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26 July 2006

Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Keira Knightley (Elizabeth), Matthew Macfadyen (Darcy), Donald Sutherland (Mr. Bennet), Brenda Blethyn (Mrs. Bennet)

Directed by Jon Wright

From IMDB: "The story is based on Jane Austen's novel about five sisters - Jane (Rosamund Pike), Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty and Lydia Bennet - in Georgian England. Their lives are turned upside down when a wealthy young man, Mr. Bingley (Simon Wood), and his best friend, Mr. Darcy, arrive in their neighborhood."

Pre-viewing comment: It cannot compare to Firth and Ehle's definitive six-hour "P&P" - I might as well confess that right up front. I will attempt to judge this film on its own merits.

Post-viewing comments: Seriously, I wrote the above statement before watching this film, knowing that my mental comparisons would be thick. No need to worry. The silly sods got me again. I should just give up trying to resist these damn films.

I am not a subtle romantic. My main complaint with "Wives and Daughters" was the appropriate, gentle, historically accurate LACK OF KISSING. While I do not necessarily need to see two people shagging on a chaise lounge, a little something extra in the realm of the physical is appropriate to distinguish burning, passionate, all-consuming love from ordinary drawing room politeness.

This film lives in a place somewhere between the chaise lounge and the drawing room, in that it was fairly more gushing and emotional than any proper Austen adaptation should be. "You have bewitched me, body and soul," says Darcy. Nice line, but Mr. Darcy would not have said it. He did say, "You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you" - but not in this film. In fact, my main and considerable gripe with this adaptation has to do with the language. Some of the modern, only half-heartedly Austen dialogue - in that they made sure a few key lines were present but everything else was contemporary - was truly cringe-worthy.

More overwrought gushing: Mr. Bennet practically cries when Elizabeth talks to him about her engagement, and Charlotte Lucas's bold defense of her marriage to Mr. Collins was particularly over the top. A woman in her position would not have needed to explain her motives to such a melodramatic extent; people would have understood without enumeration. The first proposal scene was also quite a shock. They almost kiss. And it surprises them both. Fantastic! Like I said, it was totally out of keeping with the gentle restraint of Austen, but it worked within its own context.

And then there was the concluding scene. I had heard rumors of its completly bogus, un-Austen quality - TRUE rumors, in fact, in that the scene does not exist in the original novel - but it was off the chart in terms of hot, sparkling, fun romance. And frankly, I do not think it was completely out of keeping with the book. Austen does make mention, a little, of the Darcys' marital relationship - but it is not what you think. No sex; just more banter of a highly entertaining variety.

However, some of the scenes were tempered with an attempt at subtlety. Darcy's second proposal meets not with gushing tears or flirtatious cuteness from Elizabeth, but she simply takes his hand, kisses it, and says that his fingers are cold. End scene. Seeing as how Wright focused three different times on the physical contact between them - the mere touching of hands - that Elizabeth's acceptance of Darcy focused on their joined hands was entirely in keeping with the tone established by the film.

Knightley did a fine job of becoming a spirited, fun Elizabeth, although the little toothpick certainly cut a different figure! She was not nearly so smart as Ehle but was somehow less... self-contained. Knightley's Elizabeth was an active member of the family, not so distant from her sisters like some sort of extra-clever outsider. As Lydia drove away with Mr. Wickham for Newcastle, this Elizabeth even hugged her mother. The horror! It was quite tender and mollified Mrs. Bennet's excessive shrillness, in this case played to flapping, anxious perfection by Brenda Blethyn. Knightley was, however, quite horribly flattened by Dame Judi as Lady Catherine. The poor little girl could not keep up.

Macfadyen warmed on me by degrees. He is not Colin Firth, and I will forgive him that. However, his youthfulness reminded me, perhaps, of what Firth's Darcy would have been like some ten years earlier: a little less pompous, a little less sure of himself. The change from arse to hero was less pronounced here, but a more mature Darcy would have swamped Knightley's relatively lightweight (literal and figurative) Elizabeth.

In fact, the entire cast was considerably younger and more in keeping with the sisters' 15-22 year old range from the novel. Only the woman who played Jane, Rosamund Pike, was older than 21 at the time of filming. Pike played Jane as a completely appropriate shrinking violet, which stood at odds with her character, Lady Harriet, in "Wives and Daughters." As Lady Harriet, Pike was a dynamic, forceful, fantastic example of aristocratic manners and subdued temper, so this timid and peaceable Jane demonstrated her range. I will say the same about Tom Hollander as Mr. Collins. As Osborne in "Wives and Daughters," he was charming, self-effacing, and pleasantly tragic, but here he was, well, Mr. Collins.

Two items of note, both of which go toward this version's credit. First, Wright decided to set the film about 20 years before the novel's 1813 publication date, the time frame utilized for BBC version - hence different costumes, hair styles, and general overall appearance. No sense in remaking things to a curiously static extent. Also, this film created a more robust feel. The opening public ball at Meryton was portrayed as a raucous, fun event where kids ran between the legs of the dancers and folks shouted across the room. The contrast between that open, fun, unpretentious atmosphere and the arrival of Mr. Darcy & Co. made for a nice demonstration of his influence and power. The Bennet house was in constant disarray with people running about, chickens in the yard, laundry on the line, and sewing materials left around. The sense of folksy realism was clever and grounding, whereas the BBC production sometimes made me wonder as to any real difference in station between Darcy and Elizabeth. Her house was nice, too!

One last item of note was that this film, at only 130 minutes, seriously condensed the entire process of storytelling, obviously. While The Look was noticeably reduced, too, the more annoying bits like Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins were reduced as well, for a more stream-lined journey between dislike and love.

I will not go so far as to say this was a typically Hollywood attempt at Austen, because it was somewhere in between the BBC/Hollywood extreme. This was a more sentimental, Cliff's Notes version of Pride and Prejudice, yes, but I am not displeased. The novel is for romantic women what James Bond is described as for men. James Bond: the guy every man wants to be and every woman wants to bed. Elizabeth Bennet: the heroine every woman wants to be, and who gets the guy no thinking female can resist. I do not know if I wanted to be Knightley's Elizabeth, but - I grudgingly admit - I would not mind Macfadyen's Darcy. Mission accomplished, but Austen purists beware!

Blogger Tess said...

Funny--I very much disliked the ending. But overall I agree with your assessment. I prefer the BBC version, of course, but Mr. Darcy is my favorite literary hero and I never mind a chance to see a new version.


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