Pride and Prejudice. It’s one of the most beloved and widely read novels in the English language. Everyone knows Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth and their love overcoming all odds. Everyone loves to adapt it. You sometimes get the impression that whenever writers have no clue what to do next, they say, “let’s just adapt Pride and Prejudice!”
And this text is so well known that straight adaptations are no longer necessary. You can have Pride and Prejudice in another time and place, from India to Utah. You can have time-travelling Pride and Prejudice; you can have Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
And then, apparently, you can adapt that into a film. And they have. It comes out today, in fact. Stay tuned for my thoughts on it. But in order to prepare for what I’m sure will be a great intellectual challenge, I made the rather rash decision to provide the world with a definitive guide to all the adaptations of this novel made in English. (This means I won’t be watching the K-Drama. Sorry.)
These adaptations have come early and often since the invention of film, though many of the earlier examples are impossible to find, if they survive at all. There have also been quite a few works that were clearly very directly inspired by the novel even if there’s no Hertfordshire.
All you need to two hot people and a swooning romance, right?
Except no. Jane Austen didn’t write a swooning romance. Jane Austen wrote a morality story about what she felt was the ideal marriage: an arrangement arrived at by two rational people based on the intersection of affection, practicality, spiritually duty, and compatibility.
Pride and Prejudice (P&P), an understanding of this theme is what I look for most. There are six “touchstones,” as I call them, that help focus this. How these elements are adapted makes the difference between a good adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and a generic romance movie.
- Elizabeth – This young woman is intelligent, opinionated, independently minded, and yeah, kind of proud. However, she is also a product of her time. She doesn’t think she’ll ever marry because she knows few men are really her intellectual or moral superior. And a husband must always be his wife’s superior.
- Darcy – Dude, your privilege is showing. Fitzwilliam Darcy is a hot brooding guy, and that makes him super sexy, but it’s because he’s an entitled snob. He suffers when Elizabeth rejects him, but make no mistake, he went in there with no doubt that she would accept him because, you know, he’s Mr. Darcy. He’s essentially a good person, which is why he’s able to learn to be less of a jerk by the end, but he was simply not the aggrieved party here.
- Mr. Wickham and Lydia – This one is tricky. Because in today’s world, when a man in his late twenties runs off with a sixteen-year-old our first thought usually isn’t “oh no! her reputation!” But we’re supposed to feel sorry for Lydia, because she wasn’t raised right, but also think that she’s damn lucky Mr. Darcy got that sweet deal for her so that she wouldn’t have to be a street walker. Wickham is the cautionary tale that all the young female readers should watch out for.
- Charlotte Lucas – She is meant to be the opposite of Lydia. Marrying for purely pragmatic reasons is just as bad as marrying because you can’t keep it in your pants.
- Mary – Back in the early nineteenth century, a woman trying to be an intellectual was seen as, like, funny. I don’t think we’re supposed to be all “yay, go book snob!” This often ends up in a narrative that is rather cruel to poor Mary, but that’s what the text is. Her complete rejection of social interactions in favour of “contemplation and reflection” is not praiseworthy, it’s ridiculous.
- Mr. and Mrs. Bennet – Mrs. Bennet is really dumb and shallow, but Mr. Bennet is a complete jerk. His duty is to provide for his family, to make sure his daughters are taken care of, but he doesn’t. He just locks himself up in his room and laughs at them, and encourages Elizabeth to do the same. He’s redeemable because he’s clearly loves Elizabeth, but he is not an unproblematic fave.
This not to say that a film that is a “poor” adaptation of the novel is necessarily a bad movie, or that a good adaptation is necessarily an excellent television show, but adaptations are kinda my thing, so that’s the angle that I’ll be taking.
Pride and Prejudice (1940)
So one of the maxims of adaptation, as articulated by David Selznick, is to not presume to “fix” what you see as structural flaws in the source material. Wouldn’t it be better if Darcy was actually a great guy who made, like, one rude comment once but was otherwise perfectly nice? Wouldn’t it be nice if Elizabeth immediately fell in love with him after hearing his sob story because… um, pity? He’s so Nice™? Wouldn’t it make more sense if Lady Catherine gave her blessing in the end?
No, it wouldn’t.
I feel bad being hard on this movie, since it’s so old. But there’s something about it that’s so pandering to sentiment. Like, everyone’s exaggerated curtseying when they danced. And there’s the “funny” little moments where the Bennet sisters were literally indistinguishable from a flock of noisy hens. Maybe it’s just a product of its age, but in that case, it aged very badly.
Elizabeth seems more rude than anything. This is mostly a consequence of the Tyrion-esque whitewashing of Darcy. He made one rude comment, then immediately tried to make up for it by asking her to dance, and she was all “nope!” then went to dance with someone else. After that, he was nothing but trying to be pleasant for the rest of the movie, while she was just constantly telling everyone how much he sucks and being passive agressive. We’re told that he’s proud, but he hardly acts like it. This is a story about how Elizabeth was an idiot and a bad judge of character.
Lydia and Wickham were okay, I guess. It was mostly used to make jokes about how they have to move or something. Charlotte’s marriage was glossed over, and so was Mr. Bennet. He complained about noise once. Mary, was Mary-like, I suppose.
It feels rather like this is only incidentally Pride and Prejudice; like someone wanted to make a silly romance film rather than an adaptation. I can’t really recommend it as either.
