Pride and Prejudice is one of the most recognizable stories of the literary canon, but does it truly fit in the holiday season? As a result of the popularity of the story, it has been adapted many times and has taken a central place in holiday movie culture. The Hallmark Channel’s Pride, Prejudice, and Mistletoe (2018) attempts to bring the plot of Pride and Prejudice to small-town Ohio with a gender reversed casting that pits Darcy Fitzwilliam (Lacey Chabert) against Luke Bennet (Brendan Penny). Pride, Prejudice, and Mistletoe quickly strays from the plot of the novel, the only similarities come from the names of characters, Darcy Fitzwilliam for Mr. Darcy and Luke Bennett for Elizabeth Bennet, and the town—Pemberley.
The film’s central plot focuses on the Fitzwilliam family’s attempt to host the Pemberley League Holiday Auction (a Christmas charity event thrown by the town to raise money for the local community center) while Darcy simultaneously comes up against conflict at her office; she is attempting to expand the services her company provides and her business partners are against the change. This is resolved near the end of the movie when Darcy decides to move back home and rejoin her father’s company, deciding that she can be of greater service to her community by returning. This quick divergence from the plot of the novel made me ask: are we co-opting Austen’s novels to fit a holiday message that deviates from ones that she would recognize?
The plot of the film does not present the relationship between Darcy and Luke as the confrontational relationship between the novel’s Elizabeth and Darcy, but the antagonistic relationship the two had in high school is alluded to through much of the film. Darcy and Luke are at odds with each other throughout the film, but it quickly fades into the background as they build a friendship while attempting to pull off the Holiday auction. This romance drives the plot of the film, but is not the central message. The central message, being of service, becomes apparent through the subplot of Darcy’s work struggles and how they position her as a character who is motivated by the desire to be of service to others.
While organizing the auction, Darcy is fighting against being ousted from the company she helped create. Darcy, who works in finance, wants to expand the business to help those who want to invest but are unable to provide the capital her business partners demand. Throughout the film Darcy pitches the idea of more accessible investing, and in the end faces a workplace coup. She keeps this conflict hidden for much of the story and instead focuses on how she can be of service to her family and community. And this is the central message of the film, a message that is absolutely intertwined with Euro-American, particularly Christian, messages surrounding the holiday season. Near the end of the film Darcy decides that she wants to “be of service” to those around her, ultimately deciding to rejoin the family business and move back to Pemberley. She learns this lesson through the auction and the community she encounters upon her first visit home for Christmas in years.
Pride, Prejudice, and Mistletoe, while not a faithful film adaptation of the novel certainly fits the bill for a feel-good Christmas movie. I think of this film as using the popular imagination surrounding Pride and Prejudice as a way to spread a fairly typical holiday message of service. The message of service offered by Pride, Prejudice, and Mistletoe rings a bit untrue and sits uncomfortably with Austen’s own serious consideration of the mores of the community and Christian service she represented in her novels. Austen’s novels are informed by a deeply Christian worldview, so it is not unexpected, or even strange, that Hallmark finds the novels a “safe” place for their holiday messaging. Do I think we are co-opting Austen’s novels to fit a specific image of the holidays? I do, and I think these films can be insidious in their use of Austen’s popularity to further the ideal of sentimentalized community relationships, particularly when centered on the watered down idea of service.
Pride, Prejudice, and Mistletoe. Directed by Don McBrearty, Hideaway Pictures, 2018.