Austen would be proud
BRITISH TELEVISION has always been famous for its high quality drama, and rightly so. Director Joe Wright, screenwriter Deborah Moggach and production designer Sarah Greenwood all come from the world of TV and have no problems in making Pride and Prejudice a brilliant cinematic adaptation. Filled to the brim with exciting visual ideas, its mix of historically accurate grime as well as dashes of glamorous romanticism give the film an overall feel that Austen would be proud of.
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s spin on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, is about a dewy-eyed couple who meet, lose and finally regain each other. However, the more interesting characters are the strong-willed man and woman who watch the lovers’ relationship unfold, coaching them from the sidelines. These two bicker with so much force and brilliance that you know there will be another relationship on the horizon. This is the quintessential opposites attract story – the characters loath one another at the start, but long for each other by the close.
The characters in question are Elizabeth Bennet (Knightly) and Mr. Darcy (Macfadyen). Elizabeth, or Lizzie, is the second of five daughters, in a family with much heart but no dowry. Set in the tail end of the 18th century, the Bennets’ only hope of financial security will be to marry off the daughters to wealthy land-owning husbands. The oldest daughter, Jane (Pike) attracts the gaze of the good-natured Mr. Bingley (Woods), but when he unexpectedly moves to London, breaking Jane’s heart, Elizabeth blames his icy friend Mr. Darcy for the hasty departure.
Elizabeth and Darcy first meet at a ball, instantly forming negative impressions of each other, which creates a serious romantic obstacle for the future. She’s from a lower class than Darcy and prides herself on being quite perceptive. He’s a man who finds it hard to associate with people outside his social circle. Set at a time when women without prospects of marriage faced a desultory future, the importance of finding a suitable suitor was as much a matter of pragmatism as of romance. Director Wright manages to convey the urgency of the matter in a film that respects author Jane Austen’s writing without falling foul of it.
Even though 20-year-old Keira Knightly carries the film’s emotional weight on her shoulders with aplomb, it is the role of Mr. Darcy that most will base their opinion of the film on. This is primarily due to Colin Firth and his definitive performance of Darcy in the BBC’s production – any post-Firth Pride and Prejudice will live or die by that character.
The role, this time, goes to newcomer Matthew Macfadyen, whose entertaining and well-acted take on the awkward Darcy, ever so slightly falls short of the mark set by Firth.
Brenda Blethyn is entertaining as the hyperventilating mother, with Donald Sutherland a delightful counterbalance to the younger daughters’ energy and excitement. Knightly is a revelation as the young Lizzie Bennet, holding her own opposite the likes of Judi Dench, Donald Sutherland and Brenda Blethyn. She fits into Austen’s era so perfectly it’s hard to believe that she ever wore a soccer jersey.
Visually lush, with its sweeping hills, gardens and picturesque English settings, Pride and Prejudice engages by its good storytelling and well-formed characters. Music, production design and costumes are detailed and exquisite, never allowing the magic of the era, that director Joe Wright so carefully builds, to dissipate. It’s involving, amusing and always entertaining.