A Cinematic Gem
Sumptuously filmed and brilliantly acted, Pride & Prejudice deserves the audience applause it received at the screening my husband and I attended. Jane Austen’s most popular Victorian novel has never graced the screen with such cinematic flair. Although I also enjoyed the 1940 movie with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier as well as the 1995 BBC miniseries co-starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, this new film version emerges as the most entertaining by far.
Credit goes to first-time director Joe Wright and his ability to give the movie a sprightly pace and a wondrous “you-are-there” feel. Austen purists might object to such an approach, but it works for movie fans like me. Keira Knightley (Domino) makes a spirited and out-spoken Elizabeth Bennet, while Matthew MacFayden (TV’s MI-5) simply transforms himself into the haughty Mr. Darcy.
Jane Austen had no idea she created -- with this novel -- the template for most romantic comedies to follow. It’s all about initial misunderstandings that prevent people from achieving happiness. When Elizabeth and Darcy meet at a ball, they form negative first impressions of each other, thus creating serious romantic obstacles to overcome. She’s from a lower class than Darcy and prides herself on being quite perceptive. He’s a man who finds it hard to associate with people outside his social circle.
It’s such fun watching Elizabeth and Darcy find out how wrong they’ve been in their snap judgments. You feel like cheering when they learn about their faults from each other and decide to improve. Knightley and MacFayden do such a good job playing these characters that one critic, MaryAnn Johanson (flickfilosopher.com), calls them the “Lizziest and Darciest” of any actors so far. (However, my daughter -- the world's foremost Austen authority -- insists Greer Garson was a better Lizzy and had trouble accepting the new Darcy.)
Kudos to cinematographer Roman Osin (I Am David) for letting us peek through the windows of the humble Bennet abode at just the right times and for giving us a view of the 1813 British countryside from the vantage point of a circling swing. His gorgeous shot of Elizabeth poised on a windswept cliff with garments and hair flowing is also a stunning visual treat.
Standouts among the fine supporting cast are Brenda Blethyn, Donald Sutherland and Judi Dench. Although it’s difficult to understand Blethyn in some scenes (as usual), she’s certainly convincing as a flighty mother of five daughters whose major concern is marrying them off. Sutherland delivers an excellent portrayal of the sarcastic father who seems lost among all the females, and Dench exudes snobbery as Lady Catherine, Mr. Darcy’s aunt.
I’m surprised at how completely this movie drew me into the genteel rural society of 19th century England. I knew the way everything would end, of course, but still watched with fresh fascination. And, when Pride & Prejudice concluded, I was one of the people applauding most enthusiastically.
(Released by Focus Features and rated “PG” for mild thematic elements.)