movie film review | chris tookey

Pride and Prejudice

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  Pride and Prejudice Review
Tookey's Rating
9 /10
Average Rating
7.52 /10
Elizabeth Bennet - Keira Knightley , Darcy - Matthew Macfadyen
Full Cast >

Directed by: Joe Wright
Written by: Deborah Moggach , based on Jane Austen’s novel

Released: 2005
Origin: US/ UK
Length: 126

Classic romantic drama - and Keira Knightley (pictured right) is breathtakingly brilliant.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Jane Austen’s best and most loved novel is, in a way, the template for the whole of romantic fiction. As far as I’m concerned, Elizabeth Bennet is the most fanciable, psychologically attractive heroine in all literature. And although I find Mr Darcy a dull stick, millions – probably billions - of women would disagree.

There was a polished, reasonably entertaining Hollywood Pride and Prejudice made in 1940, with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier in the leads; but it has taken Working Title, the UK company that has given us such romantic comedies as Love Actually, Notting Hill and Four Weddings, to do Jane Austen proud. This is, beyond any doubt, the romantic comedy-drama of 2005.

A few critics are bound to scoff at this film as “English Heritage” drama, and the background of stately homes, beautiful scenery and Regency dress – surely the most attractive period costume for both sexes – is sure to do wonders for our tourist industry. But what’s wrong with celebrating our English heritage? We don’t do it nearly enough.

This is, despite minor faults, a marvellous, beautiful and moving film that will deliver a literary classic to a new and highly appreciative, non-literary audience who have never heard of Jane Austen, let alone read her. I really, really loved it.

And I particularly loved Keira Knightley. Keira’s been a lustrous presence in movies, but her acting up to now has had only to be adequate in lightweight films such as Bend It Like Beckham, Pirates of the Caribbean, Love Actually and King Arthur. Her best performance was, regrettably, in the minor thriller, The Jacket, little seen by anyone except critics.

Lizzie Bennet is the transformative role which finally proves she is more than just a pretty face. No one could deny that she looks absolutely gorgeous. The camera adores her mercurial, ever-changing features and her swan-like neck, but it is her freshness , her unaffectedness and her emotional transparency that will endear her to audiences all over the world. If there is any justice (which, of course, there isn’t), Keira will win Best Actress at next year’s Oscars.

Equal to her, though in a less showy way, is Matthew MacFadyen (pictured left). Rather impressive in his first big film, a less than thrilling Aussie thriller called In My Father’s Den, MacFadyen is excellent here. He captures Mr Darcy’s abruptness and moralistic austerity, as most good actors do, and being broodingly handsome comes naturally to him; but he also has fun with Darcy’s shyness in front of women (except his sister) and his very English tendency to become tongue-tied when expressing emotion. This is a charming, richly funny but also deeply felt performance.

And it is because you totally believe in, and empathise with, Darcy’s growing love for Lizzie – with Keira in the role, who could not fall for her? – that even the corniest and most familiar moments have the power to bring tears to the eye.

The mainly young cast is fine, but Rosamund Pike shines particularly brightly as the beautiful but reticent Jane, so devastated when thrown over by Mr Bingley. And Simon Woods intelligently makes Bingley a pleasantly goofy chap, not just a silly ass.

Kelly Reilly is so exquisitely ghastly as Bingley’s snobbish sister that I kept wishing Jane Austen had built up her part, and given her a humiliating come-uppance. But I was impressed with the way all the younger actors found the modernity in their roles without sacrificing their period, or class, credibility.

In a British film of this magnitude, you would expect the older members of the cast to be outstanding, and they are. Brenda Blethyn is the definitive Mrs Bennet, winning plenty of laughs for her mother-hen fussiness, but also finding the iron in Mrs B’s soul. She’s ambitious for her five daughters to do well, which in the Regency period meant marrying “up”. She’s shrewd and sympathetic, as well as silly.

The most audacious piece of casting is Donald Sutherland, as Lizzie’s reclusive father – and who can blame him for retiring to be with his pot plants: the sound of girlish giggling at home must, at times, be intolerable. Sutherland can be a terrible ham, but here he has everything under control, including an impeccable English accent. His scene at the end with Lizzie is especially touching.

Tom Hollander is another actor who can be excessive, but he’s hilarious as Lizzie’s unsuitable suitor, Mr Collins. He’s manages to play an insufferable bore (“After dinner, I thought I might read to you for an hour or two”) without ever being boring – no mean accomplishment. Hollander also, importantly, finds pathos in the role. Though Collins has more money than the Bennets, he’s even more socially unsure of himself.

As Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr Collins’s patroness – and Darcy’s battleaxe of an aunt – Judi Dench is magnificently malevolent. This kindest and warmest of actresses has a Gorgon’s stare reserved for her social inferiors that would turn even Princess Michael of Kent to stone at 20 paces.

I could rave on and on, about Peter Wight as Lizzie’s angling-crazy uncle and Penelope Wilton as her aunt, but you get the picture. Everyone is on top form.

Deborah Moggach’s screenplay is efficient rather than inspired, and an occasional too-modern turn of phrase (the word “secure”, meaning emotionally secure, struck me as particularly jarring) gives away when she has been too enthusiastically at work. But she finds the emotional core of the story, as well as the light relief, and she handles the complicated narrative and multiplicity of characters with admirable clarity.

Director Joe Wright betrays his inexperience occasionally, with an unsure grasp of pace, or the wrong choice of shot. Like most young directors, he loves to go in too close and edit too frenetically. He’s better when allowing his excellent cinematographer Roman Osin to use long tracking shots – and praise is owed to the producers for giving them the time and budget to do this.

Wright understandably tries a little too hard on his big-screen debut (his biggest project up to now was the Rufus Sewell Charles II on TV), but such is the power of Keira Knightley’s performance that when it comes to her he is wisely content to let her do the hard work – which she does, triumphantly.

Good though the rest of the film is, the reason Pride & Prejudice is more than just a big hit is down to as charming and delightful a performance by a young actress as I have seen. Truly, a new superstar is born.

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