Joe Wright’s 2005 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice changed its final scene after UK test screenings – yet it was reinstated for an extended cinema re-release weeks later.

“Sometimes the last person on Earth you want to be with is the one person you can’t be without.” It’s a tagline that tells you a lot about the lively, modern 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice. Billed as “from the producers of Bridget Joness Diary” in its marketing, here was a take on Jane Austen’s 1813 novel that brings out the passion and the romance and the sexual chemistry in the text, all within the bounds of a U certificate.

Owing as much to Working Title’s international hits Bridget Jones and Love Actually as other literary hot takes Shakespeare In Love and Romeo + Juliet, the Anglo-American co-production is more faithful to Austen’s novel than either of those extremes would suggest, but its major concession to Hollywood romcom conventions would prove a sticking point on different sides of the Atlantic.

In contrast to the five-hour BBC TV adaptation of the 1990s, Deborah Moggach’s adapted screenplay trims out subplots and scenes and zeroes in on the emotional journey of the central love interests – the witty, stubborn Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) and the wealthy, brooding Mr Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen). They get off on the wrong foot but grow fonder of one another as the story goes on, and please don’t stop us if you’ve heard this one before, cos it is literally this one.

With that in mind, producers were looking for a director with a fresh perspective and they found Joe Wright, who made this his feature debut after directing several social realist TV dramas. Wright’s approach incorporated some more modern romcom genre conventions, with teen comedies like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles cited as inspirations.

It’s almost certainly the latter that informs the ending of the cut that went before UK test screen audiences ahead of the film’s release in 2005. Last warning for spoilers, but as originally released, the UK cut of the film ends not on Elizabeth and Darcy, but with Elizabeth telling her long-suffering father Mr Bennet (Donald Sutherland, on wonderful form) that she is happy and engaged.

The film cuts to the credits after a visibly relieved and emotional Mr Bennet delivers the brilliant final line: “If any young men come for Mary or Kitty, for heaven’s sake, send them in. I’m quite at my leisure.”

Originally though, there was an extra two-minute scene at Darcy’s Pemberley estate, after the couple have been married. In a sequence that never appears in the book, the two of them soppily discuss pet names for Elizabeth. Darcy confirms that he is (in her words) “completely, perfectly, incandescently happy” and kisses her face all over before the film fades to black.

It’s not really fitting with the tone of the rest of the film, whose most erotically charged moment comes from a close-up of Macfadyen’s hand flexing after a fleeting moment of contact. Given the film’s potent understatement in this regard, it’s unsurprising that UK test audiences didn’t take to the more sentimental ending. Some viewers thought it was needlessly sexed-up, others felt it was un-Austen-like, and some just found it unintentionally funny. Wright duly cut the scene before it hit cinemas.

Come September 2005, the UK release was greeted warmly by critics and audiences alike. The strategy of marketing to younger audiences really paid off for it too. At the UK box-office, Pride & Prejudice was the 13th highest-grossing film of 2005. Its very respectable gross of £17.2m put it ahead of action-packed romcom Mr & Mrs Smith but just behind another U-certificate literary adaptation, Nanny McPhee.

And then there was the US release…

Across the pond

Donald Sutherland in Pride & Prejudice

As mentioned, the film was a co-production between Working Title Films in the UK and Universal Pictures in the US and when the time came to release Pride & Prejudice in the States, that final scene found its way back into the American cut of the film.

Perhaps with the stated aim of making a film for mainstream romantic-comedy audiences, Wright surmised in an interview “I guess, in America, you just like a little more sugar in your champagne.” In other interviews on the US press circuit, McFadyen and Sutherland concurred that the film’s extended ending was “sweeter” and more “sugary” than the version playing in other territories.

But what of the Austen faithful? Were they “completely, perfectly, incandescently happy” with the ending? Well, in a word – no.

In the backlash that ensued, some bloggers picked up on the Sixteen Candles element, but it was former Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) president Elsa Solender whose comments stuck out.

She said, of the new ending: “It has nothing at all of Jane Austen in it, is inconsistent with the first two-thirds of the film, insults the audience with its banality and ought to be cut before release”.

As it happened, the ending stayed in the cut that hit US cinemas on November 11th 2005 and the scuttlebutt about its ending didn’t hurt its box office too badly.

However, all the chatter had an unforeseen side-effect for the UK distributors. Word made it back over this side of the pond, and some fans of the film felt they were missing out with the shorter version that had played in UK cinemas. Indeed, there was an online petition to include the ending on the eventual disc release.

Perhaps buoyed by the film’s critical and commercial success, Working Title went one better, announcing that the ending would not only be on the disc, which hit shelves in February 2006, but also restored in an extended cut released in selected UK cinemas on November 25th, just two weeks after the US release.

Producer Paul Webster said “we were absolutely delighted in the continued interest in Pride & Prejudice and are excited about the opportunity to show the US ending to the British public.”

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So, to recap – the more sentimental ending was snipped out of the UK cut upon release because test audiences didn’t like it, but retained for the US release in the hope of pleasing mainstream audiences, and then restored for a new UK re-release by popular demand because it turned out our lot did want to see it after all.

That’s a rollercoaster worthy of the movie’s own romantic to-ing and fro-ing. Incidentally, the cut of the film now available on Netflix UK is the (superior) original version that ends with Sutherland happily relaxing in his study, and no one seems to be complaining too much about that. And if you’re happy with that, then that’s the end of this feature. It’s a better ending, we reckon.

Still, if you’ve never seen that extended ending before and you’re feeling curious, take a look below, at your leisure…

 

 

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