Thursday, April 27, 2006

Movie Review: Pride & Prejudice

Continuing with my Jane Austen mini-obsession...

DD#1 and I wanted to see this film when it was first released in the theaters. Unfortunately, Pride & Prejudice did not stay at our local cinema very long, although it remained at some of the more upscale locations (like Berkeley) for awhile longer.

Sigh. For all those who protest there are no "good" family films out there, and that too many films feature half-naked actors (and often completely naked actresses) en flagrante dicto, this film is the antidote and deserved much more support than it got. Jane Austen's observations of human nature and the courtship and interaction between men and women are still relevant, two hundred years later.

Keira Knightly is a terrific Elizabeth Bennet, a young woman of strong opinions, not easily cowed by the status of those who consider themselves of higher class. (In fact, I think she is a better Elizabeth than Jennifer Ehle, who plays Elizabeth in the six-hour BBC/A&E version). Matthew Macfayden is Fitzwilliam Darcy and has to compete against other famous performances, such as Colin Firth. He is amazing! He's not traditionally handsome, but Mr. Macfayden has the most amazing blue eyes. And he is an extremely expressive physical actor, letting his face, his posture, and his gestures say more than his words can. His Darcy comes across as more shy and reserved rather than snobbish.

Mrs. Bennet, as acted by Brenda Blethyn, is not as silly as in the BBC/A&E version or in the novel itself. She loves her daughters and means well and is determine to secure their futures by making sure they are well-married. Donald Sutherland is Mr. Bennet (and wouldn't it be interesting to see him play Jack Bauer's dad?). In the novel Mr. Bennet is almost contemptuous of his silly wife; in this version he is much kinder. He loves his wife and puts up with her sometimes silly behavior because of his love. He also loves his daughters, although like many men who live in a predominantly female household, he likes to "hide" in his library and ignore the tempest outside the door.

My biggest concern was what do you leave out in a two-hour movie without harming the story? The screenwriters, which included Emma Thompson (aka Sybil Trelawney), did a marvelous job, mostly by using the "show not tell" method. However, some of my favorite lines were left out--Darcy's speech about Elizabeth's "dancing eyes" and Elizabeth's exclamation upon seeing Pemberly for the first time, "Oh! To be mistress of Pemberly!" My only other quibble is that there are a few scenes where Darcy appears "undressed" according to the standards of the day. And at the denouement, Elizabeth, unable to sleep, walks about the fields in her nightgown and coat and runs into Darcy and is not embarrassed that he sees her undressed.

Tom Holland is terrific as Mr. Collins and Dame Judi Dench is marvelously evil as Lady Catherine DeBourge.

The location filming is also wonderful. The DVD (which I bought on sale at our local warehouse store for about $7.00) has some special features, including notes on Jane Austen, how the ball scene was filmed, and commentary by the director. (I didn't agree with all of his interpretations, but they were interesting.)

Both the girls liked it, although they didn't rave about it. I think this adaptation is a great introduction to the book and to Jane Austen in general. At two hours, most teens can sit through it (although DD#1 and DS#2 have sat through the six-hour version with me). The film might be a good way to discuss the reliability of first impressions as well as how the relationship between men and women have changed over the years. Men stood and bowed, women curtseyed, the only physical contact was during dancing. Have we lost anything with the informality we have today?

On the March Hare scale: 4 out 5 Golden Tickets.