Technique Critique: Cinematography in Pride and Prejudice

Introduction

It is the intent of this essay to analyze the cinematography in Pride and Prejudice (Joe Wright, 2005). Cinematography, which literally means “to record movements”, is an essential component of any film, however it becomes of even greater importance when filming a “period piece”: Set in the late 18th century in rural England, the cinematography in Pride and Predjudice does not function solely as a method of recording the narrative, it is also responsible for making the audience believe the world in which the narrative is taking place.

As stated in the course, the art in cinematography is what creates a truly “dynamic” visual experience. Director Jon Wright and cinematographer Roman Osin apply their “interpretive points of view” effectively througout Pride and Prejudice, using long takes, two shots and framed shots, among other techniques, to evoke a desired effect from the viewer. This essay will elaborate on each of the aforementioned techniques, analyzing how they are used in Pride and Prejudice and to what effect.

Long Take

A long take is a continuous shot that is substantially longer than the film’s overall editing pace, generally lasting several minutes, whereas a typical shot lasts only a few seconds. Long takes can be complicated to pull off, because the film has to come alive on it’s own for several minutes, without the ability to cut and set up each frame. By choosing a long take, the cinematographer and director are allowing all the diegetic elements of the film to exist unedited, which requires impecable timing and precision from not only the actors, but everyone behind the scenes involved with lighting, sound, costumes, stage management, etc. who have to hit their cues, knowing that a mistake jeopardizes several minutes of film.

In Pride and Prejudice, Wright and Osin implement a beautifully-executed long take in the ball scene at Netherfield, to great effect: It begins just after the Bennet girls greet Mr. Bingley and his sister: Elizabeth enters into the foyer, alone, spinning around twice taking in her surroundings. The camera tracks her movements in a medium shot, keeping Elizabeth as the point of focus, but also showing depth of field, as the viewers see Mr and Mrs. Bennet standing off to the side. The camera then frames Elizabeth face on in a medium shot, and she begins walking forward down a corridor, as the camera moves backwards tracking her in a medium shot. In the background, Mr. Darcy is seen entering the shot from the left side of the screen, passing behind an oblivious Elizabeth, before exiting the frame from the right. As Elizabeth enters into the ballroom, the camera continues to move backwards, now filming her in a long shot, with characters and other props coming between Elizabeth, still the point of focus, and the camera. The camera moves left, tracking Elizabeth as she enters into the ballroom and walks towards Charlotte, zooming in to a medium shot as they start their dialogue. As Charlotte and Elizabeth leave the ballroom to go and look for Mr. Wickham, the camera continues to track them moving left, and then forward, following the girls from behind as they enter into another room. Upon entering into the room, the camera positions itself in the doorway, and pans to the left, keeping the girls as the point of focus, as they walk around a large pillar, heading towards the center of the room / frame. Jane enters the frame from the right, and meets Elizabeth and Charlotte in the centre of the frame, with the camera shooting them in a long shot. Mr. Collins enters from the upper left of the frame and approaches the group of girls to talk, with the camera remaining stationary, as Mr. Collins invites Elizabeth to dance. The scene ends on that frame, with a jump cut to a medium shot of Elizabeth lined up to dance.

This long take succeeds in setting up the events at the Netherfield ball, working as an excellent narrative device: Imperative information for understanding the rest of the scene is conveyed in the long take, beginning with Mr. Darcy avoiding Elizabeth, Elizabeth finding out Mr. Wickham is not in attendance, and Mr. Collins making his intention towards Elizabeth known. Visually, the long take succeeds because it emerses the viewer into the action of the ball, with the intent of creating a sense of excitement. While the camera keeps Elizabeth as the point of focus, the depth of field in the long take, allows for the viewer to take in so much information, seeing secondary characters floating in and out of the frame, and mise-en-scene elements like costumes and props being displayed in brief close ups, unlike in tradionally edited scenes. There is something undeniably exciting about seeing action unedited.

Two Shot

A two shot is when two characters are in a frame at the same time, either side by side or with one in the foreground and one in the background. Unlike the long take, there is nothing particularly daring about a two shot, it being as common as shot-reverse-shot in filmmaking. That said, there are times when a two shot has a deeper intention than simply showing characters in close proximity to one another.

Throughout Pride and Prejudice, Wright uses camera angles to indicate to the audience which character in the scene is in power, shooting them below eye level in a low-angled shot, making them appear larger. Comparatively, the more vulnerable character in the scene is framed in a high-angled shot, above eye level, making them appear smaller. Viewers are able to establish the power dynamics between characters, because the camera is silently manipulating how the character appears. In the final scene of the film, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth are standing in a field talking, with their dialogue being shown through shot-reverse-shot. The frame lingers on a close up of Elizabeth’s face, before jumping to a two shot of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, as she moves close to him, taking his hand and kissing it. As the two lean in towards each other, the camera zooms in slowly on them, moving from a medium two shot to a close up two shot. In the final two shot, both Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are visually equal in the frame, with no camera angles to position one as stronger and one as weaker, suggesting that in love they are, finally, equal. This is a testament to the film’s mastery of cinematography, with Wright and Osin using an understated camera technique to express a complex theme.

Framed Shots

Framed shots, or framing, is a cinematography trick designed to frame a desired point of focus. A point of focus can be framed within the perimeters of the image itself, or it can be framed by a diegetic frame within the film’s image, such as a doorway, window or mirror. Having a character stand in a doorway, in a medium or long shot, is an example of framing, working as a kind of subconscious signal to the audience that attention needs to be given to what is in the frame.

Framing is used numerous times in Pride and Prejudice, with Elizabeth often framed in doorways, representing her being at a turning point in her life, as she navigates between her allegiance to her family and her desire for Mr. Darcy. In the film’s third act, Wright and Osin depict a series of vignettes of the Bennet family: Positioned outside of Mr and Mrs. Bennet’s bedroom window, the camera zooms in so the window frame is parallel to the image’s frame, with a medium two shot of the characters as they lay in bed talking. As the camera pans to the right there is a final framed shot of Mr. Bennet looking down towards his wife, framed in the bars of the window. The camera continues to pan right with the screen going black as the frame is filled with the outside of the house at night. Another window enters the shot from the right side, with the window framing Mary and Catherine in a deep focus medium shot, as Mary reads outloud. The camera pans up and to the left, showing Elizabeth framed in an upstairs window moving around, before panning left to another window framing Jane and Elizabeth talking on a bed, before cutting to a medium shot of Jane, from inside the bedroom. The scene is shot in one take, and there is an exciting feel to it: much like with a long take, getting to see characters unedited is a thrilling experience for a viewer. That said, there can be a lot of information for the viewer to take in and the window frames help direct the viewer’s attention to what they need to be focusing on in each vignette.

Conclusion

It was the intent of this essay to analyze the cinematography in Pride and Prejudice, specifically how director Jon Wright and cinematographer Roman Osin use long takes, two shots and framed shots to create compelling moments on screen. By breaking down scenes and doing a shot-by-shot analysis, this essay was able to prove that cinematography is not only the art of “recording movements” but also the art of evoking emotional responses from the viewer, and supporting complex themes in the narrative. Pride and Prejudice suggests that cinematography appeals to the subconcious of the viewer just as much as it does the conscious: as we watch films, there are so many visual clues that we receive without acknowledging we have done so, with the only evidence being an emotional response.

Works Cited

Pride and Prejudice. Dir. Jon Wright. Focus Features, 2005. Film.

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