Hollywood greenlights its share of ridiculous projects, but the news that Jennifer Love Hewitt had sold an update of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, tentatively titled Darcy’s Town, to Lifetime seems particularly insane. Or maybe not: Lifetime’s brand was most recently defined by a Lindsay Lohan-fronted trainwreck biopic of Elizabeth Taylor, and the network already has Hewitt playing a hooker on The Client List. Still, none of the parties involved seem like a match for one of the most beloved novels of all time.
Pride and Prejudice isn’t an easy book to move into the modern era. It was one thing for Amy Heckerling to reimagine the romantic meddling of Emma as 1990s Beverly Hills in Clueless, because that’s a story that emphasizes its heroine’s independence and privilege, rather than the extreme pressure on her to marriage, if only so she could move out of her family home. The drama and compromises of Pride and Prejudice are all tied to the very real and very scary risk becoming an old maid. Whatever pressures single women feel to settle down in contemporary American society, they aren’t remotely equivalent to what P&P’s Elizabeth Bennet faced.
Bride & Prejudice, the 2004 quasi-Bollywood musical from director Gurinder Chadha, was able to recreate its source material’s tension by moving the action to a small Indian city and a social milieu where women were still expected to live at home until they were married. The story may have expanded to fill continents, and made the prospect of premarital sex explicit rather than implicit when Lakhi, the movie’s equivalent of Lydia, runs off with Wickham, who’s become a globe-trotting beach-bum rather than a regiment-hopping British soldier. But a character like Lalita (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), a brilliant woman who would never really be able to take over her father’s farm, or to build a satisfying life as a single woman in a small town that didn’t have an outlet for her talents or her intellectual interests, still worked. Moving Pride and Prejudice to small-town Virginia doesn’t seem likely to produce the same result.