From the beginning film producers have felt compelled to adapt and update Jane Austen’s books. Paramount did it with the movie Clueless, when they set Emma against the backdrop of a here and now Beverly Hills. Kandukondain Kandukondain placed Sense and Sensibility in modern day India. Now, a new version of Pride and Prejudice continues the trend, following Elizabeth Bennet and her friends around the Brigham Young University campus. This, my friends, is Mollywood.
A new production zone on the edge of today’s filmmaking world, Mollywood stands for Mormon Hollywood. Like many independent film companies, they’ve been making family films for years, but limited budgets and only-local releases have made it difficult to expand. Lately, however, new life has been poured into the industry and people are beginning to sit up and take notice. Their movies, many about life in the Mormon Church, have garnered praise and companies like Amazon.com have helped to boost sales. Now, for the first time, national distribution is an option.
It’s about time, says producer Jason Fuller, “Pride and Prejudice is the only one of Austen¹s classics that hasn¹t hit the big screen in the last twenty years…The A&E television version was fabulous, and very popular, so it’s surprising that we haven’t seen a theatrical version since 1940. We’ve seen adaptations of Emma, Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion, but of all Austen¹s novels, Pride by far has the largest and most loyal following. It’s about time fans of the story get to see it on the silver screen. And we really had fun with the modern setting.”
Ever since his graduation from BYU in 2002, Faller has been working non-stop on this project. “I looked high and low for a good story from local writers and found [them] wanting, so I decided that I’d go to a story that was tried and tested. Pride and Prejudice is a great story…It’s not an inside Mormon joke. It has a market. Pride and Prejudice has a huge following. It’s kind of like Star Wars for women.”
Faller and his crew, most of them new to the feature film world, have put together a fun, bright movie which draws faithfully from the original. Purists needn’t be too worried. Despite the modern setting, characters are easily recognized, though a few twists are thrown in for fun. “We…know the novel very well, and even though we’re playing around with it, we are treating it with respect.”, he says.
Meet Elizabeth Bennet, student and aspiring novelist, and her four housemates, Jane, Mary, Lydia and Kitty. We follow the progress of their love lives, along with their friends- Charles and Caroline Bingley, Jack Wickham, Collins, Charlotte and, of course, Fitzwilliam Darcy. Following in the footsteps of the original, we get a glimpse of the ups and downs of campus life, with humorous vignettes interspersed with appropriate observations from the book.
While most roles are filled by unknowns, the main characters are played by Kam Heskin (Planet of the Apes, Catch Me if You Can) and Orlando Seale (RSC). Both do a great job, though newcomer Hubbel Palmer (Collins) steals the show. A few cameo appearances round out the cast with Carmen Rasmusen of “American Idol,” all the contestants of the Miss Utah pageant and the two Mormon girls who appeared on ABC’s reality show, “The Bachelor.”
Seale, who was unfamiliar with the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) before traveling to Utah to film, found himself in Darcy’s shoes. “I came from a place very different than here. It was very Bohemian, very permissive, very artistic. When you arrive here you feel like you are coming into a whole new world, and as an outsider it’s a very surreal experience. It really hits you…It would be a great thing if this film helped people see this is just a normal community, that there’s nothing mysterious about it…Because there is that perception.”
You don’t have to be familiar with Austen’s works to enjoy this romantic comedy. Those who are will be in for a treat. P&P in-jokes and references abound- The girls live at 318 Longbourne Avenue, Elizabeth and Darcy have their confrontation at Rosings Restaurant, and Collins’ mission leader, President DeBourgh is mentioned repeatedly with the appropriate awe and obeisance. Though not blatantly religious, a basic understanding of the Mormon church will make the plot easier to follow.
The important thing to remember is that this is a low budget movie. Come to it without expectations and you will be rewarded with a family friendly movie you will enjoy again and again.
Pride and Prejudice: A Latter Day Comedy opened in selected Utah theaters on December 5, 2003. The Pink Bible: How to Bring Your Man to His Knees, which features heavily in the film, is available on-line for perusal and purchase: http://www.pinkbible.com/.
In November, 2004, this video became available to own on VHS and DVD. At this point, the producers dropped the “A Latter Day Comedy” subtitle and listed it simply as Pride and Prejudice. They also edited some of the content to remove some of the more overt Mormon references, allowing the film to appeal to a much broader audience. The DVD version of the movie contains many extra features including Behind the Scenes and “Making of…” featurettes. There is also a hidden “Easter Egg” which, when found, will allow the viewer to watch the original, uncut version of the movie. Also included is a digital version of The Pink Bible as well as a small pocket edition.
Laura Boyle is a collector of Jane Austen Films and film memorabilia. She also runs Austentation, a company that specializes in custom made Regency Accessories.