Despite not having any connection to this film, Colin Firth paid Judge Brett Cullum $20 per mention to include him in this review. He just likes to see his name in print, apparently.
Our reviews of Pride And Prejudice (1995) (Blu-ray) (published April 2nd, 2009), Pride And Prejudice (1995): 10th Anniversary Limited Edition (published September 26th, 2006), Pride And Prejudice (2005) (Blu-ray) (published January 26th, 2010), Pride And Prejudice (2005) (HD DVD) (published November 15th, 2007), and The Romance Collection: Special Edition (published May 14th, 2008) are also available.
Mr. Darcy: So this is your opinion of me? Thank you for explaining too fully.
Perhaps these offences might have be overlooked had not your pride…
I went to see Pride and Prejudice at the local art house cinema. You know the kind—tucked in an urban part of the city, where soccer moms fear to tread after dark. I bought a ticket, and was shocked when I swung the theatre door open. The usual quiet and reserved "art for art's sake" audience was not in attendance. Instead, I gazed over a sea of young teenage girls, sporting cell phones with bling adorned to them in prime Paris Hilton fashion. They were all gabbing with each other loudly about things teenage girls find important—boys, make-up, and clothes. Somehow the word had gotten out that the latest incarnation of Jane Austen's best book was "MTV friendly." This was not a bitterly boring Masterpiece Theatre affair—it starred an "it" girl, Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean). Mainstream suburbia had invaded my art house as I settled in my seat for the latest incarnation of Pride and Prejudice. And now here it is, ready for everyone's DVD player.
Facts of the Case
Based on one of Jane Austen's most beloved novels, Pride and Prejudice tells a tale of love clashing with values in the class-conscious England of the late 18th century. The five Bennet sisters—including strong-willed Elizabeth (Knightley)—have been raised by their mother (Brenda Blethyn, Saving Grace) with one purpose in life: find a wealthy husband to save the family from financial ruin. When a well-off bachelor takes up residence in a neighboring mansion, the entire village is abuzz. Amongst the man's sophisticated and wealthy circle of friends, surely there will be no shortage of potential suitors for the Bennet sisters. But when Elizabeth meets up with the handsome and snobbish Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen, Spooks), a battle of the sexes and wills is ignited. Can Elizabeth swallow her pride and admit Mr. Darcy may be her destiny?
Pride and Prejudice marks the moment Keira Knightley emerged from the rank and file of Hollywood beauties and became a bona fide actress. The film is all about her performance, which sings with a lively, wise demeanor that reaches beyond her youth to pull out something sublime. She makes the most of Elizabeth Bennet, and you'll almost forget this story has been told many times before. She holds her own when faced with the intimidating prospect of taking on Dame Judi Dench (Mrs. Henderson Presents) or Donald Sutherland (Six Degrees of Separation) as costars in several key scenes. She is the magical reason all of this works. Also, her magnetic pull made Pride and Prejudice a breakout hit with the young people. If you're a fan or would like to become one, this is the only Keira Knightley film you need own.
That's not to say other actors don't turn in fine performances—but at just over two hours, there is so much story to cover nobody else gets significant screen time. Yet you can still find fine work here from Brenda Blethyn as the doting nervous mother, Donald Sutherland as the coolly amused father, Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day) as a humble older sister, Jena Malone (Saved!) as Lydia, the rebellious younger sister, and of course the always immaculate Dame Judi Dench. And for all the women wondering if Matthew Macfadyen measures up to Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy in the acclaimed 1995 BBC miniseries? Obviously he does not have the benefit of five hours to make you swoon, but he does look incredibly handsome and handles the switch from "snobby" to "earnestly seductive" well. He presents a more youthful take on the role, which is perfectly fine for this production. The only two actors who are not serviced well by the shorter script are the men playing Mr. Wickham (Rupert Friend, The Libertine) and Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods, A Previous Engagement). They are forced to play the characters with one note due to the brevity of their subplots.
Deborah Moggach (Masterpiece Theatre's Love in a Cold Climate) creates an ingeniously fast-moving script which manages to capture the essence of the novel. This is due in no small part to an uncredited rewrite by actress Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility), who is thanked in the closing credits. The two women remain true to Austen's dialogue; the only liberty taken is with a final sequence, which doesn't detract much from the spirit of the novel. The book contains many serpentine twists and turns and is fraught with subplots, but this adaptation concentrates on Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy quite well.
Physically, the production comes off handsome and lush. You'll want to visit England before it's all over. Blame your next vacation to the British Isles on director Joe Wright (Crocodile Snap) and cinematographer Roman Osin (I Am David) who pull off period-perfect visual splendor. Costumes, sets, and interiors complete the picture with a lot of energy. The ball scenes feature prominently in this adaptation, with plenty of raucous energy to spare. I can't imagine a more sumptuous treatment of the story. You'll be bowled over by the authentic settings and attention to detail.
Universal affords Pride and Prejudice the dignity it calls for on DVD. The transfer is quite sumptuous with the skin tones presented dead-on against some of the washed-out color schemes of the interiors. All three language tracks are presented in full surround, though the dubbing in the non-English tracks seems more front and center than it should be. There are three fluffy featurettes which concentrate all too briefly on the Bennett family, Jane Austen, and the filming of the balls. Also included is the promotional HBO First Look feature on the film. Central to the special features is an excellent commentary from director Joe Wright. He stays scene-specific throughout the film, and hits on what makes his version different from all the productions that have come before. He says he owes a lot to the teen films of John Hughes (Pretty in Pink), which explains why he's aiming to make a hipper yet faithful translation to the screen (no fair renaming the picture Pretty in Petticoats, which I have taken to as of late). He has a lot to say about the production, and he's quite insightful.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Do we really need another remake of Pride and Prejudice? Not only can you cite the 1995 BBC mini-series starring Colin Firth (appearing as Mr. Darcy) as the ultimate treatment of the novel, but it has also been done creatively in several more recent projects. Bride and Prejudice stamped Austen with a Bollywood curry flavor nicely; there was a puzzling Mormon version released in 2003; and Renée Zellweger and Colin Firth (again in the Mr. Darcy role) updated the story most notably in Bridget Jones's Diary. During the 1990s we saw a rash of Jane Austen movies. This version seems almost a decade late in joining the party. Even with a sublime lead actress, period-perfect details, and zippy editing, the film feels as if it has all been done before. It's still quite delightful, but it seems to bring with it the inevitable cinematic deja vu.
This production of Pride and Prejudice exists for two reasons: as a star vehicle to show off Keira Knightley's acting chops, and as a pull for the younger generation, who might not be likely to watch a five-hour BBC version from ten years ago. There will be many people who claim the BBC production with Colin Firth remains the ultimate adaptation, but this one is a nicely produced (though condensed) affair that's just as well acted. It has a quick frenetic energy that matches the youthful cast perfectly. You will fall in love with Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), and in the end that's enough to recommend the film. It's not often we get to see an actress burst in to full bloom with such rich material serving her. Pride and Prejudice is a joy to watch, and it goes down easily. Truly, it is one of the most entertaining highbrow flicks of the year.
Guilty of making me want to go to England to find Keira Knightley. But she's probably making out with Colin Firth on a gorgeous cliff somewhere. Sigh!
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• Featurettes on the Bennet Family, Jane Austen, and the Ball Sequences
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