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Overall Rating
4.17

Awesome45.9%
Worth A Look: 35.25%
Just Average: 11.48%
Pretty Crappy: 4.92%
Sucks: 2.46%

8 reviews, 74 user ratings


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Pride & Prejudice (2005)
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by Brad Wilber

"Ehle and Firth, don't move to the back of the bus, but make room!"
4 stars

I may or may not qualify as an Austen junkie, but I do have the top-drawer five-hour 1995 BBC/A&E PRIDE AND PREJUDICE on my DVD shelf, and I revisit it more often than just about anything in my collection. When I conjure Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy in my head, they’re always embodied by Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. So when I heard there was to be a feature-film version of P & P, with ingenue Keira Knightley, the skepticism started simmering. Now that I’ve seen the new one, I feel bound to report my great pleasure with it. It’s certainly not a project that seems resigned to its own futility—the movie lights up the screen and is full of terrific energy. Perhaps some direct comparisons between the two most recent versions will persuade some of the Ehle-Firth faithful to give Knightley and company a fair shake.

I’ll try a brief synopsis, in case you don’t know the lay of the land already: in turn-of-the-nineteenth-century England, indulgent Mr. Bennet (Donald Sutherland) and micromanaging Mrs. Bennet (Brenda Blethyn) must see at least one of their five daughters married off to wealth in order to rescue the family finances. Youngest daughter Lydia (Jena Malone) sets herself on a trajectory toward peril by eloping with an enigmatic officer named Wickham (Rupert Friend), but the golden-hearted eldest, Jane (former Bond girl Rosamund Pike), catches the eye of well-heeled neighbor Charles Bingley (Simon Woods). This growing attachment is kibitzed warily by Bingley’s sister Caroline (Kelly Reilly) and his staunch friend Darcy (Matthew McFadyen). Second daughter Elizabeth (Knightley) finds herself often thrown together with Darcy, as the man becomes a key player in the fortunes of both her entangled sisters.

You may know Matthew McFadyen from U.S. airings of the British spy series “Spooks” under the title of “MI-5.” He holds his own as Darcy—no, he’s not as gloriously rigid as Firth, but perhaps that only serves to make it more plausible when Darcy bends at the end of the story. Knightley’s performance as Lizzie recalls Winona Ryder’s Jo in the most recent LITTLE WOMEN. Ryder gave us the first thoroughly feminine Jo March—irrepressible but with none of the crowing and galumphing of Katharine Hepburn or June Allyson. Most of the time Knightley achieves with Lizzie a similar balancing act between free-spiritedness and womanly self-possession. (In just a few cases, I felt her Lizzie sniggered too openly in reaction to some piece of folly. After that, her efforts at civility became more hypocritical than necessary; Jennifer Ehle's Lizzie usually allowed herself only a fleeting, private twinkle of the eye in public.) Ryder and Knightley both had age-appropriateness on their side, as well. Ehle was not out of range, by any means, but Knightley is precisely the age of her heroine (20) and simply looks it more. Casting for age in this version also gives us a much different take on Lydia and Caroline Bingley—Kelly Reilly, in the latter role, is just as much a tigress as Anna Chancellor was, but this time Caroline is Jane’s equal in youth and beauty, so her objections to the Bennet girl don’t smack of sour grapes.

This newest abridgment of the material is laudable. My friend Susan, an Austen scholar, even called it “masterful.” It’s all here, folks, without our feeling like a shoehorn was the writer’s chief instrument. Important developments do come harder on each other’s heels than in the 1995 version, but it still gives us things to savor and time to savor them. Consider one of the party scenes: there is a long unbroken shot which travels the room and briefly tracks our major figures: wallflower sister Mary chagrined, Papa consoling, Mama blathering, Jane winsome, Lydia fatuous, Darcy at a remove, and Elizabeth taking an amused powder behind a door. Fifteen efficient seconds of characterization—a brilliant sweep that almost seems to disdain the leisure allotted the longer mini. There are also some completely fresh snippets of dialogue, all of which ring true to the period and ensure that the script is not entirely recycled content. Some smart person knew how vital this would be for the film. Could it be Emma Thompson (who is given a “special thanks” in the credits because of her polishing work on the screenplay)?

This movie, as you might expect, gets a leg up on the BBC when it comes to the sheer scale of the cinematography and the music. Back to the party scenes: they explode with motion and have lush orchestrations that eclipse the TV score. We hear pre-existing period music and some original contributions by composer Dario Marianelli. Overlaying some of the quieter scenes are exquisitely rippling solos by well-known pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet (I appreciated them all the more given that I’d just watched THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED, where a pianist makes very halting progress through a Bach toccata and fugue.)