Pride and Prejudice (2005)
This movie is a really good movie. Even if Jane Austen were never born, I would recommend everyone see this movie. The camera work was just… those tracking shots… The direction in general is exceptional. And Keira Knightley deserved that Oscar.
As an adaptation, I find this movie rather difficult to discuss, because it got many things quite wrong—significant things—but it is Pride and Prejudice, in its essence. Though I have trouble explaining how. So, even though most of the things I will discuss are rather negative, it’s still a good adaptation. Especially considering this movie is barely two hours long. They did read their Selznick.
As I’ve already mentioned, Keira Knightley’s performance deserves all the praise. She’s almost always the smartest person in the room, but she’s not a jerk about that. There’s nothing particularly Darcy-esque about Darcy though. He’s not enough of a jerk to really justify Elizabeth’s dislike. So the story becomes more about her learning how awesome he is, rather than him learning not to be a jerk and her learning that people are complicated.
This was rather aggressively brought home in the last few minutes of the movie when Elizabeth states “He’s not proud. I was wrong, entirely wrong about him.” No, she wasn’t. He was proud. And also prejudiced. And so was she. But this Mr. Darcy wouldn’t let that happen.
And in general, their relationship was rather over-romanticized. This is exemplified by Darcy’s flowery pronouncement of love towards the end. I was not of fan of this.
Much of the Wickham and Lydia material is fairly glossed over, but considering the length of the movie, I won’t fault them for that. The essentials were there. Mary was wonderful. She didn’t have much in common with Mary, but Talulah Riley stole every scene she was in with her background eye rolling. I think Mary was drunk at the ball in the beginning? Charlotte Lucas’s content is all there, and in-tact. My complaint is that it’s all rather spoonfed. We didn’t need to be told so explicitly about her motives for marrying Mr. Collins.
Mr. Bennet is more or less completely white-washed. Apart from one passing comment about how he puts “peace and quiet” above everything, he’s a really nice guy. And a good husband and father. And he’s really concerned with porcine husbandry.
And yeah, the pig balls.
I think the production design was going for a “gritty and realistic” look, so there’s mud everywhere and people have messy hair sometimes. This is fine in principle, but it leads to two things. Firstly, it makes the Bennets seem a lot less well off then they clearly are in the text, and secondly, it leads to behaviour that seems rather anachronistic. Like Elizabeth walking from Pemberley to the inn. In the dark. It’s a little distracting.
There are a few other little things, like the random line assignments that always drive me nuts, but I think the merits of this film as a film allow me to overlook a great deal.
Pride and Prejudice: The Lost Series (1952, 1958, 1967)
All Doctor Who fans can understand the pain of wanting to see an old piece of television and not being able to find it, possibly because it no longer exists. I’m not sure if these three series have gone the way of The Power of the Daleks, or if they’re just sitting somewhere waiting to be released one day, but I was unable to find any of them.
There is a very low quality copy of one half-hour episode of the 1967 series on YouTube that suggests that it’s watchable, if oddly paced, and some stills that can give you a very rough idea of the others.
It is really too bad, because the idea of Grand Moff Tarkin as Mr. Darcy is a very exciting one to me.
Pride and Prejudice (1980)
There’s a point where funny things aren’t funny because they’re actually humorous, but because they’re so camp.The distinction is sometimes a little ineffable, but I think in this case, the campiness of this particular five-part miniseries can be put down to a lack of naturalism.
This series is a successful adaptation; you can tell it gets to source material, but it’s not nearly as enjoyable to watch as some other versions. Not that it’s bad exactly…
The acting in this work is rather distracting. It’s got this exaggerated quality that never lets you forget for one second that you’re watching people act instead of real people. And the scripting was perhaps not the best. There was a determination to stick in as many bits from the novel’s narration into the dialogue as possible. Unfortunately, many of those lines are narration rather than dialogue for a reason. And characters randomly get each other’s lines. That’s not necessarily bad, but it’s quite distracting when you know a text as well as I know Pride and Prejudice.
The characters were sometimes more like caricatures. The one that stands out the most in this regard is Lady Catherine DeBourgh, whose fondness for giving unsolicited advice now extends to actually going to the butcher and changing people’s orders. And an inflatable top-hat. (No, really.)
Elizabeth is quite good. Darcy is a little too stiff throughout. I’m still not sure why she would be into him by the end. Lydia’s post-marriage silliness is very silly, but it’s meant to be.
Then there is Mary. I’m not sure what they were going for with her. She has the inept attempts at booksmarts, but also an obsession with gossip that rivals Lydia. I think maybe she’s supposed to be a hypocrite? In any case she’s more a clown than a buttmonkey.
Mr. Bennet is not at all white-washed. I would consider this a good thing. He is often downright cruel to Mrs. Bennet and the younger daughters. He literally hides in the library. The only complaint I have about it is that it may be a caricature as well, and a tad spoonfed. But this is a general problem with the fact that there is use of inner-monologue voiceover to express Elizabeth’s feelings about things. And inner-monologue voiceover is always a mistake.
I’m making this series sound worse than it was; it had a lot going for it. It didn’t try to “improve” the source material to be more in keeping with contemporary sensibilities, which is good. Most of the performances are fine. And there’s little details that amuse me. Like, how derpy the dancing is. They obviously didn’t spend hours rehearsing, which is a nice realistic touch, even if that sounds strange when juxtaposed with the performances. And all the women are constantly sewing, which was a thing in the days when all clothes were made by hand.
