Film-Forward Review: [PRIDE & PREJUDICE]

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Keira Knightley & Matthew Macfadyen
as Elizabeth Bennet & Mr. Darcy
Photo: Focus

Directed by: Joe Wright.
Produced by: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner & Paul Webster.
Written by: Deborah Moggach, based on the novel by Jane Austen.
Director of Photography: Roman Osin.
Edited by: Paul Tothill.
Music by: Dario Marianelli.
Released by: Focus.
Language: with English subtitles.
Country of Origin: UK. 128 min. Rated: PG.
With: Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen, Brenda Blethyn, Donald Sutherland, Rosamund Pike, Jena Malone, Tom Hollander, Penelope Wilton & Judi Dench.

Why remake the Jane Austen comedy of manners so soon after the acclaimed BBC miniseries of barely a decade ago? If you somehow guessed Keira Knightley, you're probably right. The actress takes on the famed heroine Elizabeth Bennet with a clinched mouth and an appropriate teenage awkwardness. But the real find is Matthew Macfadyen as the aristocratic Mr. Darcy. Director Joe Wright wisely keeps Mr. Darcy lost in crowds until he declares his love for the penniless Elizabeth. It's no wonder her heart melts as this tall, strapping man's voice quavers. Close-ups take full advantage of his smoldering intensity.

But on the whole, the film lacks the buoyancy and gracefulness of both the 1995 adaptation and perhaps the best of the recent Austen adaptations, Sense and Sensibility. In Tom Holland's strained turn as the unctuous Rev. Collins, there seem to be pauses for laughter. Family members eavesdropping through a key hole is funny once, but not three times. And Elizabeth's two frivolous sisters, Lydia and Kitty, are directed with such a heavy hand, repetitiously laughing at anything and everything, that you would think they lived solely on rum punch. However, there are inspired moments with Judi Dench as the formidable Lady Catherine and Brenda Blethyn as Elizabeth's loutish ambitious mother. Blethyn indulges in theatrical melodramatics, as the mother does in the book, but never loses sight on her urgent mission: to find husbands for her five daughters, all without a dowry.

Plot wise, nothing crucial has been excised from the novel, save for the diminution of Mr. Wickham and the indifference of Lizzie's father. Missing quotes and a few story changes will be noticed by Austen fans, but no alteration will set off serious alarms. But unlike the miniseries, with its spacious running time, many of novel's crucial confrontations are clipped. The screenplay by and large maintains the outline of the novel, but not its pace. The last third of the book is a page-turner as all of Elizabeth's judgments regarding the aloof Mr. Darcy turn over. Even in the film's last act, languorous tracking shots yet again capture the Bennet family in their daily life, which has been rustically downscaled from previous versions. While Elizabeth waits for a sign of affection from Mr. Darcy, the momentum comes to a halt as she sits on her swing, pondering. But in spite of its unevenness, this version is head and shoulders above Patricia Rozema's revisionist Mansfield Park and last year's dour and dispiriting Vanity Fair, also set in the Regency period. Kent Turner
November 11, 2005



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