Pride and Prejudice – Movie Review

OK. First, let’s get this out of the way: I liked this version better than the BBC mini-series. Gasp?! Sacrilege? Colin Firth is coming to get me? Bring it. Now let me put this preference in perspective. I loved the BBC mini-series—6 hours long, but I have seen it at least twice, once staying up until 2am to finish. Nevertheless, as I found myself completely charmed by Keira Knightley’s warm and natural performance as proud sister Elizabeth Bennet, I knew I was going to enjoy this film even more.

For those of you who haven’t read the original Jane Austen novel (myself included) or seen any of the myriad adaptations/reworkings including the aforementioned quintessential mini-series; the contemporary Bridget Jones’s Diary (book or movie); or the recent Bollywoodization Bride & Prejudice, let me summarize. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Bennet is the second of five sisters whose family is on the bottom end of upper class (a mere unwed daughter away from lower class). The family is obsessed with marriage, especially the mother whose sole mission in life is to have her daughters all married “advantageously” to provide for their financial and social security. Events bring them in contact with a wealthy family, the Bingleys, and their even wealthier friend Mr. Darcy. At first Lizzie is convinced that Darcy is a grumpy, arrogant, mean man to be avoided, but circumstance causes them to cross paths repeatedly and forces Darcy, and especially Lizzie to let go of both pride and prejudice (Ha! See what Austen did there?) and admit their love for each other.

At first I was captivated by how realistic this movie felt. The costumes, rooms, and buildings have a very lived-in look and create more of a sense that this would have been how people actually dressed and lived in those times. On top of that, the performances made the characters feel like people that you might have met if you had visited. Though some of the secondary characters still seem a bit like caricatures, the way they came across made me realize how much more caricaturish they had been in the BBC version.

I was also pleasantly surprised how the movie became more romantic as it went on. Early scenes introduced the characters and society through scenes of conversation and social interaction, but as that had been established, the film moved on to their feelings. That’s when more close-ups, swelling orchestra, and silent tableaus displayed the characters’ expressions over music. I admit that the romance level got a bit much when an open-shirted Darcy strode (or should I say swaggered) across the misty moor at daybreak, but for the most part the gradual transition in tone from a sitting room dramedy to a sweeping romance was effective and engaging.

Going into the film I wasn’t sure that Knightley could pull off a strong performance as Lizzie Bennet. However, as much as I enjoyed Jennifer Ehle’s BBC version, Knightley’s easy smile and comfort with the language had me completely smitten. A scene where she explained to her father how much she loved Darcy was so intimate that I felt like I was intruding. Unfortunately, Matthew MacFadyen as Darcy was the only casting mistake. His “serious” face through the first half was too much of an act and a caricature. Expressions got better as his character softened, but it was too little too late. (If only we could cut Colin Firth from the BBC version and paste him into this one.) Besides that and a few other minor quibbles, this adaptation made for a nearly perfect movie experience that was a delightful surprise to me. (4.5 out of 5)

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