Pride and Prejudice (1995)
It will probably not shock anyone that this is by far my favourite adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. In fact, it may be one of my favourite adaptation of anything, as well as one of my favourite pieces of television.
This production had a lot of things stacked in its favour: excellent casting, the budget for meticulously accurate costumes and sets, access to perfect locations. But it’s the writing that makes it so wonderful.
Yes, it’s more or less a dramatic reading of the book, and a television mini-series lets you do that in ways a movie does not, but that’s not as easy as it looks. Books and tv shows have different beats they have to hit; TV has episodes that also need to have beginnings, middles, and ends. But this is also good TV. It’s just good.
As for the touchstones, this version is also the best. The patriarchal view of marriage is a tad deemphasized. Mr. Bennet’s comment about how Elizabeth could only marry a man who is her superior is one of the few bits of interaction between them that’s entirely omitted. In general, however, the moderation in Elizabeth’s character (“I deserve neither such praise nor such censure. I am not a great reader, and take pleasure in many things.”) is very well portrayed.
Colin Firth’s Darcy has become a sex-symbol, though your fave is problematic, ladies and gentleman. But he’s also quite likable by the end and his contrition and rather desperate attempts to please Elizabeth when she shows up at Pemberly are adorable. I approve.
Charlotte is perfect, and the additional material with Lydia and Wickham, where she’s giddy about having sex before any of her sisters, is very appropriate and effective. Mary ends up being a buttmonkey, but like I say, this is not inappropriate from an adaptational perspective; her performance of being an “intellectual” is supposed to be laughed at. The added bits about her fruitless attempts to get Mr. Collins’s attention seem very natural. Fans have been saying for two hundred years how those two are perfect for each other.
Mr. Bennet is the best, though. It’s very hard for us to really understand how few options “respectable” women had outside of marriage in this period. And for women like the Bennet sisters who have no money of their own (a circumstance that’s entirely Mr. Bennet’s fault. He never bothered to save anything for them.) Mr. Bennet’s refusal to play the marriage-hunt game is neglect. Pure and simple. Dude locks himself in his library and laughs at everyone when he’s supposed to be worrying about the future. This adaptation makes that clear, without spoonfeeding it in the manner of the 1980 version.
Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
Now that I’ve seen this movie again, (I haven’t seen it in many years) I’m a little confused as to why it’s on this list, even as a “loose” adaptation. Apart from the obvious conscious references to Pride and Prejudice, I don’t see what it and Bridget Jones’s Diary particularly have in common.
Really, I’m only including it because people will yell at me if I don’t. Character is the most important element when making an adaptation, especially with an “alternative universe” adaptation, and since that’s entirely absent, there’s very little to talk about.
Bridget and Elizabeth are both English and cis-women but other than that… Elizabeth has a self-confidence in herself and her values that Bridget simply doesn’t. Bridget is just a desperately unhappy person who seems to really hate herself and everything about her life. I don’t get why anyone would like her, let alone why a sexy human-rights lawyer would fall in love with her.
I’m not saying that shallow, unpleasant people with limited intelligence don’t deserve to find love and be happy, but how many movies do I have to watch about it?
Bad first impressions and the two bottom points of a love triangle having a past are necessary elements of P&P, but they are hardly sufficient.
As for this film as a film… Wasn’t this super popular when it came out? Did it just age very badly? I mean, this is about a woman who seems financially independent, has supportive friends, a BMI in the healthy range, and a career that finally is going somewhere. But she is miserable because she ain’t got no man.
Oh, and the amount of sexual harassment and casual homophobia is a tad shocking.
Is Bridget supposed to be a villain protagonist? Are single women in their thirties supposed to be able to relate to her?
In any case, I’ll pass.
Pride & Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy (2003)
Modern AU fan fiction is a thing, and someone decided to make a movie out of it. And make it Mormon?
This is a strange movie, and it might be more constructive to see it as a low-budget independent comedy from a subsection of religious cinema than an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, but they gave it the name they did, so here we are.
In an odd way, the LDS (Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons) elements only help this movie. It’s a good way to explain why all these young twenty-somethings are all looking for spouses instead of just humping like bunnies. But there was this whole idea throughout that women can be trusted with their own chastity, which I think Austen would appreciate.
Most of the things that seem uncomfortably sexist were not strictly necessary from an adaptational perspective, like Caroline Bingley and her last minute cat-fight and marriage to a septuagenarian. (She was forced to have his babies! Ha!) And let’s not discuss how Jane is now a sexy (for a Mormon) Latina and Flamenco music plays whenever she and Bingley make eye-contact.
Elizabeth is as Elizabeth-like as anyone in a Modern AU can be, I think. She’s independently minded and opinionated, but her values are, at heart, quite traditional. But she has this one moment of supreme immaturity that really rubbed me the wrong way. If you watch the film, you will probably know what moment I mean immediately.
Darcy, is not Darcy in any way, except that he was rude at a party once. He’s really more of a generic Rom-Com guy. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are omitted, and Charlotte is a cameo by an American Idol contestant. Oh, and Mary is a super religious frumpy girl who ends up with Mr. Collins. Once she gets a makeover. Very Empowering.
The Lydia/Wickham thing gets something done with it, even though you would think it would be the hardest thing to adapt. Lydia herself was brought forward in an odd way. She reads a self-help book about dating.
