When this film first came out, it was well before I’d begun blogging. So this has not appeared on my site before, a circumstance that I am happy to rectify today. This version of “Pride and Prejudice” starred Kiera Knightly, a rising young star who was blessed with talent and an aphorism that is incredibly sexist, but well remembered by me from my early years reading other people’s blog pages and comments, “The sexiest Tomboy, Beanpole, on the planet.” She plays one of literatures early feminist icons, Elizabeth Bennett, the headstrong and willful woman who will not “settle” for a marriage of convivence. Her romantic counterpart is the dour Mr. Darcy, who’s demeanor hides a decent man with a soulful desire for love, but one that must be contained by the circumstances of the time and the class to which he was born.
My youngest daughter is a Jane Austen fanatic, and her sister was a fan as well, so when we saw this film in 2005, both of them were in high school and the perfect age for being enamored of the British literature as a result of English classes they were taking. The whole family enjoyed this film and over the years it was a regular spin on the DVD player. It has however been a decade or so since I have seen the movie, and this was the first time since 2005 that I saw it on a theater screen rather than at home. The experience was revelatory. This film is beautifully constructed as a story adaption and it is shot in a manner that displays the kinds of directorial touches that people admire in the best film makers. Joe Wright made a transition from directing television program in Great Britain to making films with this project. It is truly a showpiece for his skills and artistry.
The best examples to show the creativity and eye that made this film are the ball sequences. In addition to showing a complex choregraphed dance routine, the camera follows our characters through the throng and the focus moves in and out on key figures at well placed moments. This is not a result of editing but of camera movement and placement and it was so much more noticeable on the big screen than the numerous times I’d seen the same sequences on a television. There are also examples of the same eye for a beautiful image in some of the lush countryside shots. Elizabeth walking back from Pemberley after accidentally meeting with Mr. Darcy is somewhat reminiscent of the Julie Andres helicopter shot at the start of “The Sound of Music”, the camera work from an aerial perspective is clever but not quite as flashy as it was in the musical. The walk and talk sequence at the Bingley’s leased home when Elizabeth is escorted around the atrium room by Bingley’s sister while the two of them verbally joust with Mr. Darcy is also a nice flourish that is assured without being ostentatious.
The cast of this movie is incredibly talented and effectively convey the attitudes of their characters and the story perspective that Austen set up. Mr. Collins is not an evil presence but he is feckless and uninteresting to Lizzie. The rest of the family sees this except Mrs. Bennett who is primarily interested in securing a reliable marriage for Lizzie. Tom Hollander is an average man in looks compared to the actors playing Wickham and Darcy. His mild deliver of his lines is completely appropriate and his obsequious attempts at impressing his benefactor Lady Katherine are very amusing. The two most valuable players however are Donald Sutherland and Brenda Blethyn as his wife. She provides the desperate facial expressions and shrill worrying voice that make Mrs. Bennett a somewhat comical figure. Sutherland, who has never been nominated by the Academy, although he has received an honorary Oscar, plays Lizzie’s father with the bemused tolerance of a loving husband and the patient but overwhelmed father of five daughters. Watch the scene where Elizabeth explains to her Father that she really does love Darcy, Sutherland’s performance is primarily reacting and his non-verbals in the moment are superb.
Knightley and her Darcy, Matthew Macfadyen, seem appropriately matched. She is bright and forceful where he is all tense reserve and disdainful looks. They manage the language of the script well and the nuance that they bring to the hesitations and cadence of the deliveries feel romantic in an early 19th Century manner. I know that Colin Firth is a favorite Mr. Darcy among those who love this material, but I thought Macfadyen was a less conventional choice with a bearing that works for the story as it is being told here.Looking back on the Academy Awards for the year 2005, the five films that were nominated, in retrospect seem to be lesser efforts in comparison to this film and some others I could name from that year. Certainly it is a matter of taste and I know that fashion plays a part in the choices that get made. It’s unfortunate that the “tea on the lawn” fashion of film making had fallen out of favor to be replaced by social commentary films that have dominated the awards ever since. I think when it comes to artistry, Wright and his terrific cast stand the test of time, and I would happily repeat a theater screening of this movie anytime.