Pride and Prejudice
English Title: Pride and Prejudice
Country of Origin: Britain
Studio: Universal, Working Title/Studio Canal
Director: Joe Wright
Screenplay: Deborah Moggach
Cinematographer: Roman Osin
Editor: Chris Dickens
Runtime: 129 minutes
Twenty-year-old Elizabeth Bennet is intelligent, witty and independently minded. She is also in need of a husband. When her father passes away, Longbourn, the Bennet estate, will not be left to her and her four sisters, but instead will pass to her father's unctuous cousin Mr Collins, a clergyman, who hopes to take Elizabeth's hand in marriage. Elizabeth, meanwhile, has become interested in Mr Wickham, a charming military officer, while her soft-spoken sister Jane has caught the eye of Mr Bingley, a wealthy young man vacationing near Longbourn.
Mr Bingley is accompanied by his friend, the taciturn rich landowner Mr Darcy, whom Lizzie finds prideful and exceedingly unpleasant. As Mr Bingley courts her sister, Elizabeth keeps running into the stuffy Mr Darcy at social functions. She warms to him on realizing that he matches her in wit and intensity of opinion. Yet startling revelations threaten the future of Longbourn, the good name of the Bennet's and the burgeoning affection between Elizabeth and Mr Darcy.
Pride and Prejudice is an Austen-inspired film that rises above the staid conventions of so many previous adaptations of the author's work. The characters in director Joe Wright's film sweat in their overcrowded ballrooms, behave raucously at times, and share their picture perfect estates with unruly livestock. Austen adaptations have often been dry affairs, with conversation and costuming taking centre stage at the expense of the vitality and romance of the author's works. This 2005 version of the classic novel features less of Austen's text, but it also offers an earthier and richly sensual take on the story. It reinvigorates the text, as did the similarly lush Sense and Sensibility (1995) from director Ang Lee, and reminds modern viewers why Austen's works continue to captivate readers and audiences. The cast is uniformly excellent with Brenda Blethyn and Donald Sutherland standing out in particular as the seemingly mismatched Mr and Mrs Bennet.
Director Joe Wright (Atonement, 2007) brings a dynamic visual style to Pride and Prejudice with a restless camera that recalls the work of American virtuoso Brian De Palma. A central scene where the Bennet's attend a ball at the vacation home of Mr Bingley (Simon Woods) is a visual treat as the camera swoops and glides through the spacious estate in one-seemingly unbroken take. The scene is not simply technically impressive, however, as it also conveys the rapidly changing fates of the Bennet sisters as they simultaneously humiliate themselves at different locations throughout the home and endanger their romantic futures.
A key to the film's success is its commitment to showing the evolution of Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) from giggling girl to wiser and more reserved woman. In doing so, this film remains truer to the text. In the excellent 1996 BBC version, a favourite of Austen fans, Elizabeth is a woman of substantial bearing and character throughout, making Mr. Darcy's initial rejection of her seem capricious and cruel. The Elizabeth in this version must mature, as must Mr Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen), making their path from rivals to devoted spouses seem more organic and less like a necessity of the script. Both Knightley and Macfadyen convincingly convey their characters' paths to maturity as well as imbue them with significant passion.
By creating a lush, visually-compelling narrative, this adaptation loses some of the dry and cutting dialogue for which Austen is known, but delivers a fiercely romantic take on the classic story that has delighted, and continues to delight, generations of readers and viewers.
Author of this review: Randall Yelverton
Peer reviewer: Randall Yelverton