There have been a lot of adaptations of Pride & Prejudice, some of which have been faithful to Jane Austen’s original story and setting, while others have brought it to the modern day (the web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries), transplanted the tale to India (Bride & Prejudice) and even added in the undead (Pride & Prejudice & Zombies). Now the story has been retold with a gay twist, and a few other alterations to make it feel more modern.
Elizabeth Bennett has become Ben Bennett, a gay man working as a respected attorney in rural Virginia. He first comes across Lee Darcy when the rough-hewn welder is accused of domestic assault – although neither Lee nor his girlfriend claim to know exactly how she fell and hit her head. Ben doesn’t initially seem impressed with this man, managing to accidentally insult him at the courthouse due to his rather arrogant attitudes and quickness to judge.
As a result, the hard-drinking Ben takes an instant dislike to Lee, as does his homophobic girlfriend. However, the more Lee sees of Ben, the more he begins to believe he misjudged the man, and that it was too easy for both him and the criminal justice system to see him as a wife-beater. As Lee begins to fall for Ben, he starts to hope that maybe Ben can develop feelings for him too – although Darcy is insistent that he is straight.
As you can tell, there are quite a few changes from Austen’s original tale, and not just in terms of the character’s sexuality. Their social station and the societal attitudes are also altered – not least that the original Darcy was rich and aloof, while this Darcy is an alcoholic welder, while some of Austen’s Darcy’s attitudes are transplanted across to Ben Bennett. This allows the tale to explore how we judge people nowadays beyond purely their rigid class position. There’s also a hint towards sexuality in the modern age being the equivalent of marrying outside your class in the past. Indeed, it does a good job of drawing parallels between Ben’s confusion over his sexuality to the original novel’s discussion of the conflict between what people feel society is telling them to do, and what their heart wants them to do.
However, Before The Fall could have done with being a little tighter in both its plot and its characterisations, as while it has some interesting ideas, they have a tendency to float over the film rather than feeling 100% tied into it. There’s also a slight gay-movie sense of melodrama masquerading as romantic longing, which has a tendency to slow the film down and result in it lacking the sense of emotional urgency that might have helped it.
However, it’s still a watchable movie, even if the emotional leaps the characters go through flirt on the edge of believability – which is admittedly an often ignored problem with Austen’s novel. Ethan Sharrett and Chase Conner are also charming as the lead characters. There are times when the movie feels like it’s tipping towards making both Lee and Ben victims of their own lives rather than active participants in them, but the movie always pulls itself back from this, particularly towards the end, helped by committed performance from Sharrett and Conner.
I have a feeling that this won’t become the definitive gay take on Pride & Prejudice, as while it certainly shows the potential of the idea, there seems to be more to be mined from the premise and I’m sure one day someone will have another go. It certainly has its charms and romance, and many will enjoy its sometimes clever twists on a familiar story, as well as its willingness to consider the modern equivalents of what Austen’s novel dealt with. With its sweet earnestness, and the fact you’ll want to know whether Ben and Lee manage to work out their difference, it certainly keeps the viewer watching.
Overall Verdict: Although Before The Fall has a few issues that prevent it from being a complete success, a sense of romance and an interesting modern, gay take on Pride & Prejudice pull it through.
Before The Fall is available to rent/buy via multiple VoD platforms, including iTunes and Google Play
Reviewer: Tim Isaac