In summary, not a good movie, but a decent adaptation, given what it had to work with. The LDS elements allowed the themes of the source material to actually be present. Sort of. If you squint.
Bride and Prejudice (2004)
Bollywood Pride and Prejudice? I know how it sounds, but hear me out.
This movie just fills me with nothing but positive emotions. It’s so obviously made with the best intentions, and everyone involved is clearly having fun. Like, I challenge anyone to watch this and not grin like an idiot.
As an adaptation, there are some problems, but considering the fact that this movie is under two hours, and how well they translated the major characters and themes, I just can’t help but forgive everything.
Lalita is very Elizabeth-like: she knows what she wants out of life and she’s not going to compromise on it. She not afraid to express her opinion, but she clearly belongs to her time and place. Darcy’s classism is translated more into an imperialist chauvinism but, again, it works. And I liked Maya’s Cobra Dance.
The whole thing with Lakhi and Wickham was less successful. It was rushed and, like, had no consequences whatsoever. I’m quite sure someone actually says, “It’s fine, she’s back now.” It was a flaw. A rather glaring one, but it didn’t break the movie. Mrs. Bakshi is… well, she’s Mrs. Bennet with an account on an online matchmaking service.
This film also makes liberal use of Selznick’s third maxim by rearranging the order of events, and compressing some things. But the resulting story is coherent and easy enough to follow, so again, it’s not a really a “problem”.
And yes, I do know this is technically not Bollywood, just “Bollywood Style.” I still like it. If your mood ever needs a boost you should check this movie out.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (2012–2013)
So, a lot had changed in the last two hundred years. The expectations women have for ourselves and our lives are just unrecognizable. The way we see romantic relationships is just night and day.
For that reason, I really have no idea why anyone would want to do a “Modern AU” of Pride and Prejudice, but, if you must, this is how you should. I guess.
Lizzie isn’t THE Elizabeth Bennet. How could she be? As we discussed, Elizabeth was a product of her time, but I can believe that Elizabeth would be like this if she lived in Southern California in 2012. She craves independence, is committed to her family, sometimes gets a little too caught up in her own cleverness, and can be judgemental. Darcy is Darcy in the same way. As much as the character can exist in this setting, he does.
The more I think about it, the more I like what they did with Lydia. The character was unbearably annoying for most of the series, but I ended up feeling a great deal of sympathy for her. Obviously, the circumstances and outcome of her sexual indiscretions are very different, and she’s “redeemed” in a way the Lydia of P&P never could be, but given the setting, they could hardly have played it straight.
The solution they came up with to adapt Charlotte was also rather clever. (Mr. Collins is this idiot who owns a New Media start-up. He offers Lizzie a job, which she refuses. Then Charlotte snaps it up.) Though Mary was a little whatever. The anachronism of Mrs. Bennet’s obsession with her daughters’ marital status is repeatedly lampshaded. Mr. Bennet is, however, portrayed in a very positive light, even if his financial ineptitude is mentioned more than once.
I had serious complaints when I started to watch the series about some sexism, like Lizzie calling Lydia “a whorey slut” or telling Bing (Bing Lee, clever!) that they’ll revoke his “man-card” if he buys a chick flick for Jane. But either the people behind the show responded to criticism and corrected this as the show went on, or Lizzie’s shedding of these attitudes was always supposed to be part of her development. Either way, I can only approve.
The acting can be a little cheesy, the tone a little dramatic, and the editing a little annoying in its attempts to be “cute”, but all-in-all I think this was well done, both as an adaptation, and a web series.
Some readers may raise their eyebrows at the term “fan fiction” to describe these derivative works, but face it, that is what they are. The writers of these works are fans who wrote original material about the characters and world that Jane Austen created.
Lost in Austen (2008)
I’m apparently making a career out of talking about how things are stupid, so when I say that something is stupid you can probably trust me.
This is stupid.
This is the worst kind of pandering to the worst kind of stereotype of a Jane Austen fan. You know, the kind that claims to be so into it, but then you get to talking to them and you suspect they really knows nothing about her or her work, and are really more a fan of Colin Firth in a wet linen shirt.
This will be a familiar refrain to those of you who have been reading me for a while, but this mini-series is a gilded turd. The production values are exceptional, (someone involved knows about the Regency…) and the acting is good to excellent (Alex Kingston is a Mrs. Bennet I can get behind). But the problem is, wait for it, the writing.
The Protagonist is a complete moron. The plot could not have happened but for her overwhelming imbecility and lack of thought. And I don’t like to throw the term “Mary Sue” around, but four men fall in love with her. And everyone else puts up with her bullshit for no reason at all. The contrivances are so extraordinary that they beggar belief, and the lack of understanding of the characters and themes of the source material is just…. putting Wickham in leather pants? Really? This along with the casual use of homosexuality as a punchline honestly made me recheck to see who the writers on this thing were.
So avoid this work. It’s not good as an adaptation; it’s not good as TV.
Death Comes to Pemberley (2013)
If our previous selection is the worst Jane Austen fan fic has to offer, this is surely some of the best. This sequel to the novel could easily stand on its own as a decent historical murder mystery, but the addition of the beloved characters does add a good deal.
We see Elizabeth and Darcy several years into their marriage, and Lydia and Wickham several years into theirs. Elizabeth remains opinionated and independent, though more than capable of ordinary social interaction. Darcy remains a tad introverted, though his soft spot for his wife, and his respect for her advice are all very much in character.