There is an appealing untidiness to this new version, compared to the longer miniseries. There are lingering shots of the Bennet residence in roseate disrepair, reminding us of the family’s ongoing slide into genteel poverty. The animal world encroaches—a boar saunters through a main-traffic hallway, and birds swim or flap across the picture with frequency. In one nice scene, Mrs. Bennet chases Lizzie down the lane followed by some of her geese, with human and avians uncannily alike. Even Darcy’s Pemberley teems with game. Eventually, this milieu forms a fitting backdrop for our lead couple’s increasing emotional untidiness, which is rather unprecedented in this version. Darcy laughs in delight when he greets his sister Georgianna. Soon after, Darcy is actually in the room when Lizzie first learns of sister Lydia’s gravest transgression, and Lizzie sheds tears in front of him without agonies of embarrassment. Late in the film, exchanges between Knightley and McFadyen abandon, at least intermittently, their guarded multisyllabic jousting. Ehle and Firth never really get out of the mode of carefully constructed rhetoric, and even if that was the norm in Austen’s sphere and we harbor nostalgic longing for such conversational dexterity, the 1995 pair may come up short on relatability. Knightley and McFadyen do at last “get real” by the modern standard, and for better or worse, there’s a visceral payoff.

Mixing in more febrile, heart-on-the-sleeve moments strays dangerously into Bronte territory. McFadyen’s Darcy strides toward Elizabeth across a fog-shrouded moor with his coattails billowing (when all is said and done, McFadyen cuts as fine a figure as Firth ever did) and declares he is “bewitched, body and soul.” It’s all very Romantic. Treasonous to Austen purists? Maybe, but give it to me anyway. Let the music swell. Nobody is going to topple the 1995 mini from the summit, especially not by trying to tread the same ground. So once the decision was made to do P & P again, can you blame the creative team for wanting to carve a different niche in the canon? This film’s apparent plan to distance itself from its nearest predecessor looms large in the most anticipated individual scenes. For the Elizabeth-Darcy proposal, gone is the claustrophobic sitting room Ehle and Firth had; Knightley and McFadyen are transplanted out of doors—a very wuthering out-of-doors, even. And Lizzie’s confrontation with Darcy’s highborn aunt, the Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Judi Dench, scarcely given a chance to warm up) was previously al fresco but now moves inside. Lady Catherine rousts the entire Bennet family out of bed late at night, and a nightgowned Lizzie has to work to muster some dignity facing the redoubtable dowager. The untraditional scenarios can’t help but be a bit forced, but kudos for guts.

The 2005 film mitigates the ick-factor of some of the characters, and whether driven by the need to fit the story into two hours or the wish to assert an identity separate from the miniseries, the softening offers a viable alternative. Alison Steadman and Julia Sawalha of the 1995 BBC outing are indelibly and deliciously maddening as Mama and Lydia Bennet, but in the longer version their avalanche of offenses becomes almost monstrous. In this film Brenda Blethyn and Jena Malone play more “normal” women who have the unfortunate tendency to invite scandal with heedless behavior. Similarly, David Bamber’s 1995 Mr. Collins (a clergyman cousin who stands to inherit Mr. Bennet’s estate in the absence of a son) is a positively reptilian sycophant. Here, Mr. Collins as portrayed by Tom Hollander is certainly prone to flattery, but his constant quaver suggests he is more insecure than unctuous. When he asks Elizabeth for her hand, Collins tries valiantly—and I dare say somewhat endearingly—to stick to his repertoire of prepared remarks in the face of her outrage. When Collins ends up with Lizzie’s spinster chum Charlotte Lucas (Claudie Blakley) and the film shows us their domestic circumstances, we’re led to feel there could be worse matches. In the 1995 version, we feel nothing but pangs for Charlotte’s submerged desperation. Does the source material dictate that we be completely repulsed by Mr. Collins? If there is room for sympathy, this film takes it with some success; Collins is just a fellow whose company is seldom preferred to others’.

Often, in fact, the film labels its hard-to-like men shy instead of arrogant. Not only does Collins get off easy—McFadyen’s version of Darcy radiates a downcast diffidence quite more palatable than Firth’s glowering hauteur. And shyness becomes a worse stumbling-block to romance than class-consciousness. Perhaps the minds behind this new version felt that the gulfs dividing Austen-era social strata needed to be de-emphasized in order for the movie to make it with modern audiences. In most previous P & P adaptations, Darcy is unabashed about citing propriety as the main reason he sought to separate Charles Bingley from Jane. Here, the Bennets’ station and their chronic ignobility do come up as Darcy and Lizzie hash out the matter, but their argument quickly morphs into a cautionary tale about reticence—if only Jane had made her regard for Charles more obvious, maybe Darcy would have thought twice.

