Scene Breakdown: Encounter at Pemberley in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (2005)

Ah, Pride and Prejudice. To list the reasons why it has captured the hearts of many would be a list that could wrap around our planet at least three times. The very top of that list would include Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Naturally, I am a huge fan of the 2005 film version–watching it makes me reconsider going back to playing the piano after abandoning years of lessons (somehow I’m convinced I can learn the film’s score, but I don’t think Lady Catherine would sing my praises). I love the music, I love the cinematography, I love the actors, but what absolutely seals the deal is the chemistry between Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen, which blatantly shines throughout the filming, despite the varying tones in their shared scenes. Both proposal scenes are exemplary of this, and to no one’s surprise, are the result as the fans’ most favorite moments in the movie. And while I stand with that sentiment, this scene breakdown is going to address one of my favorite scenes: the encounter at Pemberley. 

One of the things I love most about their encounter in this scene is that there’s so many layers and meaning to their interaction. This moment and conversation is the first time Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy have seen each other since the verbal sparring match during the first proposal and Mr. Darcy’s letter for Elizabeth that followed shortly afterward. Whereas the couple are in close proximity in those instances, here there is a visible physical distance between the two, as if to surround the space with all that is left unsaid. There is an immediate change in their interaction; though their previous encounters have touched on some level of awkwardness, this is painstakingly “I-wish-I-were-dead” type of awkwardness that seems to scream its presence to all of Pemberley’s spectacular grounds. Despite the scene only lasting about two and a half minutes, so much is indirectly expressed in little moments through eye contact and body language. On the surface, they conduct in a facade of exchanging polite pleasantries until Elizabeth can no longer bear the elephant in the room and apologizes for her intrusion before returning back to polite conversation. Nothing about the dialogue is romantic, but the build-up of subtle meanings expressed by their eyes and countenance desperately scream the underlying feelings they have for one another and display their impalpable chemistry. 

Given the circumstances of the encounter, both Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy must be thinking a mile a minute. At this moment, Mr. Darcy has accepted Elizabeth’s rejection, and we visibly can see his efforts to mend his behavior simply through his actions. Gone is his stiff posture and rigid demeanor. He shows no inclination of being annoyed by Elizabeth’s presence and attempts to strike conversation with great politeness. Of course, this being Mr. Darcy, he adorably can’t seem to maintain a graceful conversation. Macfadyen does an excellent job portraying a character struggling to express his feelings, feelings of which are so strong as if water is ready to burst from a dam. He also never takes his eyes off of Elizabeth, as if he can’t really believe she is there and he’s trying so desperately to capture the image of the only time he’d see Elizabeth at Pemberley, the woman he had hoped to become the mistress of his home. There is also the childlike shake of his head once Elizabeth asks forgiveness–she has nothing to apologize for, and she should never feel the need to ever apologize to him. She can do wrong in his eyes.

Mr. Darcy: “May I see you back to the village?”

Elizabeth: “No! I’m very fond of walking.”

Mr. Darcy: “Yes, yes I know.”

This little exchange is so endearing because it shows that he has been paying attention to the little things. Mr. Darcy may have insulted Elizabeth with what may have been considered the bigger picture of the time–family, financial history, and propriety–but it’s tiny details like her love of walking that grab his attention and result in his love for her. It also indicates that his knowledge of her desire to walk meant that he had hoped to walk with her and spend more time with her. And he says it quite tenderly, showing that his offer was sincere and genuine. While she declines and heads off, the camera pans to Mr. Darcy’s hand, perhaps to suggest that Darcy is thinking of Elizabeth’s touch. 

Simultaneously, Elizabeth’s emotions are running wild. Prior to her interruption, her perspective on Mr. Darcy has shifted. She spends the day touring his home while his housekeeper portrays her master in a positive light. Through his beautiful home and the well-looked-after care of staff and grounds, in conjunction of what Mr. Darcy’s letter informed Elizabeth, reveal the true character of Mr. Darcy to Elizabeth. No sooner does Elizabeth start to rethink her rejection does she invade upon a private moment between Mr. Darcy and his sister, a behavior reflective of her family’s impropriety which Mr. Darcy chose to highlight during his proposal. It leaves her absolutely mortified, and I commend Elizabeth for choosing to stop after Mr. Darcy catches up to her in a casual stride when she flees. (Personally, if the man I rejected caught me spying on him in his house, I would’ve kept on running and changed my name as my ass headed towards Russia). However, Elizabeth is unaware that Mr. Darcy does not think any less of her, and that her previous statements not only made him love her more, but they humbled his ass down a bit more. 

Therefore, for the first time, we see the usually eloquent and playful Elizabeth Bennet unsure of what to say and what to do. Whereas Mr. Darcy can’t keep his eyes off of her, Elizabeth has a hard time maintaining eye contact for more than a few seconds and repeatedly bows her head as she speaks with Mr. Darcy. She also fumbles with her hands as she speaks and can’t find anything to say except to answer his questions. She now views herself as what she thinks Mr. Darcy might think of her, which brings her both embarrassment and shame. In the past, she was never afraid to speak her mind with Mr. Darcy, but here, the roles are reversed and she’s suddenly shy and out of her element. Mr. Darcy is now longer that “proud man” to Elizabeth; the man that stands before her is what would be considered of those “great men” spoken by Mr. Gardiner–a gentleman and truly noble. When she finally has the opportunity to leave, we see her leave as swiftly as possible while a visible look of annoyance at herself, probably for her actions but also for her previous misjudgments. She’s also struggling to maintain her composure and breath as she goes down the steps like she was going to explode from embarrassment. 

To think, all of this could have been avoided had they merely been honest with each other. Thankfully, they weren’t, and we were granted with a scene that not only managed to bate our breaths and seize our undivided attention for two and a half minutes, but became the turning point in one of the most beloved adaptations of Jane Austen’s great literary classic. 

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