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PRIDE & PREJUDICE

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen, Brenda Blethyn, Donald Sutherland, Rosamund Pike, Jena Malone, Dame Judi Dench, Simon Woods
Director: Joe Wright
Audio: English, Spanish, or French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Universal
Features: Bennet Family Portrait, Jane Austen Ahead of her Time, Behind the Scenes at the Ball, HBO featurette, directory commentary.
Length: 129 minutes
Release Date: February 28, 2006

"One of these days, Lizzie, someone will catch your eye, and then you'll have to watch your tongue."

Film ****

Only a very brave (or very foolhardy) filmmaker would contemplate yet another remake of Jane Austen's literary masterpiece Pride & Prejudice.  Consider some of the more beloved incarnations from the past - the timeless 1940 classic with Greer Garson and Lawrence Olivier, or even the 1995 BBC version with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth.  And then, we must not forget the recent Bollywood twist for Bride and Prejudice and the popular contemporary update in Bridget Jones's Diary, starring Renée Zellweger and Colin Firth (again!).

There has been no lack of Pride & Prejudice adaptations, but that apparently did not discourage director Joe Wright from delivering a new cinematic rendition, this time starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen.  That this film succeeds so wondrously is a tribute not only to its strong production values and fine all-around performances but also to the timeless and universal appeal of an English literary classic that continues to retain its exceptional charm even through numerous re-tellings.

Generally, as a very long novel, Pride & Prejudice is best served by the mini-series format.  Barring that, the 2005 theatrical version, at 127 minutes, still manages to capture the essence of the Jane Austen tale, despite some necessary condensation in the narrative and a rather brisk pace.  The basic story remains the same, though - the deliciously reluctant romance between free-minded country lass Lizzie Bennet and wealthy yet taciturn Mr. Darcy.  The pure joy of the story lies in its ability to draw audiences in as we root for this unlikely couple to somehow end up in each other's tender embrace, a fitting conclusion to any romance.

Lizzie Bennet (Keira Knightley) is one of five sisters.  Invited to a ball one evening, she meets the most inimitably eligible Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen).  Unfortunately, as first impressions go, this one is a particular disaster.  An instant animosity flares up between Lizzie and Darcy.  Lizzie fancies him an arrogant sort, while he in turn considers her barely tolerable, particularly in light of her inferiority of class.  While this unlikely pair might thereafter hope to have no further occasion to cross paths again, an inconvenient courtship blossoms between Lizzie's pretty sister, Jane (Rosamund Pike), and Darcy's smitten best friend, Charles Bingley (Simon Woods).

Lizzie must heretofore tolerate Darcy's presence, even if she refuses to forgive him his faults.  Darcy, for his part, is suspicious of the motivation for the Bennet sisters, particularly in light of the ridiculous ramblings of their gold-digging mother (delightfully played by Brenda Blethyn).  Not too surprisingly, Darcy discreetly attempts to sabotage the relationship between Jane and his good friend Bingley, considering his actions to be a noble gesture designed to save his friend from a possibly ill-advised match.  Darcy's prejudice, thus, clouds his judgment, much as Lizzie's pride clouds hers.

Needless to say, misunderstandings and misgivings separate Lizzie and Darcy for much of the film, but love has a way of breaking through all barriers.  We the audience are privy to subtle clues revealing Darcy's change of heart and true feelings for Lizzie long before she herself begins to suspect any such emotions.  The film's ending may be a foregone conclusion, but the sheer joy of the film is derived whole-heartedly from the emotional journey to arrive at that point.

Overall, the cast for Pride & Prejudice is very good.  Keira Knightley is quite enchanting as Lizzie Bennet, and there is a palpable chemistry between her portrayal of Lizzie Bennet and Macfadyen's take on Darcy.  Rosamund Pike, as older sister Jane Bennet, is rather luminous as well, although the romance between Jane and Bingley is somewhat marginalized in the film.  The roles of the remaining sisters likewise are reduced, too, but not so much that the amusing characterizations of prudish Mary (Talulah Riley) and the two flighty younger sisters, Lydia (Jena Malone) and Kitty (Carey Mulligan), are not immediately recognizable.  Other notables in the cast include Donald Sutherland as the sensible Bennet patriarch and Dame Judi Dench in a cameo role as the most intimidating Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

One question that many fans of the Jane Austen novel will wish answered is whether this film is superior to the 1995 BBC version, generally considered the definitive version.  It is not.  The performances are nearly as good, and the direction by Joe Wright is definitely faithful to the tone and spirit of the novel.  However, the BBC miniseries simply possessed the undeniable luxury of a much longer running length.  Darcy's emotions for Lizzie remain ambiguous for much longer, thereby prolonging the delectable suspense and delivering a soaring sense of satisfaction once he finally "wins the girl."  Likewise, we learn more of the Bennet family situation and are allowed to hear much more of that wonderful Austen dialogue.  However, if there is one area in which the 2005 film is clearly superior, it is that film's cinematography.  The images are quite beautiful to behold and aid immeasurably in weaving a romantic spell over the proceedings.  Pride & Prejudice earned well-deserved Oscar nominations for Art Direction and Costume Design.  In short, Wright's film is about as good as a two hour adaptation of the Jane Austen novel can be, and there is room aplenty for fans of the novel to embrace both the BBC version and this new adaptation.

Video ****

"We are all fools in love."

Just perfect.  This is a wonderful transfer of a lush and beautifully photographed film.  Many scenes have a painterly quality reminiscent of another recent period piece, Girl with a Pearl Earring.  Colors are vibrant and glowing, and much of the scenery is quite awe-inspiring.  There are a few CGI shots, but one would never know it without first listening to Joe Wright's director commentary track.  All in all, Pride & Prejudice is a visually-splendid film that would hold up perfectly well even in the absence of sound.

Audio ****

With occasionally over-lapping dialogue delivered at a rather alarmingly rapid clip, all in very vernacular English, Pride & Prejudice can be a difficult film to follow.  Anyone unfamiliar with the text of the novel (or possessing a less-than-confident grasp of articulated English) will be very grateful for the availability of subtitles (in English, French, or Spanish).  The audio track for the film is otherwise quite superb, nicely filling out the dynamic environment during busy sequences such as the all-important dance and focusing on dialogue during more intimate scenes.

Features ** ½

The DVD opens with previews for On a Clear Day (about a man who swims the English Channel), Prime, the television show Medium, and Brokeback Mountain.

Bennet Family Portrait (6 min.) is a quick series of small interview clips from the various cast and crew members about the film.  Some of this material is repeated in an HBO featurette (13 min.) about the making of the film as well.  For biographical information about Jane Austen, check out Jane Austen Ahead of her Time (8 min.).  This short featurette points out career highlights for the celebrated English novelist and the influential and universal appeal of her works.

Behind the Scenes at the Ball (6 min.) focuses mostly on the actresses in the film and the warm camaraderie and sense of family that developed between them during the film's production.

Lastly, Joe Wright participates in a director commentary that is generally reactionary to the on-screen action and sounds.  He occasionally reveals greater details about certain setups or his own dissatisfaction with (or admiration for) certain scenes, but this is otherwise a rather perfunctory commentary track.

Summary:

Pride & Prejudice is a fine adaptation of the classic Jane Austen novel.  The film may not surpass the supreme excellence of the 1995 BBC television version, but it is still quite romantic and very charming.  Easily one of the best films of 2005 and highly recommended!

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