Characters underserved by the new version? Well, in 1995, I really warmed to the inexhaustible bonhomie of Crispin Bonham-Carter’s wide-eyed Charles Bingley. Now Simon Woods recreates the wide eyes with an unwelcome tinge of deer-in-the-headlights. Charles has always been easily led, but he’s not truly dim, nor is he socially inept. Here he’s too fumbling. Woods ably navigates what he’s given—lots of verbal floundering—but this conception of Bingley hindered my ability to get as invested in the Jane-Charles pairing as I was last time around.

Mr. Wickham’s character development suffers here as well, but it’s not so much mishandled as pinched by time constraints. The whole story hinges on Wickham’s history with the Darcys and his actions in the present, so all of the plot points are covered, but actor Rupert Friend doesn’t have enough screen time to put Wickham’s ingratiating ways—his so-called “happy manners”—on display. (Friend lacks the instant “wattage” that Greg Wise had as Willoughby in SENSE AND SENSIBILITY.) In the five-hour adaptation we have detailed treatment of how fully Wickham wins Lizzie over, how much time she spends weighing his credibility vs. Darcy’s, and how her opinions of each turn gradually, like a tide.

In a backhanded way the character of Charlotte Lucas gets a boost here. This is the first time I recall Charlotte announcing on-camera her decision to marry the cast-off Collins—often this bulletin reaches Lizzie and us through hearsay. Here Claudie Blakley gets a tearful scene defending her lunge at an offer of marriage—she has become a burden to her parents and at age 27 can hardly expect another proposal to come her way. The scene has heart and immediacy, but it could be taken as expecting too little of the audience—we can’t understand Charlotte’s sense of urgency and need to have the difficult lot of Austen’s women spoon-fed to us.

If you’re interested in seeing more of some of the character actors herein, Rosamund Pike, Tom Hollander, Kelly Reilly, and Rupert Friend were all castmates in this year’s THE LIBERTINE as well.

