From MGM’s Oscar-winning 1940 adaptation to last year’s Lily James-led zombie-fest, Jane Austen’s canonised 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice has long proven malleable source material for an expansive range of big- and small-screen interpretations of both the faithful and exceedingly loose varieties.
With Before the Fall, writer-director Byrum Geisler continues this tradition by reimagining the story’s central romance as one between two men – attorney Ben Bennett and closeted welder Lee Darcy – and shifting the story from late-1700s rural England to a picturesque modern-day Southwest Virginia. Speaking to FilmDoo, Geisler shares his thoughts on the new release.
When did you first read Austen’s Pride and Prejudice?
In 1980. I was in 11th grade and my English class read Pride and Prejudice and watched a mini-series on Masterpiece Theatre of a BBC production of it. I had not heard of Jane Austen. I thought it was incredible.
Do you feel that the Austen-era stigma regarding marrying someone of a different social standing is in some ways comparable to modern day stigmas around sexuality?
Yes. It must have been extremely difficult for someone of the upper class to marry someone beneath them. Despite the progress we have made as a society in accepting non-heterosexuals, I believe many LGBT people find it extremely difficult to reveal this aspect of themselves.
Would you say that the sexual repression observed in men like Lee can often stem in part from cultural pressures to live up to a certain model of masculinity?
I think that is clearly a part of it. I also think it stems from a fear that the people you care about will stop loving you if they know you are gay. The further you go in life pretending to be straight, the harder it is to own it.
How do you feel the film’s rural Virginia landscape complements this story?
In Pride and Prejudice, the characters frequently take walks in the English countryside. Jane Austen uses these occasions to have the characters reveal their more intimate thoughts. The Appalachian Trail passes through this part of Virginia and there are many other amazing hiking trails here. It seemed like a perfect fit to update the walks to hikes. I also wanted the film to be located in Southwest Virginia because we are unfairly depicted on film as uneducated and violent. I think filmmakers propagate that stereotype to artificially create drama in films located here. I wanted a more honest representation of this region on film. I also wanted to show the incredible beauty here.
Why do you think Pride and Prejudice has been a source for so many varying adaptations and re-imaginings over the years?
It is such a masterpiece. Jane Austen wrote a timeless novel about the obstacles that attempt to destroy love: social disapproval, misconceptions of others, internal feelings of inadequacy. These issues really have not changed and they apply universally to all couples, straight or gay. I thought it would be interesting to tell the story of two couples, one straight and one gay. Pride and Prejudice was the perfect vehicle for that.
I started shifting aspects of the original story to their mirror opposite: location, time-period, socio-economic status, sex and sexuality. It was amazing how well the basic story of Pride and Prejudice worked to explore these same ideas in a modern LGBT-themed film set in Southwest Virginia. Jane Austen was an absolute genius. I believe people will find her work relevant forever.
Do you have any new projects in the works?
Yes, another film for sure.
Watch Before the Fall on FilmDoo