Brosh, Liora.  “Consuming Women: The Representation of Women in the 1940 Adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.”  Quarterly Review of Film and Video 17.2 (2000): 147-59.

Campbell, Narelle.  “An Object of Interest: Observing Elizabeth in Andrew Davies’ Pride and Prejudice.”  Adaption 2.2 (2009): 149-60.

Cartmell, Deborah.  Screen Adaptations: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: The Relationship between Text and Film.  London: Black. 2010.

Chadha, Gurinder, dir.  Bride and Prejudice.  Dir.  Gurinder Chadha.  Pathé, 2004.  Film.

Coke, Cyril, dir.  Pride and Prejudice.  BBC One, 13 Jan. 1980.  Television.

Crowther, Bosley.  Rev. of Pride and Prejudice, dir. Robert Z. Leonard.  New York Times 9 Aug. 1940.  Web.

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Dole, Carol.  “Austen, Class, and the American Market.”  Ed. Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield.  Jane Austen in Hollywood.  Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 2001.  58-78.

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Gay, Penny.  “Sense and Sensibility in a Postfeminist World: Sisterhood is Still Powerful.”  Jane Austen on Screen.  Ed. Gina Macdonald and Andrew Macdonald.  Cambridge: CUP, 2003.  90-110.

Gibson, Pamela Church.  “Jane Austen on Screen—Overlapping Dialogues, Different Takes.”  Adaptation 2.2 (2009): 180-90.

Grigsby, Joan.  “Dancing, Balls, and Assemblies.”  The Jane Austen Companion.  Ed. J. David Grey, A. Walton Litz, and Brian Southam.  New York: Macmillan, 1986.  118-19.

Holden, Stephen.  “Marrying off Those Bennet Sisters Again, But This Time Elizabeth Is a Looker.”  New York Times 11 Nov. 2005.  Web.

Hopkins, Lisa.  “Mr. Darcy’s Body.”  Jane Austen in Hollywood.  Ed. Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield.  Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 2001.  111-21.

Kaplan, Deborah.  “Mass Marketing Jane Austen: Men, Women, and Courtship in Two Film Adaptations.”  Jane Austen in Hollywood.  Ed. Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield.  Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 2001.  177-187.

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Pinkowitz, Jackie.  “Modernization in Pride and Prejudice Adaptations: Joe Wright’s Realism and Romance in Pride and Prejudice and Gurinder Chadha’s Filmic and Cultural Hybridity in Bride and Prejudice.”  Cinema, Etc. 20 Mar. 2013.  Web.

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Sokol, Ronnie Jo.  “The Importance of Being Married: Adapting Pride and Prejudice.”  Nineteenth-Century Women at the Movies: Adapting Classic Women’s Fiction to Film.  Ed. Barbara Tepa Lupack.  Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State U Popular P, 1999.  79-105.

Voiret, Martine.  “Books to Movies: Gender and Desire in Jane Austen’s Adaptations.”  Jane Austen and Co: Remaking the Past in Contemporary Culture.  Ed. Suzanne R. Pucci and James Thompson.  Albany: SUNY P, 2003.  229-46.

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Wright, Joe, dir.  Pride & Prejudice.  Universal, 2005.  Film.


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