Pride & Prejudice (PG)
Starring: Keira Knightley
“Carried By Source Material if Not by Leads”
When I saw the trailer to this newest big screen foray based on Jane Austen’s timeless novel Pride and Prejudice, my reaction was, “Why do we need another one of those?” Having seen the 1940 B&W masterpiece with Sir Laurence Olivier and the 1995 sprawling, yet engrossing, five hour mini-series starring Colin Firth, I saw little reason, much less room, for yet another film on the subject. For the most part, my initial reaction was allayed by a movie that entertains while upholding the artistic integrity intrinsic in the source material.
There’s no doubt that the acting and creative elements in the movie are superb (a finely-crafted update of Austen’s classic romance, to be sure), but the apparent chink in the proverbial armor here is the story’s abridged content and rapid pacing—anyone familiar with the novel or previous movies will feel like this version is permanently stuck on fast forward. But, perhaps leaner is better…the main thrust of the story remains intact without the usual afternoon teas that drag on ten minutes or the extensive character development of peripheral players. What, at first, appears to be a drawback might actually be the finest attribute of the film—a streamlined plot.
Keira Knightley is certainly the most comely Elizabeth Bennett ever to grace the silver screen and her acting, arguably, is tantamount in distinction. On the flip side, Matthew Macfadyen is the most lacking Mr. Darcy yet…but in all fairness, he had some colossal shoes to fill. Macfadyen’s Darcy is more dour, distant and miserable than the previous interpretations of the character and if his performance succeeds at any point it’s the movie’s excellent (adapted) dialogue that allows him to accomplish this more than any other single factor. The character’s thinly-veiled sarcasm isn’t rocket science—when Elizabeth asks Darcy if he dances, any decent actor could have pulled off the sardonic retort, “Not if I can help it.” Donald Sutherland’s Mr. Bennett is more aloof and less quarrelsome with his wife here and, unfortunately, is a virtual non-factor in the movie.
As mentioned before, the movie’s costumes and sets are Oscar-caliber and the choreography for the dance sequences is absolutely brilliant. Like two ships of the same era firing cannonballs at each other, Elizabeth and Darcy speak in short phrases—incisive jabs shrouded in civility—as they pass each other in the dance line…one of the movie’s most amusing sequences.
This Pride and Prejudice may not measure up to previous efforts with the same title, but it’s still a literate and artistic film that appropriately updates Austen’s supreme romance and certainly will stand the test of time…at least until the next movie arrives.