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Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Reviewed By brianorndorf
Posted 11/11/05 16:34:45

"A wonderful surprise"
5 stars (Awesome)

“Pride & Prejudice” gives the Jane Austen material the one thing many other productions fail to include: emotion. A lovely film, wonderfully performed and directed, “Pride” manages to break the ice of the material and envelop the viewer in the warm folds of love and life. Led by a breakthrough performance from Keira Knightley, the film is a delight. If every costume drama was this good, the world (and art-houses) would be a much better place.

The year is 1797, and the Bennet family, including Mr. (Donald Sutherland) and Mrs. (Brenda Blethyn), are looking to marry off their daughters Lydia (Jena Malone), Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), Mary (Talulah Riley), Kitty (Carey Mulligan), and Jane (a radiant Rosamund Pike) to any man of wealth and good standing. Hopes for a decent match come into their lives with the arrivals of Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods) and Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfayden, giving the difficult role a good shot), but Darcy’s far too snobbish and cold to the girls, with the plain and outspoken Elizabeth dismissing him immediately. Yet, over the course of a year, as the sisters embark on their separate adventures in love and marriage, Darcy continually finds himself in Elizabeth’s company, forcing the two to confront powerful feelings inside, while those around the couple (including Judi Dench) sharpen their knives in disapproval.

The opening shot of “Pride & Prejudice” is not one of traditional costume drama primping, judging, or despair. Instead, a single camera captures an English countryside morning during the opening titles, complete with lush greenery, a flurry of singing birds and a yawning new sun. This shot establishes right away that director Joe Wright has inventive ideas for this oft-told tale, and that the audience is about to embark on a real cinematic treat.

What makes “Pride” such an enduring work from author Jane Austen (one of the most adapted novels to television and the big screen in history) is the yearning for romance. Austen wrote of manners and disapproving personas, but underneath the period trappings of honor and class struggle lie the quivering heart of a romantic. Filmmakers have come from near and far to adapt her novels, yet they all seem to focus on the rigidness of the era, and the inability for anyone to express themselves freely. What can make Austen come alive on the screen is when a filmmaker can dig deeper and extract the living, breathings emotions that are always pulsing underneath the stiff exteriors. It worked for Emma Thompson and Ang Lee in their sparkling 1995 feature, “Sense & Sensibility,” and now it works for Joe Wright and his sumptuous “Pride & Prejudice.”

In his big screen directing debut, Wright isn’t concerned with packing the entire “Pride” plot into one tidy film. Screenwriter Deborah Moggach’s version (with a polish by Emma Thompson) of the story is messy, with heaps of the original tale thrown to the wind in an effort to pare down the tale to the essentials. Wright is going for the emotional curve of Elizabeth’s journey, emphasizing the confused feelings about her true love, and her frustrations with the restrictions in her life. The events in the film come and go with alarming speed, which should annoy the purists, but it never poisons the flow of the picture. Wright clings so tightly to Elizabeth’s soul-searching, often through interesting and intimate camera work, that he manages to freshen the material, and make this considerably aged text feel young again. There’s a celebration of love in “Pride” that draws the viewer right in, which similar examples of the genre couldn’t always accomplish.

As Elizabeth, Keira Knightley gives what can only be described as a revelatory performance. While it doesn’t break her out of the corset mode she’s accustomed to, Knightley makes Elizabeth into a heartfelt, lived in character. Wright loves Knightley’s face, and, by often simply training his camera on her, Knightley is allowed to make the role a fascinatingly introspective one, with Elizabeth often stifling her true feelings in favor of prepared ones. Knightley is marvelous in “Pride,” giving a full-bodied reading of Austen’s heroine, and finding those crucial moments of doubt in her performance that connect the film’s lengthy story together. In fact, the whole cast brings a lovely elegance and needed passion to their roles, which is exactly what this material deserves.

“Pride & Prejudice” has worked its way into so many incarnations, that the prospect of another trip to Darcyville might not seem appetizing to many. Wright and his cast and crew have met the challenge and delivered a film that should please fans, but thrill those who miss a little heart to go along with their tea and disapproval.

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