Pride & Prejudice
2005, PG, 127 min. Directed by Joe Wright. Starring Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen, Brenda Blethyn, Donald Sutherland, Rosamund Pike, Jena Malone, Tom Hollander, Judi Dench.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Nov. 11, 2005
This fresh adaptation shakes the dust off Jane Austen’s early 19th-century novel of manners and gives it a good airing out. The result is a witty and lovesick skirmish of the sexes that exceeds all expectations. The prickly courtship between the headstrong Lizzie Bennett (Knightley, recently seen in Domino) and the sullen Mr. Darcy (Macfadyen) is one of English literature’s great romantic entanglements, and this screen version of Pride & Prejudice imbues their rocky relationship with a vitality that’s missing from most paint-by-number love stories these days. While the class and gender stratifications in Austen’s world may be uncomfortably retro for a contemporary audience, the film makes good use of them in contrast to the more egalitarian interactions between Lizzie and Darcy, who come to see each other as equals rather than chattel and breadwinner, respectively. Indeed, for all the talk about a woman’s need for marital protection and the manner in which the Bennett daughters flutter about every time there’s a bachelor afoot, there’s a plucky feminism in this movie, embodied by Knightley’s eye-opening performance as Lizzie. Her swanlike neck and beautiful brown eyes may recall Audrey Hepburn, but the actress that Knightley evokes the most here (though she looks nothing like her) is the other Hepburn – there’s a fire in her belly, a softness in her melancholy, and a mixture of grace and awkwardness in her bearing that’s downright endearing. (She’d make a great Jo in a remake of Little Women, not that we need one.) Macfayden’s hulking moodiness is a fitting counterpart to Knightley’s Lizzie – by slow measure, the gruff façade he’s so carefully cultivated crumbles upon realizing the depth of his feeling for the woman who acts as though he were the devil himself. Director Wright is a relative newcomer to film, but you wouldn’t know it. He has a good storytelling sense and keeps things moving fairly well, except in the third act, when the pride and prejudice that keep the would-be lovers apart reaches a point of frustration for the audience. Wright also makes use of tracking shots to wonderful, illuminating effect, particularly in a scene at a party in which the little dramas involving several of the film’s characters play out. It is no small feat that this film rejuvenates a work that most of us remember only as required reading in our sophomore year in college. No question about it, Pride & Prejudice does Jane Austen proud.