I bet only Austen die-hards have made it this far. It’s OK—this particular review is probably built mostly for such folk, anyway. The upshot is: this is not a superfluous outing. Catch it while it’s still hanging around theatres, and you’ll come away feeling you’ve seen something ambitious, fresh, and lovingly done.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12759&reviewer=395
originally posted: 01/04/06 13:09:01
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/24/18 Katie Addicted. Need a fix of P&P every couple of months. Love this adaptation !! 5 stars
3/17/13 Mireya Love this movie! 5 stars
4/05/12 Mrs. Bennet MacFadyen should have been in the better BBC version 5 stars
3/09/11 Lonesome Rhodes Late to this version. It can't make me forget the BBC version. Knightley ain't sexy. 3 stars
3/26/10 SWAYGONZALEZ THIS IS THE GREATEST LOVE STORY YET!!!! 5 stars
3/19/10 JM Keynesy capture the essence of the novel. Keira is exceptional and present what the novel depict. 5 stars
2/18/10 Rita P watch the 1995 version - forget Knightley - ckeck out Ehle. 4 stars
2/16/10 The Calico Critic, Laura Hartness Interesting review! I didn't know Emma Thompson had a hand in the script! Cool! 4 stars
12/15/09 A Girl the first poster is wrong...how is this dumb downed? 5 stars
10/27/09 Talless I think Darcy is sexyand elizabeth was playing hard too get too much. The movie was great!! 4 stars
10/17/09 glyzashin i love it 5 stars
1/09/09 Anonymous. one of keira knightley's better films...beautiful cinematography! 5 stars
1/18/08 jeanne I was too distracted by how grubby everyone was; Lizzie should NOT have stringy hair! 2 stars
12/31/07 Susan Wonderful movie. Great acting. Keira won my respect from this movie. 5 stars
12/08/07 Keystra Williams Absolutely fanfuckingtastic! 5 stars
5/08/07 David Pollastrini Keira Knightley is hot is hot in this! 3 stars
4/23/07 Luisa It brought tears to my eyes. 4 stars
3/10/07 Roy F. Moore Keira Knightly makes a pretty good Lizzie. 5 stars
1/14/07 quirky By far, a wonderfully refreshing adaptation of the novel. 5 stars
12/13/06 MJ This movie was terrible. No one can ever replace Ehle and FIrth! 1 stars
12/04/06 Bitchflaps Pretty to a fault, a sterile adaptation. Knightly mistakes formality for stiltedness. 2 stars
11/29/06 Jess I loved this movie so much I watch it all the time. Keira is a great actress. 5 stars
10/11/06 Kaleb I didnt understand the movie.....not worth seeing 1 stars
10/02/06 kath Captures the essence of the novel. Keira was great and photography was wonderful! 5 stars
9/27/06 laruja I love you. Most ardently. Please do me the honour of accepting my hand. 5 stars
9/04/06 Julia I hated this awful film. Those who like it don't have the foggiest idea. 1 stars
6/15/06 od absolutely fabulous 5 stars
6/04/06 o.kilinc really worth watching especially after watching the BBC version 5 stars
5/11/06 Annie G An enjoyable adaptation - never really "wowed" me though. 4 stars
5/10/06 anne i love this movie and went to see it 5 times ! 5 stars
5/02/06 Ashley Hinz lovely. can't say enough about it. 5 stars
4/28/06 Olivia Morene This movie shows that some people will find love where they least expect it! 5 stars
4/28/06 maria casal i loved that much this movie, that I rented it, and in the first day I wathed it over 3 tim 5 stars
4/20/06 LOLA Bring back Colin Firth! Other than that, pretty good! 3 stars
4/11/06 Erin Addington Ah Naomi, that could go along with what I read, that Jane Austen died of constipation. 4 stars
4/11/06 Naomi Valentine Dooky? DUH! Nobody goes to the bathroom in Jane Austen novels! 3 stars
4/10/06 The Great Squizzaloon Rosamund Pike is eye candy, but Judi Dench would be more likeable wallowing in her dooky! 3 stars
4/10/06 Tiffany Faye Hawthorne EYE CANDY, but 1st half is ear torture. 2nd half redeems itself A BIT. 3 stars
4/09/06 Haven't read the book but hope it's better Totally unclear on what wonderful deeds hero did for heroine's sisters! 2 stars
3/31/06 Priscilla Postlethwaite But what will Liz do about her aunt-in-law from hell? 3 stars
3/12/06 Roderick Cromar I loved this film. Can we have more please? 5 stars
3/03/06 gary PLEASE, keira knightley -- don't you ever change! 5 stars
3/03/06 Cristyne Vasquez I love Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy; he's far more romantic than Colin Firth 5 stars
3/03/06 bizenya wonderful on every level. 5 stars
3/02/06 Rick Burt Beautifilly filmed,and passionately acted 5 stars
3/02/06 Naomi Valentine Dooky? DUH! Nobody goes to the bathroom in Jane Austen novels! 3 stars
3/02/06 The Great Squizzaloon Rosamund Pike is eye candy, but Judi Dench would be attractiver wallowing in her dooky! 3 stars
3/02/06 Tiffany Faye Hawthorne EYE CANDY, but 1st half is ear torture. 2nd half redeems itself A BIT. 3 stars
3/02/06 Haven't read the book but hope it's better Totally unclear on what wonderful deeds hero did for heroine's sisters! 2 stars
2/28/06 Priscilla Postlethwaite But what will Liz do about her aunt-in-law from hell? 3 stars
2/25/06 Yesim it was wonderful and really romantic 5 stars
2/16/06 Christina awesome movie!!! (especially mr.darcy :)) very well played by Matthew MacFad... and keira) 5 stars
1/25/06 Asina A beautiful movie. Knightley was great. 5 stars
1/23/06 Monika Luy A wonderfully casted romantic movie, not very much JA though. 4 stars
1/22/06 nelly mendel magnificent, beautiful landscapes, romantic. 5 stars
1/04/06 Elisa G Okay, but not brilliant 3 stars
12/23/05 Mike V Waaaaay too melodramatic and precious. 3 stars
12/23/05 katsat MacFadyen pales next to Colin Firth. Butchering of Austen. Knightley too modern, skinny. 3 stars
12/17/05 Emily Popp I have seen the movie 8 times, and I'm not done yet. Need I say more? 5 stars
12/17/05 Aaron Smith Awesome cinematography and solid acting. Knightley a pleasure to watch. 5 stars
12/08/05 deeza Perfection_this is what they call 'chemistry' 5 stars
12/08/05 raewyn loved this movie!!! 5 stars
12/07/05 Kat Stacy Hideous 2 stars
12/03/05 Heather An exquisite movie-I'm buying it the moment it comes out. 5 stars
12/03/05 goldengirl Absolutely fantastic! Has there truely been another romantic movie? 5 stars
12/01/05 Holle I've seen it 4 times; this film is brilliant in its own right, w/ or w/o the book's detail. 5 stars
11/28/05 Melina beautiful cinematic version - captured the essence of Austen's story beautifully! 5 stars
11/28/05 melissa A wonderful movie. Loved everything about it. 5 stars
11/25/05 moorefam221 I've never seen a movie in the theatre 3 times before, but this one is definitely worth it. 5 stars
11/13/05 Sylvia Galimore awesome in it's own way! 5 stars
11/13/05 Asina Absolutely beautiful. LOVED it. 5 stars
11/11/05 bizenya knightley was great. a new take on the classic novel. me likey. 5 stars
10/27/05 Steven Absolutely stunning cinematography. Excellent adaptation of the novel. 5 stars
9/16/05 Vodkabite A sadly dumbed down version of Jane Austin's most popular novel. 2 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  11-Nov-2005 (PG)
  DVD: 28-Feb-2006

UK
  N/A

Australia
  20-Oct-2005




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