Sound and Setting Changes in Pride & Prejudice (2005)

By Na Ma, Ohio University

Good use of sound and setting is of great benefit in reflecting to the hero and heroine’s relationship in a romantic film. The sounds of a piano, nature, river, birds singing (especially blackbirds), and the permanent presence of dogs, pigs, chickens, ducks and geese in this film, all create a realistic and lively image. It helps the audience to better understand the conflicts and intimacy between the characters.

(Keywords: Pride and Prejudice; sound; setting; relationship climate; conflictive orientation; cooperative orientation)


The film’s themes emphasize realism, romanticism and family. In doing so, the film creates a new mixed genre by combining traditional traits of the heritage film with “youth-oriented filmmaking techniques” (Dole 20). It tells the story of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s five unmarried daughters after Mr. Bingley and his friend, Mr. Darcy have moved into their neighborhood.

Bingley soon falls in love with the eldest daughter, Jane Bennet, while Darcy and the secondeldest daughter Elizabeth Bennet painstakingly get together after several dramas and clashes. The film, set in the early 19th century, was shot in England over a 15-week period. It shows England’s most imposing mansions and landscapes, such as the Peak District National Park. The amazingly diverse range of spaces, with fluid movement of the camera, actually frames the vigorous and vivacious characters and refers to the novel’s narrative voice, describing Elizabeth’s “lively, sportive, manner of talking” (Paquet-Deyris 1).

Research Hypotheses

Pride and Prejudice (2005) is famous for its different use of the soundtrack, demixing voices and multiple setting effects, especially the use of complex sound and setting changes to reintroduce earlier events and reinforce the characters’ shifts of emotion. The use of different sound and settings in this movie reflects the characters’ relationship: from ill affection to subtle turmoil, from dislike to attraction, from admiration to hatefulness, and then from resentfulness to intimacy. This paper will primarily examine how changes in sound and setting in Pride and Prejudice reflect their relationship climate1. Soft sounds and bright settings are signs of a positive relationship climate (cooperative orientation 2) while tense sounds and gray settings indicate a gloomy relationship climate (conflictive orientation 3) between the main characters.


Sound Bridge

Sound in a film does not have to match the image and be continuous. “The sound bridge is used to ease the transition between shots in the continuity style”(Prunes, Raine, Litch 21). Scriptwriter Deborah Moggach and Director Joe Wright both faced a problem of voice in Austen’s texts: how to adapt “the narrative voice’s assertions and commentaries and the texture of the characters’ dialogues and internal focus” to make them understandable for a contemporary audience (Paquet-Deyris 1).

Sound Perspective

Sound perspective, combined with off-screen space, gives the audience a clue as to who is present in a scene (and most importantly, where). Classical Hollywood Cinema usually sacrifices sound perspective to narrative comprehensibility (Cartmell 13). The sense of a sound’s position!

Location and Space

From the start to the end of film, the camera flies in and out of houses, through doorways, up great mountains, and onto the plains. It makes brief references to the aesthetic category of the picturesque as “theorized by William Gilpin, Uvedale Price, and William Payne Knight in late eighteenth-century England” (Paquet-Deyris 1). One example is the dramatic settings and open splendor. After a long shot of the English countryside at dawn, the camera focuses on a close-up of Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) reading (Antinucci 6).

Scene Movement

“Camera movements, close-ups, exchanged glances bring to the foreground the intensity of the characters’ inner lives in a manner which has often little to do with the classic codes of the Heritage Film subgenre (Cartmell 5).” Thanks to Roman Osin’s splendid use of cinematography, relying on long and complex tracking shots and painterly frames, the animation in the scenes is never static and is successfully transferred to the movement of the scenes, from the visual field in its natural, to animal, and then to human components. This changing setting helps to describe the hero and heroine’s relational climate. The imaginary disappearance of the other people in the ball shows exactly the effect of mutual sexual attraction.

Sound and Setting Pattern

A repeated pattern brings details usually left offstage in romantic dramas–especially in the customary Regency adaptations of Jane Austen–to the center of the frame. There is a pattern that reflects the subtle changes in Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s relationship. Soft sounds and bright settings create a good relationship climate while tense sounds and gray settings indicate a gloomy relationship climate between the main characters. Three main scenes describe the crucial development of their relationship with different sounds and setting background:

The first scene is Elizabeth and Darcy dancing with graceful music as the background sound. The music smoothly indicates the characters’ emotions and feelings towards each other. The beginning music is bright and lively, indicating a good start to their relationship. They both gradually ignore the existence of the background and other people, who seemingly disappear from their view. They see just each other’s eyes. The music here turns smooth and graceful, with a quiet atmosphere that doesn’t interrupt this wonderful moment between the two. They dance together, absorbed in the smooth and graceful music. But then other people reappear along with hustling and bustling dance sounds and music, and the two wake up from their illusions and look at each other, coming back to the reality that they actually have a bad relationship.
In the second scene, Darcy tries to reveal his heart to Elizabeth in Charlotte Lucas’s house.

