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Scripting Pride & Prejudice with Deborah Moggach: Pt. I

See Part II of the interview here

Pride & Prejudice might very well be the most beloved novel in the history of the English language, so imagine how challenging it must be to apply a modern fingerprint to Jane Austen’s revered, two-century-old text without tainting the parchment. And by the way, not only is the task to metamorphose her work into a screenplay, but to condense it all into two hours, potentially earning the ire of Austen devotees worldwide and the lady herself, from the grave.

That was what Deborah Moggach set out to do when writing the script for Keira Knightley and company in the 2005 Pride & Prejudice, directed by Joe Wright. There were some who thought it impossible, but Ms. Moggach proceeded to dazzle audiences with a brilliant script, vaulting herself into the pantheon of all-time great adapters of classic novels.

I was fortunate enough to interview her this week for Picktainment, a delightful encounter in which I found her to be every bit the Austen heroine, minus any traces of pride – or prejudice. We talked about her experiences with Pride & Prejudice, along with some of her other achievements, such as combining forces with Oscar-winner Tom Hooper in Love in a Cold Climate.

Of that adventure, she said, “He wasn’t famous then, of course. It was one of his early jobs. It was very blissful, the whole process, and it had an amazing cast.”

I actually watched Climate pretty recently and wholeheartedly concur, and – surprise, surprise – it had a fantastic screenplay. You can see why she was handed the quill to the Pride & Prejudice kingdom, where she inspired many.

One of those she galvanized was Sharon Lathan, author of the best-selling Darcy Saga Series. Lathan had this to say of Moggach’s influence:

“As you may or may not know, it was the 2005 Pride & Prejudice that started me down this crazy path of writing. Deborah Moggach’s script as so brilliantly directed by the phenomenal Joe Wright and acted by all the actors is where it began for me.”

Those are some flattering words from a very accomplished author, but how much of the credit should go to Moggach as opposed to Jane Austen, or contributing writer, Emma Thompson? I asked Moggach what percentage of the screenplay can be attributed to her personally and what to Miss Austen.

“It’s a fairly good question,” she answered. “Most of it comes from Austen. I sort of put a comb to it, like running a comb through hair.”

She added that “other people were involved, too. An example of that would be the line: ‘Charles, you cannot be serious!’ That sounds like McEnroe on the tennis court. It’s mostly Jane Austen, but sometimes simplified and compressed. Emma Thompson did some dialogue, and Emma’s a wonderful Jane Austen writer.”

As for how she got mixed up with Tom Hooper and later Joe Wright, Moggach commended famed BBC producer, Kate Harwood.

“Kate Harwood, the producer is very good at spotting talent. She actually gave Joe Wright one of his first opportunities with the Charles II miniseries [known as The Last King]. All praise to her.”

Of course, Tom Hooper just recently took home the Best Director hardware for The King’s Speech, and Joe Wright received plenty of accolades for his work on Pride & Prejudice and a Golden Globe nomination for Atonement. Working closely with Wright was one of Moggach’s key ingredients to success.

When mentioning one poignant example, she said, “Well, I think [Wright] wanted to show that in the Bennets’ house is a real family. He shows the house in a real intimate way, but then he shuffled much more formally at the Bingley’ house. For the viewer, Netherfield is shot in a more intimidating manner.”

In the story, the Bennets reside at Longbourn, a place Moggach became quite familiar with while working on the film. She sought to construct a more rural image than some may have anticipated.

“I wanted it to be the muddy hem version, for them to have mud on their shoes. I went to the Bennets’ house. I wanted to see it, for the film. I wanted to be there amongst the Bennet girls, the actresses for a day, which was great. Joe Wright insisted that they have a whole week’s practice in that house. It became familiar to them. It became like their home, and I think it shows in the film.”

Presenting this grittier illustration of Longbourn became a unique staple of the movie.

“That was part of my approach and their approach,” she said. “That that world wasn’t all just teacups and light social chit chat. There was a real world of mud and poverty and destitution. The Bennets had real risk of destitution. To a modern audience, the Bennets’ house is really conveyed that way, such as in the opening scene when Elizabeth goes through all that walking in her washing clothes.”

And of course, I had to ask her about the infamous pig, to which she replied, “The pig was lovely. Mrs. Bennet eyeing it in all its genitalia.”

Clearly, Deborah Moggach also possesses an Austenian sense of humor!

See Part II of the interview here

Adam Spunberg is a senior writer at Picktainment and founder of the Austen Twitter Project. Email him at adam@picktainment.com or tweet @AdamSpunberg.

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Comments

8 Responses to “Scripting Pride & Prejudice with Deborah Moggach: Pt. I”
  1. Kevin says:

    Thanks for giving us an insightful look into the mind of a woman who was faced with the daunting task of whittling down a classic to two hours of film. I’m interested in her upcoming work. Well done

  2. Savanna New says:

    Wow, what a fantastic interview! This was such a treat for me to read, being a huge fan of the 2005 P&P. I had always wondered what the scriptwriting process must have been like. I really admire Deborah for her managing to gracefully condense such an intricate tale into a 2-hour feature film. I can’t wait for Part II!

  3. Fabulous interview, Adam! And I loved getting an inside peek into Deborah’s work on one of my favorite films. Many thanks to you both!

  4. Diana F. says:

    This is such a well written article on a topic which truly highlights why entertainment is so important and then in the next box you feature poorly written garbage about Lindsay Lohan. It makes no sense.

  5. Eleanor says:

    The ‘muddy hem’ version is one thing – the mud hen version is something else. Never got the sense that Moggach knew that Longborn was not a farm, it was an estate with tenant farmers. Mr. Bennet had 2000 a year, same income as Brandon in S+S. Even the Martins in Emma come off as more refined than the version of Bennets in the 2005P+P. Wasnt there any way she and Wright could think of to distinguish the Bennets from the Bingleys and Darcys than to make the B girls look like sluts? There were some great moments in the movie – the assembly dance was good looking and Brenda Blethyn was a fine pick – even if she was on the old side – but there were some real head scratching moments.

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