It's in his kiss: US opts for lingering embrace

So it is anyone's guess what the 19th-century chronicler of manners would have made of the controversy besetting the new film version of her best-loved novel, Pride and Prejudice.

Not content with the refined kiss between Keira Knightley's Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew MacFadyen's Mr Darcy, which British audiences waited 127 minutes for during the new Working Title dramatisation, producers have granted US cinema-goers a far longer smooch, with the two canoodling in a moonlit haze as Darcy repeatedly sighs Miss Bennet's name. "You got the more sugary [ending]. The Brits hated it," MacFadyen told US critics after a test screening of the US version, which runs to 135 minutes - eight minutes longer than the more discreet British equivalent.

But both clinches take matters further than Jane Austen, who breaks off from quoted dialogue when relations between Miss Bennet and Mr Darcy threaten to become a little steamy, and continues with the report: "He [Darcy] expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man in violent love can be supposed to."

The film's distributors in the US might think that the American public prefers plenty of sugar but the Jane Austen Society of North America has revealed that it most certainly does not. "It has nothing at all of Jane Austen; it is inconsistent with the first two-thirds of the film, insults the audience with its banality, and ought to be cut before release," fulminated former society president Elsa Solender.

Other members of the 450-strong society are said to have been so taken aback that they broke out laughing during screening of the film, which opened in select US cinemas at the weekend and will be released nationwide on 23 November.

But feelings about the kiss were more mixed among the non-purists in the American audience. "It wouldn't have been a movie without it," Gail Hunt told one newspaper. "I was waiting for it."

"It was such a touching moment," added Francine Zawatsky.

Even the men seemed to like it - among them Willis Ritter, who declared: "This was obviously right after the wedding night."

Evidence has emerged in recent days that some Brits would also like to take a closer look at the smooch. An online campaign has been launched, at www.petitiononline.com, calling for the kiss to be included in all DVD releases.

The petition, addressed to director Joe Wright and Working Title, is described as "a call to arms ... for the British, Irish and European fans who have been denied the 'international' ending scene in the new film version of Pride & Prejudice".

It asks: "What did us poor Austen aficionados (in the country of her birth no less) do to deserve such injustice?"

The petition had attracted around 550 signatures by yesterday evening.

The strictly proper Austen always glided over those moments when her characters were on the brink of making spectacles of themselves in public. Even in her more "romantic" last novel Persuasion, she cut out Wentworth's line, "Anne, my own dear Anne!" from an early draft and replaced it with cooler indirect speech in the final version of the text.

But artistic license has been inevitable amid the television and film adaptations of the novel during the past decade. Comfortably the most memorable scene in Andrew Davies' 1995 TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice - Darcy's wet-shirted emergence from the lake and Elizabeth's alarmed look towards his crotch - was nowhere to be found in the novel.

And then there was that kiss, the promise of which had the nation enraptured for weeks and seemed just reward for those who had ploughed through 359 minutes of viewing.

"It would be such a disappointment if, after six episodes, they didn't even kiss," Davies said. "Everybody wants them to."

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