What they did with Lydia and her marriage interested me. I seem to like it when something is done with this character. Wickham is certainly not whitewashed; his actions in this work are a good deal more dickish than anything he did in Pride and Prejudice, but he is humanized in a way that is very engaging.
There are some characterization decisions that are not the ones I would have made, Colonel Fitzwilliam rather gets the Ron the Death Eater treatment, but even these are handled quite well, and plausibly.
The casting and acting are all excellent, the production value is high, and the writing is more than up to the challenge. This one is recommended.
So there it is; the only guide to P&P on film you will ever need. I’m sure Pride & Prejudice & Zombies will do full credit to the source material and join this illustrious company with its head held high.
The Unattainable Beauties of BioWare
Happy week after Valentine’s Day! For those of you in a relationship, I hope you were able to spend time with your loved ones and maybe have a little romance. For those of you who are single, I hope that it wasn’t a terribly bitter or frustrating day. In honor of both these states, I’m going to be writing about Bioware characters. But not romanceable characters, oh no. Enough ink has been spilled about them. No, today, we are going to be talking about the ones who for whatever reason are non-romanceable. In fact, it’s going to be a list of who I consider to be the best non-romanceable characters in Bioware games.
A few ground rules first though. First, this list is completely and totally subjective. If you feel like I’ve missed a character, let me know in the comments. Most of these characters are either from the Mass Effect Series or the Dragon Age series. Those are the games I know the best have have played the most. Finally, I’m only going to list five male and five female characters. I could go on all day if allowed.
So, with that out of the way, let’s start with the guys. And first on that list is…
Right off the bat we get a character who seems to contraindicate my first two points. He’s from Jade Empire and isn’t normally the type of character I’d enjoy. But let me justify his place on my list. First off, he’s just a fun character. Pretty much his entire character is dedicated to fighting things with his axes, drinking, and drinking while fighting with his axes. Second of all, given what we do see of his backstory, he’s fairly sympathetic. He was abused by his father until he was finally to defend himself and killed his father, and then was tossed out by his mother. He fought in the arena until he thought he killed his brother. And finally, his voice. Victor Brandt voices him in the game, and that man could read from the stock exchange and make it sound like he was trying to seduce you.
I can understand why they chose not to have any love interests in Awakening. A lot of the companions are missable and even if they aren’t, there’s better than 50-50 odds that they would die at the end of the expansion. That doesn’t excuse them from making Nathaniel Howe though. He has a compelling and sympathetic backstory, an interesting perspective on the location and events, and a sardonic sense of humor that lets him either play the straight man or the funny man in conversations. And! He got an easter egg quest in Dragon Age 2. I just wish they had followed through and included him in Dragon Age Inquisition (and gave us the chance to smooch him.)
Bann Teagan gets a bit of a bad rap now, particularly after Trespasser. Time (and the switch to a new engine) were not kind to him, but I remember a different Teagan. A Teagan that stood up to Loghain. A Teagan that risked his life to defend Redcliffe, and then walked straight into a demon’s clutches to buy your party sometime. From a story perspective, having a female human warden marry (or at least be involved with) an up and coming Bann would make just as much sense politically as marrying her to the new king. And from a purely personal standpoint, I would have loved for him to respond to the “Who is dis women Tegan?” quote by saying “My future wife.”
Jeff ‘Joker’ Moreau
Ever since Mass Effect 1, Joker’s presence at the front of the Normandy has been very welcome. Snarky, quick with a quip and a comment about any of your companions, the only fault I have with him was that he was far too quick to abandon the Alliance and hook up with a bunch of racist, human supremacist terrorists in Mass Effect 2. But the fact that he’s loyal specifically to Shepard always melts my heart. I was hoping that in Mass Effect 3 he finally would be a romance option, but alas he was infatuated with EDI. It took a great deal of self control not to sabotage that relationship.
And here we come to my favorite non-romanceable male character: Ser Derin Barris of the Templar Order. Dude has it all. Good voice and one of the few male PoCs in the series. In addition, he’s everything that a Templar is supposed to be: brave, intelligent, loyal, and willing to defend the weak and the innocent. And yet, after the quest to recruit the Templars, you only see ever see him one more time. The cutscene where he is promoted to Knight-Commander. (A promotion he deserves.) I can only hope that he reappears in Dragon Age 4 as a full romanceable companion.
That covers my five favorite non-romanceable male characters. But what about the ladies? Let’s start with…
Gianna Parasini was one of those characters I didn’t expect to find myself liking as much as I did. When you first meet her in Mass Effect 1, she’s working (undercover) for Novaria’s Internal Affairs. She quickly shows herself not to be completely amoral. Just overworked, overstressed, and tired of being a Yes-Woman to a corrupt executive. When you see her again in Mass Effect 2, she’s much less stressed, and much more willing to joke with Shepard. She leaves far too soon, leaving a male Shepard with a kiss and a promise to see him around. A promise, unfortunately, left unfulfilled.
Dr. Karin Chakwas
Dr. Chakwas is an interesting addition to this list. She is much older then Shepard. She seems at first to be a poor match. But much like Joker, she offers Shepard a sense of continuity aboard the Normandy. She even mentions that as one of the reasons why she stays aboard the Normandy in all its various incarnations. And, unlike some returning squadmates or even Joker himself at times, her presence aboard the ship never seems forced. Of course Dr. Chakwas will be in the medical bay. Of course she’ll be happy to see you. And of course she’ll be waiting to share a drink with you.