There is no sound at all and the background is very quiet. Darcy tries to say something, seemingly telling Elizabeth he loves her, but somehow he gives up because of pride or reserve or being interrupted by Lydia’s sudden return. He seems nervous and struggles with his feelings for a while. This is fully shown in a short scene, especially when Lydia asks Elizabeth, “What you have done to poor Mr. Darcy?” which indicates Mr. Darcy’s embarrassing self-struggle.

Elizabeth’s answer, “I’ve no idea,” shows her confusion about Darcy’s abrupt visit and incomprehension of Darcy’s struggle. The quietness allows the audience to consider Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s feelings and focus on the subtleness in their relationship. In the third scene, Darcy attempts to propose in the rain. The very tense background sound indicates that the characters’ emotions are very strong: Darcy’s feelings towards Elizabeth after struggling for so long while Elizabeth has hateful feelings towards Darcy after learning that it was Darcy who separated her sister Jane and Bingley. Darcy confesses that he loves Elizabeth and asks to be accepted, but Elizabeth rejects his offer and viciously replies that he is the last man in the world she would want to marry. The very loud raindrop is a sign of a serious relational climate, meaning the relationship has turned very bad.


Romanticism and the Heroine’s Attractiveness Sarah Ailwood opined that the film is “an essentially Romantic interpretation of Austen’s novel,” because of Wright’s attention to “position Elizabeth and Darcy as Romantic figures” (35).

University of Provence scholar Lydia Martin comments that the “Romantic bias of the film is shown through the shifts in the characters’ relationships, the soundtrack and the treatment of landscape”(36). Being beautiful is the basic quality of being attractive or catching the audience’s eyes. The film seems to establish the role of Elizabeth at the intersection of four aesthetic modes of representation: literature, cinema, painting and sculpture.

There is a scene in which Elizabeth walks to Netherfield to see her sister. The road must be very muddy and filled with obstacles such as clay and puddles. However, the film displays a very impressive picture from a panoramic view as Elizabeth walks along a long but smooth plain. At the left side of the film she passes a large tree and strides toward the right. This movement forms a strong comparison between the large tree and the small figure of Elizabeth, showing the heroine’s brave and independent personality. It highlights Elizabeth’s elegant image walking alone, but beautiful.

The scene in which Elizabeth stands on a great mountain with her dresses flying in the air shows her independent personality. Catherine Stewart-Beer of Oxford Brookes University calls Elizabeth’s presence on the Derbyshire cliff a “stunning, magical evocation of Wright’s strong stylistic brand of Postmodern Romanticism” (Stewart-Beer 7). The grand and open scene tells the audience that her mind is free, not partial, and that she is seeing things as a whole.

Relationship Climate

Relationship climate 4 is a barometer for determining how members feel about and respond to their working relationship within the act of interacting, and an acknowledgement that “exchange processes between selling and buying companies do not exist in a vacuum but within an emotional context or atmosphere” (Leonidou et al. 103). Now let’s take a look at the development of Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship from the beginning. The ups and downs are like the weather, indicating different relationship climates.

The phase of ill affection is composed of several parts. When Elizabeth hears comments that she is barely tolerable and not handsome enough to attract Darcy to dance with her, she feels humiliated and hurt, and begins to develop her first prejudice toward Darcy: that he is arrogant and supercilious. Elizabeth’s subtle turmoil towards Darcy occurs when Darcy begins to show his changing attitude and behavior. When Elizabeth first visits Darcy’s house in Netherfield to see her ill sister Jane, she is a little surprised by Darcy’s politeness. Darcy stands up to greet her after she walks into the room while Caroline sits frozen in her position and laughs at the mud clinging to her skirt. When Elizabeth feels Darcy’s shaky hand and sees Darcy’s clenched fists, she seems shocked at his nervousness and sexual frustration. The camera briefly frames Darcy’s embarrassment with noticeable close-ups of his tight fists. The subtle turmoil disappears and turns to dislike when George Wickham tells Elizabeth that Darcy separated Wickham and his sister Georgiana Darcy because Darcy disliked his “too low status.” When Darcy tries to explainthat he has “no talent of conversing easily with people he has never met before” and because of that he rejected a dance with Elizabeth at the first ball, she shows no sympathy and suggests Darcy should practice more, indicating her ignorance of Darcy’s attempt to be friendly.

