Pride & Prejudice
Director : Joe Wright
Screenplay : Deborah Moggach (based on the novel by Jane Austen)
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2005
Stars : Keira Knightley (Elizabeth Bennet), Matthew MacFadyen (Mr. Darcy), Brenda Blethyn (Mrs. Bennet), Donald Sutherland (Mr. Bennet), Rosamund Pike (Jane Bennet), Jena Malone (Lydia Bennet), Tom Hollander (Mr. Collins), Simon Woods (Mr. Bingley), Kelly Reilly (Caroline Bingley), Penelpe Wilton (Mrs. Gardiner), Judi Dench (Lady Catherine de Bourg), Talulah Riley (Mary Bennet), Carey Mulligan (Kitty Bennet)
Keira Knightley is a naturally beautiful actress, but when she laughs, her face creases in a way that makes her look slightly devilish (or at least wickedly mischievous), which is why she is so perfectly cast as Elizabeth Bennett, the stubborn, willful, fiercely independent heroine of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. Originally written in 1813, Austen’s story about the folly of first impressions still resonates in today’s shallow think-fast society, which is probably why filmmakers keep coming back to it again and again (this is the ninth screen incarnation of the novel, including India’s musical Bride and Prejudice).
Like most of Austen’s work, Pride and Prejudice is primarily a comedy of manners in which the characters strive for improvement, but constantly make life more difficult for themselves. Elizabeth is one of five sisters in the Bennett family, all of whom are striving for marriage because their parents (Brenda Blethyn and Donald Sutherland) are not “in possession of a good fortune” and therefore cannot guarantee them a future. Mr. Bennett is amiable and acts somewhat clueless, even though he is perfectly aware of the stakes involved, while Mrs. Bennett twitters and worries about her daughters’ futures. The difference between them and their approach to their daughters is never so apparent than in their responses to Elizabeth’s rejection of a marriage proposal by her cousin, Mr. Collins (Tom Holland), whose comically depicted short stature is a perfect visual shorthand for his repellent nature. One is almost forced to slip into six-grade girl parlance and just call him “icky.”
The oldest daughter, Jane (Rosamund Pike), thinks she has found a perfect match with the young, single, and wealthy, but undeniably goofy Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods), who brings with him to a ball one night his friend, the single and even more wealthy, but aloof Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen). Misreading his aloofness as arrogance, Elizabeth immediately determines that she detests Mr. Darcy and tries to have nothing to do with him. Mr. Darcy, full of his own pride, responds in such a way that simply reinforces Elizabeth’s first-impression prejudice, dooming them to a long bout of passive-aggressive conflict that masks their obvious suitability for each other.
It is somewhat surprising that the filmmakers would tackle Pride & Prejudice since it was so done just 10 years ago by the BBC in a five-hour miniseries starring Colin Firth that was as praised for Firth’s scene in a wet shirt as it was for its fidelity and beauty. Part of what distinguishes this new version, aside from its streamlined narrative, is director Joe Wright’s more dirty, realistic approach to Austen’s material, in which he infuses the romantic material with a sense of grit and grime that is often lacking in well-pressed Masterpiece Theatre-style renditions of 19th-century romances. There is a clear visual distinction between the wealthy and the financially strapped, and Wright captures well the emotional essence of always striving for the next level and the absolute heartbreak when business gets in the way of true love.
Working with cinematographer Roman Osin, Wright also gives Pride & Prejudice a marvelous sense of fluidity. The lengthy tracking shot through the ball scene near the beginning of the film, which tells us largely without dialogue exactly what is happening with each major character, is a masterpiece of uncut narrative efficiency on par with Martin Scorsese’s heralded Copacabana shot in GoodFellas (1990) or the opening of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958). Osin also captures several marvelous moments of painterly CinemaScope beauty, turning the misty, sun-dappled English countryside into a breathy metaphor for the characters’ passions. Those who love a good romantic rush will surely swoon at the moment when Elizabth is alone on the moor and Mr. Darcy slowly emerges from the mist like a dream figure, bringing with him one last opportunity for the two of them to reconcile their mistakes and find true happiness together. Never has an unexpected kiss on the hand been so simultaneously erotic and redemptive.
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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