Dr. Lexi T’Perro
Unlike Dr. Chakwas, Dr. Lexi doesn’t really provide much in the way of continuity between different versions of the ship. Instead, she almost provides a mirror for Ryder to see himself and his actions. When she’s first brought aboard as your team’s doctor, she’s nervous. And she channels this nervous energy into annoying practically everyone else on the ship. But as she gets more comfortable with the ship and how things work, she starts to relax a little. Not much, but a little. Add to that her backstory in addition to the fact that she seems to care for the team’s mental health as much as their physical health and you get a character who would be perfect to romance. Shame she’s not an option.
Emily Wong is one of the most frustrating examples on this list. In Mass Effect 1, she filled the ‘plucky reporter’ archetype so well that I missed being able to speak with her or give her an interview in Mass Effect 2. As the release date for Mass Effect 3 drew closer and rumors of a romanceable reporter on board the Normandy began to swirl, I had hope that it would be Emily. I was bitterly disappointed. The reporter character on the Normandy was quite weak compared to the strong impression Emily gave in Mass Effect 1. And Emily Wong herself? Unceremoniously killed off in a marketing ploy before the game was released. She deserved better.
Vivienne is a ‘love her or hate her’ type of character. As you can tell by her inclusion on this list, I am in the former camp. Aside from being one of the few women of color companions in the game, Vivienne brings to the table a unique perspective: A mage who fully supports a return to the Circles. Not only that, but she has clear, eloquent arguments to back her up. In addition to that, she has a very striking character design and a wonderful voice actress. Most important of all though is that if her approval of the Inquisitor is high, she seems to genuinely care about them and their well being. I just wish that she didn’t politely shoot you down every time you flirted with her.
So there you have it. My five favorite male and female non-romanceable NPCs from Bioware games. However, there is one person that I have thus far neglected to mention. Or rather, one group of people. That’s right, I’m talking about…
EVERY SINGLE DWARF FROM DRAGON AGE
In Dragon Age: Origins, it was just a bit of trivia. “Hey, did you know that you can’t romance Qunari and dwarf characters?” When Dragon Age 2 came out and we were introduced to Varric, it became a joke. But at least the dwarf fans could still console themselves by remembering that there hadn’t been any Qunari romanceable companions either. By the time of Dragon Age Inquisition and the introduction of Iron Bull and Lead Scout Lace Harding, it’s become one of my main problems with the series.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out why. Why wouldn’t Bioware let us romance Scout Harding, or any other dwarf for that matter? Is it because the animation would look awkward? Too much work? In the end, I can only repeat the refrain so many others have, pining after characters who they couldn’t romance: “Maybe next game.”
Images courtesy of Bioware
Kingdom Come, Representation, And Layers Of Privilege
Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a brand new Czech video game that just came out last week. And ever since its development started, there has been one big controversy connected to it: its almost complete lack of characters of colour.
It isn’t exactly helped by the fact that the chief mind behind the game, Dan Vávra, is right-leaning, and also a bit of an asshole when it comes to responding to these complaints. He doesn’t go far for an insult and refuses to listen to any kind of criticism. Not exactly the kind of person that makes one want to defend him.
So…this is where this article should end, right? A jerk makes a racist game, news at seven.
Well. It’s a bit more complicated than that.
Vávra isn’t the only person working in the development. And the most important thing to know about the game in this context is that it’s not a generalized medieval setting. Instead, it takes place in a particular set of villages and towns and the surrounding forests, villages, and towns that exist until today and that aren’t and never have been big or cosmopolitan in any way. A number of events in the game are based on historical events. It isn’t just a story, it the story of Česká Skalice just before the Hussite wars.
In this context, the usual arguments of “there were plenty of people of colour in Europe in the Middle Ages” fall kind of flat. The usual argument of historicity that is pulled for this is frequently false because Western history is whitewashed and contained markedly more people of colour that we like to pretend. But it’s not always false. There actually were parts of the world where only white people lived. And not only are there no particular historical marks of black, brown or Asian people being present in the particular time and place where Kingdom Come takes place, it would also be very unlikely.
Honestly, the most likely place to find a person of colour in the time period would be Sigismund’s armies, and since those play more the role of the antagonist in the game, that’s not exactly ideal. So this is not, in fact, a case of ignoring the real historical presence of black and Middle-Eastern people.
Instead, the first question to ask here is: is it ever legitimate to create all-white media? If we’re depicting a situation where there realistically wouldn’t be any people of colour – not just history, there are still plenty of towns in the world a non-white person has never set foot in – is it all right to make it whiter than new house paint?
On the face of it, the answer should be yes. As long as we’re depicting an actual situation, we’re depicting. And yet. It may be “accurate,” but it might at the same time be unwise in the current climate, where every all-white piece of media contributes to a narrative that is far from inclusive to people of colour.
So the second question: does it even matter? That is, is historical realism such an important goal to achieve?
Most media that supposedly take place in the past play hard and fast with history to make things more convenient for the narrative, so why should the amount of diversity, of all things, be what is kept realistic? It shouldn’t, that is the answer. As long as other things are changed freely, the argument of historicity is irrelevant one way or another.
Kingdom Come, however, is a game that takes great care to be as realistic as possible. The most frequent complaint from players at the moment is the insane difficulty of lockpicking because that isn’t easy in real life either. So does this change anything? Is the argument of historicity valid in such a case? In other words, even in those media that do their best to stay historically faithful, is such an ambition a worthy goal? Is it more important to have something fit history perfectly than to provide representation?
