An orchestrated, easily flowing film of romance and femininity, director Joe Wright’s newest take on Jane Austen’s classic tale of love and marriage circa Georgian England leaves me wondering what it could possibly offer for those of us who are not starry – eyed school girls. The courtships are slow and steady, the subtlety is anxiety-inducing and the setting is perfect – that is if you’re the understated historical romance type.
The thing with Pride and Prejudice is that an overt desire to see such a film usually means a prior familiarity with the movie’s plot. But for the sake of continuity, I’ll give a basic overview. Jane (Rosamund Pike), Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), Mary (Talulah Riley), Kitty (Carey Mulligan) and Lydia Bennet (Jena Malone) are five sisters living a life of leisure and constant husband hunting in the English countryside alongside their parents, quiet Mr. Bennet (Donald Sutherland) and flighty Mrs. Bennet (Brenda Blethyn). Amid unassuming days of ribbon buying, handkerchief dropping and gossiping, two young (and rich!) bachelors come into town in the form of Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods) and Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFayden). We immediately realize that kind-hearted, endearingly awkward (in a Hugh Grant way) Mr. Bingley is exactly right for the beautiful, reserved but loving Jane Bennet and that haughty Mr. Darcy is the only eligible bachelor who can stand up to Elizabeth’s scathing wit. Through many trials such as disapproving relatives, inopportune weather, the mysterious Mr. Wickham played by a very Orlando Bloom looking Rupert Friend and lengthy prideful monologues, the couples struggle to find happiness and of course, get married.
Enjoyable for those who know what they’re getting into, Pride and Prejudice offers a charming remake of Austen’s famous novel. It’s inevitable that the film will be compared against its recent predecessor, a certain sprawling BBC epic with a certain scene that launched a thousand rewind sessions courtesy of a certain British actor and a certain wet shirt. MacFayden’s Mr. Darcy is broody and forlorn, a contrast to Colin Firth’s cutting civility while Knightley’s Lizzie Bennet, always rosy-cheeked and mischievously impish in her vivacity is a refreshing update from Jennifer Ehle’s more reserved take the character. Other highlights include a deliciously air-headed Malone as flirty Lydia and Judi Dench channeling upper-crust bitchy as only a Dame of the Order of the British Empire can by playing Lady Catherine de Bourg, aunt of Mr. Darcy.
While some (Wright, himself included in the bunch) might dismiss Knightley as “too pretty” to play a girl characterized as only “tolerable,” her energy, spirit and trademark slightly-parted-lips expression of intensity will eventually convince you that no one could have done it better. Often framing his characters within spectacular canvases of physical beauty or and indulging in lengthy, roving shots with no dialogue, Wright creates a complete atmosphere for his characters that connotes more substance and solemnity than what I’m used to. The humor is slight as a result and the overall film becomes less fluffy, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Different from the typical Austen novel-to-film adaptation, Wright’s Pride and Prejudice doesn’t have shallow, dismissible feel of typical drawing room productions. Instead, the movie resonates with a genuine aura that emphasizes the personal, emotional struggle of characters over say, their choice of ball gowns or their carefully coiffed hair. Still, my personal satisfaction with the movie stems from a much biased perspective as a life long fan of Austen’s original novel. For what it is, Wright’s film is filled with believable chemistry, lengthy yearning and stolen glances as well as a rather updated ending sans the usual marriage parade fare. Still, don’t imagine Pride and Prejudice to be any more than what you think it is. This is romantic comedy before the genre became stale and no amount of window dressing can really change this one truth.
Archived article by Tracy Zhang
Arts and Entertainment Editor