Once again, it is February. The month where lots of romantic comedies and chick flicks drop into theaters and on TV. Given that I am single, I’m gonna start things off with warning you about what movies to avoid.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Hallmark movies are mediocre at best. They’re safe, predictable time killers and I don’t mind watching most of them. However, even a girl like me has her limits.
As part of Hallmark Channel’s “Winterfest,” they released a new movie called “Unleashing Mr. Darcy,” which is based off of a modern novelization of Pride and Prejudice. I haven’t read the book version of Unleashing Mr. Darcy. Nor do I plan on doing so because this movie did not do the original story justice. And believe me when I say, it takes a lot to get me angry and disgusted at something. This movie managed to get on my bad side.
The movie starts off introducing Elizabeth “Lizzie” Scott as a teacher in a Washington DC prep school who gets suspended from her job because she refuses to let a jock pass her class. The rich stiffs claim that she tried to get money from them, when in reality it’s the complete opposite. We’re already off to a bad start because this subplot is a cheap and unnecessary way for Lizzie to cross paths with Darcy later on.
Lizzie Scott meets her Darcy at her first dog show and to my surprise, this Darcy is actually nice. He doesn’t come off as insulting or arrogant. Because he’s so nice, Lizzie Scott’s attitude towards Darcy comes off as her projecting her issues about rich stiffs and prejudging him because of his class. While I understand that being prejudiced is part of being Elizabeth Bennet, the problem is Lizzie Scott doesn’t have a real reason to be prejudiced against Darcy outside of his social class. He complimented her dog and acted politely to her. He didn’t say she was tolerable or act like the dog show was the last place he wanted to be.
I could forgive this adaptation for downplaying the family angle for Lizzie Scott, but the Jane character (Jenna) doesn’t even get much of a subplot in regards to her romantic interest (Henry). And worst of all, there’s no Wickham-esque romantic false lead. I know that Hallmark movies tend to play things safe when it comes to romantic false leads, but without much conflict between Jenna and Henry and no Wickham, all that’s stopping Lizzie Scott from really loving Darcy is herself and the modern versions of Lady Catherine and Caroline.
The movie gives way too much screen time to the conflicts that Lizzie Scott has with Violet (Lady Catherine) and Felicity (Caroline). Violet keeps pushing Felicity onto Darcy as a potential bride and apparently, the gossip regarding Darcy’s relationships is worthy of front page news. I have a hard time believing that, of course. Violet and Felicity come off as paranoid busybodies because they’re so insecure about making sure that Darcy marries the right woman that they are willing to destroy Lizzie Scott’s reputation and keep her apart from him. It doesn’t feel authentic to me.
The worst thing, though, was how they played off the “Rosings/Hunsford” scenario in which Lizzie and Darcy have their big fight. Suddenly, the all-too-nice Darcy does an awful move by kissing Lizzie Scott just to make sure that his aunt and Felicity finally back off of him. Sure, he loves her, but Lizzie Scott has constantly been pushing him away.
The two of them are kept apart for the standard third act misunderstanding runtime of about 20 minutes or so before Lizzie Scott finally falls for Darcy after he helps her get her job back and she finds out where the money for his foundation goes to. Sorry, but I’m still not buying it. The Rosings/Hunsford scene was too rushed and there was no “Pemberley” scene that helped Lizzie actually see Darcy for who he really is.
In short, by the time Lizzie Scott and Darcy finally reunite at another dog show, I get this awful feeling in my mouth that makes me want to down an entire bottle of Jack Daniels. No movie has ever been so bad, I felt like I needed a drink, but that’s just how bad this version of Pride and Prejudice is.
I’m not someone who thinks that modern adaptations of Pride and Prejudice can’t be done. I’m the biggest fan of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, after all. But no matter how you adapt this classic story, you have to keep some things as part of the plot. Say what you will about Bridget Jones’s Diary, but you can call it a comedy of modern manners, poking fun at the neurotic tendencies and mistakes that modern women make when it comes to relationships. Say what you will about Bride and Prejudice, but it’s a fun adaptation because of the catchy songs and it offers some new things to the table in regards to the Lizzie/Darcy dynamic.
But taking out the obstacles that caused Lizzie to have her prejudices towards Darcy is, to me, a major problem. Romantic Comedy 101: There has to be a good reason why the two romantic leads don’t get off on the right foot. Also, Writing Rule #1: Show, don’t tell. This Hallmark movie is way more tell than show.
If you want to watch an awesome modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, watch The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Unleashing Mr. Darcy is an adaptation that has gone to the dogs