Conflictive Orientation

This orientation is a demonstration of opposing or unresolved needs, desires, and goals among members (Brown et al. 325). The nature of the film as a drama demands quick setting changes and strong actions in order to move or catch the audience’s attention. The weather functions as an indicator of the conflictive orientation climate as seen in Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth. Under heavy rain Elizabeth runs to a Grecian-style temple building, with Darcy running after her. This environment is consistent with the hero’s and heroine’s relationship climate. His sudden unexpected proposal make the audience suddenly realize that he likes her.

The bad weather indicates the characters’ strong emotions: Elizabeth is angry at Darcy’s separating Jane and Bingley while Darcy himself is struggling with his proud and love for her.

Cooperative Orientation

Cooperative orientation follows an orientation of members to maintain a quality business relationship with each other and is in contrast to (1) unrestricted maximization of self-goals regardless of the effects on other members, or (2) altruistic, cooperative sentiments without regard to one’s self that one may encounter in certain non-business settings (Deutsch 16; Perdue and Summers 180; Thomas 21). Some settings in the movie even show the process of the heroine’s retrospection on her excessive or unhealthy prideful attitudes toward Darcy. The start of retrospection is a sign the relationship climate is turning into cooperative orientation. A good
example of this is the scene when Darcy came to deliver his explanatory note. The slightly outof-focus and off-center extreme close-ups of Elizabeth’s face during her sleepless night is a mark of the heroine’s continued thinking about her regret at rejecting Darcy’s first proposal. “The montage foregrounds the manner in which Elizabeth supposedly fixedly gazes at the mirror while looking directly at the camera and the spectator” (Paquet-Deyris 8) . The chromatic shift from daylight to dusk and then night-time with soft lighting or darkness marks the passage of time, and the repeated reflection on Elizabeth’s thoughtful face indicates her reassessment of the whole situation: Darcy’s character, her own feelings, and herself. It is the filmic equivalent of “the mixture of third person narration, internal focalization, and virtual interior monologue (Paquet-Deyris 3)” that she should receive the offer of marriage from Darcy.

Staging Intimacy

When Elizabeth’s wandering eyes stare at the voluptuous nude bodies painted on the entrance hall ceiling at Pemberley, her hate of Darcy changes into an admiration for him: “The tight shot of Elizabeth framed in the doorway peeking at Georgiana at the piano and then at Darcy tenderly embracing his sister, is the first actual stage of her sensuous conversion (PaquetDeyris 5).” There is inner turmoil when she sees Georgiana playing the piano and Georgiana and Darcy hugging merrily, and intense amazement when she penetrates the intimacy of Darcy’s family. As a romantic cliché with a happy ending, in the final scene of the film, the sun eventually comes out in fiery brightness and frames in a two-shot the two heroes joining hands.


Each use of changing sound and setting in the scene of Elizabeth and Darcy in the movie has its purpose. Together they indicate the characters’ complicated emotional movements. The movie mainly examines the subtle changes of Elizabeth’s emotions towards Darcy by using different music and scenery instead of analyzing both the hero and heroine. Different sounds and settings show Elizabeth’s developing sexual attraction towards Darcy, from, at the very beginning, hatefulness, then to affection, and finally, intimacy, with several misunderstandings and dramatic situations between the two. Research has shown that most relationships will have to learn to manage both cooperative and conflictive orientations (Dant and Monroe 329). Successful relationships will exhibit behaviors that are more cooperative than conflictive
(Leonidou et al. 99).

1 Relationship climate is a reflection of how members feel about and respond to their working relationship.
2 Cooperative orientation is defined as the motivational orientation channel members exhibit toward each other when they display concern for the welfare of other members, in this case, as an outcome of past interactions (Koza and Dant 281). 3 Conflictive orientation is defined as the motivational orientation channel members exhibit toward each other when they choose to display open tension, hostility, frustration, antagonism, and so forth with other members, in this case again, as an outcome of past interactions (Koza and Dant 281).
3 in space, produced by volume, timbre, pitch, and, in stereophonic reproduction systems, binaural information, is used to create a more realistic sense of space, with events happening (that is, coming from) closer or further away (Paquet-Deyris 5).
4 This paper will mainly talk about two facets to this relationship climate: cooperative orientation and conflictive orientation.

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