Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Pride and PrejudiceKeira Knightley Directed by Joe Wright
Reviewed by Byron Merritt


Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has been translated to film several times now – from Robert Leonard’s 1940 “attempt” starring Laurence Olivier, to the 1980 and 1995 TV miniseries, and now on to a new theatrical release here. Having read the book and seen all of these adaptations, I feel I can comment objectively on what does and doesn’t work with regards to director Joe Wright’s newest version.

Let’s start with the positives. It’s beautifully filmed (from gnarled old trees to stunning sunsets against old English mansions) and the cast performs well. I even liked Mr. Bingley (
Simon Woods, FOYLE’S WAR TV series) and the rest of the actors. They seemed to be able to grasp the internal dynamics of their respective characters and pulled in fine performances. Keira Knightley (BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM, 2002) does a good job as Lizzie Bennett but appears upbeat far too often during a time when love and loss went hand in hand. Matthew Macfadyen (WUTHERING HEIGHTS TV series) does an admirable Mr. Darcy but being up against a giant of the English acting world from a previous adaptation made his character representation a bit tougher when it came to comparisons.

Now let’s get into my main problem: the pacing. I usually don’t mind fast-paced films, but Jane Austen’s book is anything but quick (checking in at around 500 pages depending on which publisher you choose). Books of this size tend to be difficult to translate to the silver screen (or TV) because of their scope, and this was the big “ouch” for this film. Clocking in at 129 minutes, condensing the book in such a drastic manner meant clipping out chapters and causing a bit of confusion. The confusion comes from the lack of understanding a new viewer might have IF they’ve never seen any of the previous TV/movie versions or IF they’ve never read the novel. When Lydia runs off with “the wrong man” it is a vital portion of the story that is only touched on and could seem disorienting to the new Pride and Prejudice viewer. We never see what happens to Lydia in London, nor do we see the wedding and where Mr. Darcy’s pressure exerts itself.

Comparisons will obviously be made between this theatrical release and the 1995 miniseries (which many, including myself, feel is the penultimate adaptation of Mrs. Austen’s book). Some might complain that it isn’t fair to make such comparisons because one was designed for television while the other was meant for theater. I’ll grant that. But with the lengthy films that’ve come out of Hollywood lately (Lord of the Rings, King Kong, etc.), I don’t feel that this new version would’ve suffered in the slightest by lengthening its running time and thus adding a better sense of coherency to many of the side stories. The 1995 miniseries also had an incredible benefit in that Mr. Darcy was played by the estimable Colin Firth (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, 1998), and it is THIS Mr. Darcy that many hold as the high standard for such work. Try putting Matthew Macfadyen up against Mr. Firth and you’ll see what I mean; there’s just no comparing them.

I did give this film a positive review because a) I liked the cinematography, and b) the acting was generally well done. But for emotional impact and excellent character portrayals look to the 1995 miniseries.

Click here for the Pride and Prejudice movie trailer!

Oscar Nominated: Actress in a Leading Role

Oscar Nominated: Achievement in Art Direction

Oscar Nominated: Achievement in Costume Design

Oscar Nominated: Musical Score

BAFTA Award Nominee: Outstanding British Film of the Year

Golden Globe Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture -- Musical or Comedy


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