Accusations of rewriting history would naturally follow a negative answer. First, it’s important to point out that it’s no more rewriting than the constant whitewashing, and with a much better intention. But it is true that with a game that boasts of its realism, it presents a problem. It would discredit their claims of historicity if they simply ignored these kinds of facts. You cannot painstakingly reconstruct medieval Skalice and then add random representation from all over the world without becoming a laughing stock. Not the least because this sort of rewriting of history would play down the racism of the past, and that is not an excuse we should be making for ourselves.
Unless we say that media has to abandon goals of high historical realism, then, we have to admit that in certain setting an all-white cast is appropriate. So that brings forth another question: is it legitimate to choose such settings?
And this brings us to the more complicated power dynamics at play when it comes to Kingdom Come.
As I’ve said, Kingdom Come is a Czech game, dealing with events from Czech history. My history. We, as a country, have always played the lovely game of being both oppressors (towards Slovaks, the Jewish and the Romani people, and even Germans after WWII) and oppressed (by the Austrian empire, Nazi Germany, USSR). In the global world of today, we’re far from being the ones in the most desperate situation, but we’re also hardly the top dogs. On the global scale, we’re a minority.
And both our history and our present are mostly white.
Just to be perfectly clear, this is not a good thing. I’m not saying it as a good thing. It massively contributes to the widespread xenophobia in the Czech Republic. But it is what it is. The fact remains that our by far biggest minority are the Romani people, who form about 3% of the population. So every time you tell a Czech story, it is going to be overwhelmingly white.
So should we be allowed to tell our own stories?
Kingdom Come, of course, is not made for the Czech market. It’s distributed globally, and it means it has a global effect, on people who know nothing of our particular context. As an all-white medieval game – which is all most people will take out of it – it perpetuates exactly the image of whitewashed history that we need to rid ourselves of. It becomes part of the problem.
So does this mean, then, that when we want global money, we have to change the image of our own history to avoid exacerbating the global problem of racism? That is problematic as well, especially as making the game for Czech audience only is not a real option. Our ten million people total don’t make for a big enough audience to pay for a game with this kind of budget. It’s another kind of disadvantage global minorities have. It shouldn’t be necessary to pay for it by adjusting our stories.
And even disregarding that, what if we want to show our stories and our world to the rest of the planet? What if we want to share ourselves? We should be able to do that.
Yet…what if what we want to share turns into a white fantasy in others’ hands?
It seems it shouldn’t be such a big deal. Who cares if we change the skin colour of some characters in the story? It’s still going to be a Czech story. But the problem is, it doesn’t quite work that way. After all, that is the “I don’t see colour” argument, only in reverse.
What I’m about to say will sound insanely racist to anyone from a more cosmopolitan country, but when I was little, I didn’t like watching Sesame Street because the multi-ethnic children there were making it so very foreign to me. I saw them and instantly knew it wasn’t my world. Outside of my travel abroad, I spoke to one non-white person total before adulthood. And I live in the capital, the most multicultural part of the country. Whatever it says about us, the truth is that if we populate historical Czech stories with black people, most Czechs will not regard it as their story.
But there is a reason I was specific in this last sentence. There are truly very few black people living in this country even now. You know who is living here, though? The aforementioned Romani. The presence of Romani people in the game would not make any Czech person feel like it was not our story. It would make them angry — because the racism the Romani face in the Czech Republic is something incredibly ugly — but it would not make the game feel foreign. The Romani minority has been here since the Middle Ages, and there are definitely historical records of them being here in large numbers shortly after Kingdom Come takes place. In fact, there are even complaints of there being “more and more” Romani people in our records because of course our racism would be traditional.
We don’t know, of course, if there were any Romani around Skalice, but it was a way to include people of colour that wouldn’t break with general Czech history. It wouldn’t have gone against our own understanding of who has lived here for a long time. And yet they were never mentioned in any of the diversity complaints I have seen. There are also Cumans included in the game, and no one seems to care much either. And that brings me to my last point.
Demanding diversity in Kingdom Come with a particular idea of diversity in mind, the idea that is based on the ethnic composition of the US, is not only American-centric but also offensive to the oppressed minorities of the Czech Republic. And complaining about such lack of diversity truly does not come across in a way that would endear the author of the complaint to anyone Czech. Especially if the person complaining is white. If a person of colour is offended by so much mayo in their game and would like to feel represented, I can understand that.
But when a white privileged American talks about what sorts of representation a Czech game should contain – particularly with arguments like that Czechia is “just north of Italy” and Italy is by the sea so obviously there’d be plenty of people of colour in here, which is an actual argument someone presented – it suddenly gains whole another tone. Because whiteness is not the only privilege in the world, and while we certainly benefit from it, we do not benefit from the privilege of being American, and anyone from the US telling us how to tell our own stories without knowing anything about us is always, always going to ring a very uncomfortable bell with us.
So yes, making all-white games should be avoided when possible, because it reinforces an uncomfortable narrative. And representation is a good thing, especially representation of those who hardly ever find themselves on screen. Whenever at least a little possible, diversity should be supported. Warhorse Studios really should have included Romani people in their game, just as Czech filmmakers should try casting some in their films. But not all representation fits one muster and demanding medieval Skalice should look like medieval London only makes stories more identical to each other and less interesting. There is more than one kind of diversity.
