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Pride & Prejudice - We enjoyed researching what ladies would do when they wanted to go to the toilet at a ball

Feature by: Jack Foley

FOR Joe Wright, director of Pride & Prejudice, there were a number of obstacles to overcome in bringing Jane Austen's novel to the big screen, especially in light of the popularity of previous adaptations.

Yet the talented director has created an excellent piece of work that benefits from a strong cast, some stunning use of location and the single-mindedness of his own vision.

Austen's novel still sells in excess of 100,000 copies a year and was last adapted for the small screen by the BBC in 1995 for a memorable mini-series starring Colin Firth.

Yet Wright's version is a fresh yet faithful adaptation of the original novel that retains its own identity, while remaining relevant for audiences of all ages to enjoy.

"You just have to ignore the fact that it’s a historical drama," he told a recent London press conference.

"We really got involved with the emotions and the realities of the characters, and that’s what’s important in any story, whether it’s set in 2005 or 1797.

"We also questioned why it is that in period dramas you always see carriages pull up beside big houses, you’d have the wide shots of the houses and big wide shots of the rooms simply because you’re in a nice location.

"You wouldn’t do that if you were filming in some semi-detached house in Bromley.

"So it was really to ignore the fact that it was a period drama, and yet at the same time look at the detail of the period as much as possible.

"We enjoyed researching what ladies would do when they wanted to go to the toilet at a ball, when there were 500 ladies and not enough chamber pots.

"They’d take diuretics all day beforehand. And if they did need to go to the toilet, they’d have to go home. It was those kind of period details that we enjoyed. It’s that real life that we brought into question."

Wright also chose to use actual locations where possible, to increase the authenticity, rather than resorting to filming in an airport hangar or studio lot at Shepperton.

It was a decision he admits was made easier by Austen's text itself.

"I hadn’t read the book before being sent the script, and I was shocked by how acutely observed the novel was, and how much it felt like a piece of British realism.

"So the idea to shoot in real locations came from that. We wanted to create 360 degree worlds in which the characters could perform."

Needless to say, this helped the cast immeasurably, especially since they were able to gain access in advance to many of the locations.

Adds one of the film's co-stars, Brenda Blethyn: "Joe had the brilliant idea of having the Bennet family go down to Groombridge Place before we started shooting so that we would absolutely know the house inside out before starting to work.

"It meant te wouldn’t have to stop and think ‘which way is the kitchen’ – we’d know. And we knew every nook and cranny of that house even before we started to film there. It was great."

Another key aspect of the success of the film lies in its casting, with both Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen bringing their own fascinating perspective to the roles of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy.

Yet another role, that of Mr Bennet, fell to Donald Sutherland, whose masterly portrayal lends the film an unexpected poignancy and magic.

As Wright explained, however, the veteran star took some persuading before he agreed to take part in it.

"He wanted to know that it was going to be done properly," explained the director.

"He’s done 120 films in his career, so he doesn’t want to waste time.

"We had long e-mail discussions about the history of agriculture and farming in the late 18th Century, and we discussed facial hair and what kind of beard he might have.

"We also had to contend with the fact that he doesn’t like smoking within 200 yards of him. We had long e-mail discussions, but in the end he agreed; he got on a plane and was greeted by five Bennet girls and his wife. And he was a very happy man to be fussed over."

Related stories: Read the full interview with Joe Wright

Read our verdict on the film

Keira Knightley interview

Matthew Macfadyen interview

Brenda Blethyn interview

Watch clips from the film

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