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Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 11/11/05 00:39:32

"Well, at least it isn't a musical"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

I’ll admit it–Jane Austen’s apparently immortal novel “Pride and Prejudice” is not one of my favorite pieces of Great Literature and when I say “not one of my favorite pieces,” I mean “one of the most annoying and overrated ever written.” I know, to besmirch such a classic smacks of blasphemy but I simply cannot stand it–the central character, Elizabeth Bennett, is annoying and shrill, her mother is a monster and her gaggle of sisters run the gamut from the dull to the blatantly idiotic. In fact, the only character that I can identify with at all is the long-suffering Mr. Bennett and that is only because I am constantly amazed that he doesn’t just snap from being surrounded by such a ghastly brood and reduce them all to kindling with the nearest available axe. (I should at this point mention that this viewpoint does not extend to all of Austen’s output–“Persuasion,” “Sense and Sensibility” and “Emma” are all infinitely more thoughtful and interesting.)

As a result, I can’t say that I was particularly thrilled with the notion of sitting through yet another version of such overly familiar material. And yet, to a certain point, Joe Wright’s film (adapted by Deborah Moggach, with some rumored uncredited help from Emma Thompson) is not quite as painful as I feared. For starters, it doesn’t try to “improve” the material by contemporizing it (a la “Bridget Jones’s Diary”) or turning it into a musical (such as the recent “Bride and Prejudice”). Instead, Wright sets it in 1797, the time when Austen was actually writing the book, and does a good job of capturing the flavor of the period–this is the rare period film where the locations have the lived-in feel of an actual home instead of the antiseptic appearance of a museum showroom. As for the story itself, I won’t go into the details as it is one of those tales that everyone with an education should know by now. I will point out that the screenplay does a reasonably effective job of streamlining the story to fit a two-hour timeframe, although it does begin to lose some steam in the final reels.

More importantly, Wright has assembled a top-notch cast of actors who are able to breathe life in such familiar characters. Although Matthew MacFayden’s Mr. Darcy probably won’t make anyone forget Colin Firth’s portrayal in the famous 1995 TV miniseries, there are some nice turns from Judi Dench, Rosamund Pike and Donald Sutherland, the latter playing perhaps the most infinitely patient man in the history of British literature. Best of all is the performance by Keira Knightley in the central role of Elizabeth. The idea of having the hot young English ingenue playing the part is hardly an original idea (ten years ago, it might have been Kate Winslet and twenty years ago, Helena Bonham Carter) but in this case, it is a perfect match of performer and role. To play Elizabeth, an actress needs to be sweet, spunky, funny, smart and not a little obnoxious–occasionally all at the same time–if it is to work and Knightley pulls it off magnificently.

Obviously, devotees of “Pride and Prejudice” are likely to embrace this version of their favorite book with open arms; for the rest of us, it probably won’t inspire you to reevaluate your feelings towards the book but it won’t inspire you to poke your eyes out either.

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