Images courtesy of Warhorse Studios
Barbara Kean From Housewife to Mobster
Gotham had a tall order ahead of it at its inception. It had to take some the most iconic characters from the comic page and meld them in a story that takes place before they were iconic. Any prequel adaptation has to grapple with this in one way or another. But Gotham had the unique challenge with Batman’s famous rouges. The origins of so many of his opponents are intertwined with his. Gotham would have to reinvent these characters and their origins. The series has made these characters its own by allowing their development to move away from their comic book counterparts. There is no character with which this is more prevalent in than Barbara Kean.
In the comics, she’s anything but a rival to Batman. She’s the wife of one of Bruce’s closest allies and the mother of one of his sidekicks. Yet she herself plays but a small role in the narrative. Gotham’s Barbara Kean has made herself a part of the narrative in ways that have seem to have completely change the character we first meet. Gotham has taken a woman destined to be the mother and wife of heroes and made her one of the most prolific members of the Gotham City’s underworld.
We meet Barbara in the pilot engaged to James Gordon, the perfect place to lead to her becoming her comic book counterpart: married to James Gordon and the mother of his children. They’re in a good place in their relationship. As James finds himself confronted with the corruption of Gotham, Barbara becomes a pillar of support for him. She reaffirms his values when he doubts himself. But this can only last for so long. With James fighting against so much of the darkness in Gotham, it was only a matter of time before it got back to Barbara.
Even with the first bit of tension seeping into their relationship, Barbara’s still willing to stand by James. When she learns James’s life is at stake she goes to Carmine Falcone, the king of Gotham’s underground, to beg for his life. But after she’s terrorized by Falcone’s men, her own faith in James is shaken. She’s seen the true dangers in the mission he’s tasked himself with. She can’t share the burden he’s willing to take on.
At first, she falls back into old habits for the comfort and familiarity, drugs, and her ex-girlfriend, Renee Montoya. It doesn’t last with Montoya, and Barbara finds herself in a state of flux. During this time she meets Selina Kyle, who later becomes a close companion. She also meets Jason Skolimski. He becomes an inciting figure of change for her. A serial killer and psychopath, he takes Barbara captive and she almost doesn’t make it out alive.
Her time with him drives her to edge of sanity. Under his influence she kills her parents. She almost kills Lee Thompkins, James’s new girlfriend. The love she has for James becomes an obsession. It doesn’t end well for her with James stopping her. She’s arrested and sentenced to Arkham Asylum. But it ends up putting her in the perfect position for the next wave of her development.
Her stay in the Asylum is short lived. She’s broken out by Theo and Tabitha Galvan, the latter of whom she enters into a romantic relationship with. It’s through them she’s truly indoctrinated to Gotham’s underground. Barbara’s sanity at this point is shaky at best. Having a girlfriend willing to kidnap her ex-boyfriend and his current girlfriend doesn’t help the situation either. Though even when the last remains of her sanity seem all but gone, the compassion she held for James still comes through. Her kidnapping attempt unravels and her escape ends with her falling out a second story window. Before that happens she helps James, giving him the information he needs to take down Theo.
After some time in a coma, she’s released back onto Gotham streets. Though her love for James still borders on unhealthy obsession her pursuits become more personally motivated. She opens a nightclub with Tabitha. It’s successful but she’s gunning for more, namely to get out from under Oswald Cobblepot’s thumb. She’s openly contentious of the Penguin when he all but runs Gotham at this point. Only a few people could have gotten away with this without fatal consequences.
She gathers some powerful allies with the intention of overthrowing Penguin. And it works. She becomes the queen of Gotham, taking over the city’s underground. Unfortunately, it’s a short-lived reign when conflict brews among the very allies who helped her take down Penguin, and she ends up dead.
In the true fashion of comic books and their adaptations, Barbara doesn’t say dead for long. After she’s brought back to life she returns ready to take on the city again. Reaching out to Selina and Tabitha, they work together running a weapons racket to rebuild their status. Death seems to have tamed Barbara, she’s more rational with her return. She’s even willing to work under Penguin. If only for a short time until a better opportunity presents itself for her, Tabitha and Selina.
At this point, I think it’s important to note Barbara could have easily fallen into the old stereotypes of the ‘crazy bisexual ex-lover’ or even the ‘villainous queer’. But similar to the way the Carmilla series defies its negative tropes, Gotham’s exploration of these narrative tropes doesn’t feel like it steers into the negative aspects. Gotham also avoids these tropes in a way few other series could. The villains make up a huge portion of series. They are the lungs that breathe life into the series. As much as this series is about Bruce and James growing into the heroes we know they’ll become, it’s also about watching the other characters grow into the villains we know they’ll become.
Barbara earns her place among the villainous elite in Gotham. She’s gone from a mild-mannered Gotham socialite to one of its most conniving criminals.
She’s still a woman capable of deeply caring for someone. But now her way of showing she cares for someone involves fewer words of empathy and more shooting their enemies in the head. She learnt to thrive in a city where so few can even survive. She adapted in ways that not even James has been able to. Her place in the story going forward is still uncertain. The possibility of her and James come back to each other is small but stranger things have happened in this city. Though at this point it seems more likely one of the many colourful adversaries Bruce will face when he truly dons the cowl.
Regardless of where she’s going, watching her get where she is has been a wild and entertaining ride.