Pride & Prejudice

          With the exception of the 1970s, when perhaps classical
  English literature had fallen out of favor, there has been at least
  one adaptation of Jane Austen’s
  decade since the advent of television and talking films. As early
  as 1938, there was a British television version, and in 1940 there
  was the now classic all-star interpretation with a cast headed by
  Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier. In recent times, the 1995
  television miniseries with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth became
  the standard-bearer by which all other adaptations were measured.
  While it had its detractors, that version reached millions and
  was the peak of Austen-mania that had included movie versions
  of the author’s
and SENSE AND SENSIBILITY. 2005 saw the release of a
  modern-day, Bollywood version directed by Gurinda Chada called
BRIDE & PREJUDICE that perfectly captured the flavor of
  Austen’s tale, replete with musical numbers. So perhaps it
  doesn’t come as a surprise that a new feature film version
  has arrived in movie theaters. The question will be whether or
  not the audience wants to head out to the multiplexes to see it.

          By now the plot is as familiar as that of the stories an
  aging relative might tell at holidays: the headstrong yet eligible
  Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) meets the tall, dark and
  handsome Fitzwilliam Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen) and they
  seemingly loathe one another from first sight. Of course, there’s
  that fine line between hate and love and the pair eventually
  cross over – although not always in sync. It takes a while before
  the requisite happy ending and along the way there are dances,
  meddling relatives, and dramatic coincidences.

          Both screenwriter Deborah Moggach and director Joe Wright
  are making their feature debuts with the material and each
  has made auspicious contributions. Moggach has taken a
  complex and difficult novel and streamlined it, centering the
  story on Elizabeth. Sure she has taken liberties – the film runs
  only slightly over two hours – so it’s not as complete as the
  1995 version, but what there is onscreen is enjoyable. Wright
  manages to keep the camera moving most of the time in an
  unobtrusive fashion and his transitions from scene to scene
  are fluid and well-executed. He’s also cast the film with a
  mixture of well-known professionals and newcomers who
  generally mesh well.

          The center of the film is Knightley and for the most part
  she captures the spirit and intensity of the character. Whether
  by choice or direction, though, she all too often relies on her
  smile (in much the same way that Julia Roberts does) and I
  found that trait (as I do with Roberts) terribly grating. Knightley
  has always been something of a lightweight presence on screen
  whether as the heroine in jeopardy in
or as the
  dream girl in
LOVE ACTUALLY, so it comes as something of a
  surprise that she manages to acquit herself well in the leading
  role. She more than holds her own with co-stars like Brenda
  Blethyn, offering her now patented brand of controlled hysteria
  as Mrs. Bennet, Donald Sutherland, sly and knowing as Mr.
  Bennet, Tom Hollander, wonderfully unctuous as the Reverend
  Mr. Collins, and particularly Judi Dench as the imperious Lady
  Catherine de Bourg. It may seem heretical to say, but I found
  Dench’s interpretation of Lady Catherine to be too mild and
  with her hairstyle, makeup and wardrobe, she appeared to have
  wandered in from another film, most specifically a remake of
    GREAT EXPECTATIONS where she had been cast as Miss
  Haversham. The Mr. Darcy of Matthew MacFadyen takes a little
  warming up to, the actor eventually puts his own stamp on the
  material. He gradually allows the passion boiling beneath the
  placid exterior to seep out.

          Still, I am not certain that American audiences will flock
  to see the film, partly because all things Austen seems so late
  20th Century, partly because the box office slump of 2005
  continues unabated, and partly because the 1995 miniseries
  is readily available on DVD. Yet, I would recommend the film
  to those willing to take the plunge for they will be rewarded
  with a literate adaptation of a classic novel.

               Rating:                        B    
               MPAA Rating:                PG-13 for mild thematic elements
               Running time:               128 mins.

                            Viewed at the MGM Screening Room
©  2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.