A/V Room









Pride and Prejudice - Joe Wright interview

Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. The use of locations is stunning in the film. How did you come to choose them and was the decision to use proper venues made to add to the authenticity of the film?
The decision really came from Jane Austen herself. 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.

Q. Did you strive to make the characters more relevant to viewers today?
You just have to ignore the fact that it’s a historical drama. 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.
Rosamund Pike: We discovered that was why people kept fainting. Not because the corsets were too tight but because they’d dehydrated themselves so much during the day, so that when they got really hot dancing they passed out.

Q. Do you think viewers today will have a different opinion of the characters and their motivations, as opposed to those who first read the novel?
I think that the Bennets were seen very sympathetically at the time. The book was published anonymously, and the readership were immediately clamouring to find out who the author was, all the copies were sold out and they immediately had to reprint.
I think the Bennets were meant to be as sympathetic then as they are now.

Q. Do you think modern viewers will view Darcy differently?
Maybe. I think Darcy is a young man who is given this huge responsibility and that can be experienced by young men now. The shock of Lydia eloping with Wickham, at the age of 15, is as shocking to us now as I’m sure it was then. I don’t think it’s changed that much.
Matthew Macfadyen: I think looking at it now, Darcy would seem much more snobbish in our understanding of the word than he would then. To somebody like Darcy, it would have been a big deal for him to get over this difference in their status, and to be able to say to Lizzie that he loved her.
We would think it was incredibly snobbish and elitist, but it wasn’t for him. It would have been a big admission, and he would have found it very vulgar. It’s a bigger divide than it would have been then is what I’m saying.

Q. Did you choose to set story in the 1790s because the costumes were more flattering?
Austen wrote the first draft of the story in 1797, and it wasn’t published until 1811. I felt that the earlier period looked more interesting, it was a more interesting period socially and therefore those social changes were reflected in everything, including costumes.
The Empire Lines were just coming in, so high society such as Caroline Bingley, would be wearing an Empire Line dress. Whereas the Bennet girls might not be, so the waistlines could be a little lower.
And it’s true, I thought the Empire Line dresses, especially when they’re made of muslin, they would make you blow out like a balloon and looked quite unflattering. But really it was a decision made on the basis of the social changes at the time.
Brenda’s character, Mrs Bennet, was wearing a costume from the 1770s really. Lady Catherine, Judi’s character, is wearing a costume from earlier.
I imagined it was like now, where the Queen Mother might have looked like she was wearing clothes out of the 60s and 70s, with the younger generation a little bit more up-to-date with their fashions.

Q. How did you come to cast Donald Sutherland and Tom Hollander? And did you ever have to rein them in, particularly Tom Hollander?
I prefer actors who go over the top to those that don’t go far enough, because you can always rein actors in – it’s more difficult to bring it out of actors. It was quite easy to tell Tom he was going too far, and to pull it back a bit.
We met a number of actors for Mr Collins and each played it in a different way. One actor came in and played him as Tony Blair! Tom came in and you always want someone to surprise you, to not play it as you specifically imagined.
He came in and played him as this weird little guy who couldn’t quite manage to communicate in the way that he wanted to, and couldn’t understand why not everyone respected him as much as he respected himself.
They didn’t take him seriously and he’d tried all his life to be taken seriously, and I thought that was exciting and something I hadn’t seen. It surprised me, and I liked to be surprised.
And Donald, I cast him because I’d always been a huge fan of Donald’s work in the 70s. I used to act, and I appeared in a film he was in called Revolution. We used to joke that between us we had brought down the British film industry. And then I liked the idea of Mr Bennet being slightly older.
He would have inherited the house in his 40s and then been able to marry, and met this younger wife, rather fancied her – I imagined her to be a little bit like Lydia – and he thought that maybe she might grow up to be a more sensible woman. Unfortunately, he was wrong.
Then I saw him in Cold Mountain. In that, he reminded me a bit of my own dad, and he made me cry. He’s got a really big heart, he’s a proper man, a proper patriarchal figure and yet he’s got a very open heart.
I wanted an actor to be able to deliver that last scene in the way that Donald does. That was why I cast him. But he took some persuading.

Q. How did you persuade him?
: He wanted to know that it was going to be done [properly]. 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.
Also the fact that he doesn’t like smoking within 200 yards of him. We 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. He was a very happy man, to be fussed over.

Q. How did you choose the Reading locations? And are there any more Jane Austen books you'd be interested in directing?
Never say never, but I don’t foresee myself doing another Austen adaptation.
Basildon Park was a house we just came across; we spent about four or five months looking for locations as we were developing the script. Basildon Park is such an accurate piece of modern architecture for that time, we were surprised to find it in such good condition.
It was also one that didn’t feel particularly homely. We were looking for somewhere that felt like it could be rented accommodation, it was rented by the Bingleys. So it was less of a homely environment, and more of a clean, cool environment.
Rosamund Pike: We kept getting kicked out of it doing that ball scene, because the carbon dioxide levels were rising where there were so many people breathing in there. We kept getting banished, sent out and having to wait outside.

Q. Is it your ultimate ambition to hava a modern audience take something from it?
I think so, I took something from it when I read the book. I tried to remember that - to hold on to that feeling I had when I first read it. And if it’s true to me I don’t see why it shouldn’t be true to others as it was to Jane Austen. It’s a true story.
It’s also a bit of a how-to guide, I think that Jane was writing it for her contemporaries and for her friends, her small community. So I think there is an element of the how-to guide there as well. It’s a cautionary tale as well.

Related stories: Read our review

Keira Knightley interview

Matthew Macfadyen interview

Brenda Blethyn interview

Pride and Prejudice feature (Keira Knightley)

Special feature: The challenge of casting and shooting

Watch clips from the film

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