Pride & Prejudice (2005) / Drama-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG for thematic elements
Running Time: 127 min.
Cast: Keira Knightley, Matthew McFadyen, Rosamund Pike, Donald Sutherland, Brenda Blethyn, Judi Dench, Tom Hollander, Simon Woods, Jena Malone, Rupert Friend, Kelly Reilly, Talulah Riley, Claudie Blakley, Carey Mulligan
Director: Joe Wright
Screenplay: Deborah Moggach (based on the novel by Jane Austen)
Compact, but still effective, Joe Wright's take on the classic Jane Austen novel, "Pride and Prejudice", narrows the tale down to the core elements in an ingenious fashion, while still offering the gist of what has made the story such a revisited narrative. While Austen's most ardent fans may scoff, Wright has made the story palatable in a way that will be easy for non-readers of her work to understand, while still paying enough respect to the source material to please most that have picked up and enjoyed the book. In short, if you've normally eschewed period piece Austen adaptations in the past because they seemed too stuffy and wordy, 2005's Pride & Prejudice may change your opinions.
An exceptional performance by Knightley (The Jacket, King Arthur) is the centerpiece of this all-around fine film, as she plays Elizabeth Bennet, the second oldest daughter among five, considered by her very own mother (Blethyn, Beyond the Sea) to be plain and unlikely to find a proper husband. She is in the shadow of her beautiful older sister, Jane (Pike, Die Another Day), who has recently caught the eye of a wealthy wife-seeker, Mr. Bingley (Woods), but Elizabeth finds Bingley friend Mr. Darcy (MacFadyen, Maybe Baby) to be just uncouth enough in his behavior to pique her curiosity, as he does to her. However, the strange behavior among both parties leads to misunderstandings and misgivings, as Elizabeth soon finds herself being courted by a physically diminutive cad with improper manner, but a sizable estate, while Mr. Bingley abruptly halts his advances for Jane, perhaps at the urging of Mr. Darcy for reasons that may leave Elizabeth without a chance to explore the possibility of a relationship with the one man that she has actually grown to like.
As fine a production as this is, it isn't without its flaws. The emotions that well up between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are delivered well by the actors, but given the very small amount of time they are shown together, it hardly seems like they should be so angst-ridden about not being able to be together. The role of Elizabeth is also not supposed to be a particularly attractive one, and it seems unlikely that Keira Knightley meets that standard. She may have a somewhat boyish look, but she is still far from plain, and depending on your taste, she might arguably be more attractive than the woman that plays Jane. Given the quality of Knightley's performance, it's hard to argue against using her, though, and all things considered, suspension of disbelief is well-earned.
With its excellent performances, terrific costumes, and skillful camera work, Pride & Prejudice has enough going for it to more than justify giving it a viewing, although it may not supplant a favorite previous version you may have enjoyed in the past (the 5 hour 1995 miniseries starring Colin Firth appears to be one that can't be bested). However, if you're looking for an abridged substitute, or are just unfamiliar with Austen's classic tale, at a brisk 127 minutes, this version makes for a great place to start.
-- Austen's novel was made previously in 1940, made for TV in 1967, and told in modern form in 2003. Also made into a television mini-series in 1958, 1980, and 1995. Inspired a mock Bollywood reworking in 2004's Bride & Prejudice.
©2005 Vince Leo