Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen in Pride & Prejudice (2005)




(director/writer: Joe Wright; screenwriters: from the novel by Jane Austen/Deborah Moggach; cinematographer: Roman Osin; editor: Paul Tothill; music: Dario Marianelli; cast: Keira Knightley (Elizabeth Bennet), Matthew Macfadyen (Mr. Darcy), Brenda Blethyn (Mrs. Bennet), Donald Sutherland (Mr. Bennet), Tom Hollander (Mr. Collins), Rosamund Pike (Jane Bennet), Jena Malone (Lydia Bennet), Talulah Riley (Mary Bennet), Carey Mulligan (Kitty Bennet), Judi Dench (Lady Catherine de Bourg), Simon Woods (Mr. Bingley), Kelly Reilly (Caroline Bingley), Claudie Blakley (Charlotte Lucas), Rupert Friend (Mr. Wickham); Runtime: 127; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Tim Bevan/Eric Fellner/Paul Webster; Focus Features; 2005-UK/USA)

“It gets a pleasantly fresh, youthful and modern treatment, while staying true to the author’s work.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The film is based on Jane Austen’s still popular 1813 novel of five sisters from an economically strapped family (by upper class standards) trying to better their economic circumstances by finding suitable husbands among the British upper class in rural Hertfordshire. It gets a pleasantly fresh, youthful and modern treatment, while staying true to the author’s work. Joe Wright is the 33-year-old director, in his auspicious feature film debut. The last true Austen screen version was the elegant 1940 one directed by Robert Z. Leonard (one of six versions), starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier; in 2004 there was the silly but lively Bollywood musical Bride and Prejudice loosely based on Austen. There was also a successful BBC miniseries version some ten years ago that ran for five hours and starred Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. This lushly filmed version manages to get uniformly excellent performances from the ensemble cast, portray a highly satisfying romance story and in a lighthearted way offer a well-observed social satire of the period.

It opens as the camera pans the fading-colored brick country house of the Bennets that has seen its better days and the camera reveals how messy the grounds are with pigs and other farm animals being maintained as necessities. The scheming fluttery matriarch is played by Brenda Blethyn, as a crude and overbearing mom who has one thing on her little mind: marry off all her daughters to the best prospects in any way she can. The rueful patriarch is played by Donald Sutherland, who has found a way to block out his wife’s nagging and coarse way of negotiating a marriage for their daughters by quietly remaining in the background and using his wry humor as a weapon.

Things perk up in the Bennet household when they all attend a ball, where their new upper-class very wealthy neighbor, the amiable but bumbling, Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods), his cultured sister Caroline and the handsome but snobbish and enigmatic best friend Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen) attend. Bingley courts the oldest sister, the beautiful but reserved Jane (Rosamund Pike), while Darcy is smitten by the the second oldest, the feisty and outspoken Lizzy (Keira Knightley), but is afraid to show it because he thinks so little of her family and instead acts in an abrasive manner which turns her off.

The film turns on many subplots as the two older girls have their heart’s broken and then mended as they each go after their Prince Charming; the youngest one (Jena Malone) is too inexperienced to realize that she has hooked up with Mr. Wrong, and it takes some tricky undertakings to make things right.

The main love story between Lizzy and Mr. Darcy is grandly told, as it’s filled with passion, comedy and intelligence. The lively, witty and engaging Lizzy, who relies more on her honesty and good character than her good looks, and the bland, surly and always unsmiling Mr. Darcy, don’t seem like a good match at first. But by the third act we come to understand that he’s also a man of great character and loyalty, and that Lizzy was mistaken by thinking of him as full of pride and prejudice. She has now fallen madly in love with her Mr. Darcy and when she realizes that, we see the exuberance in her facial expressions and tenderly hear it in her own words when she explains to her seemingly perplexed dad why she wants to now accept his marriage proposal after stating she hated him.

Noteworthy performances, other than the leads, are given by Tom Hollander as the repugnant pompous ass of a clergyman, who is pursuing Lizzy’s hand in marriage even though she tells him that she can’t stand the sight of him; and Judi Dench shines as usual as the bossy wealthy noble lady, who has a wicked tongue and an overbearing stance over her inferiors.

This handsome comedy of manners proves it’s much more than getting right the period costumes, the romantic gloss and the line dances. It hits a perfect note in getting to the spirit of Austen and creating a delightfully charming movie.