Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Starring: Keira Knightley, Matthew MacFadyen, Brenda Blethyn, Donald Sutherland, Tom Hollander, Rosamund Pike, Jena Malone, Judi Dench
Directed by: Joe Wright
First off, let me clearly state that I am not a Jane Austen fan, in the sense that my only previous exposure to her work is from watching Clueless. So this review will solely be based on my opinion of the latest film adaptation of her work of the same name (minus the ampersand), and not how well it adapts her book, or how superior the BBC mini-series was in comparison to it.
My wife and sister are HUGE Austen marks, but until now, I was able to avoid watching any of the Jane Austen-inspired DVDs that currently sit on our DVD shelf. But, since I am an awesome husband, I decided to borrow a copy of this movie from work to watch with my wife. Some may think it sacrilege to watch this version instead of the mini-series, but I think it a lot easier to convince me to watch a two hour movie than a five hour one. Consider this my Cliff Notes introduction then.
As a movie, Joe Wright's Pride & Prejudice is a relatively pleasant affair, offering some solid performances and a sometimes impressive cinematic look at pastoral England. It certainly takes advantage of its cinematic approach, filling the movie screen's wider canvass with gorgeous scenery and sunsets. The best thing I can say about it is that it doesn't get so bogged down in trying to adapt a book that it forgets that it's a movie. A lot of other movies based on books forget the simple truth that the cinematic medium and the print medium are too very different beasts and what works for one doesn't always translate well to the other. A lot of book lovers fail to understand this as well, then get all pissy when a movie doesn't follow a book religiously.
Of course, when I'm talking about beautiful scenery and sunsets to lead off a review, then I probably wasn't that engaged in the movie. Which is true here, to an extent. Truthfully, it would've taken a lot for this movie to win me over, you know, since I'm a dude and all. Sad to say, but the struggles of semi-poor, repressed women in class-conscious 19th century England really isn't my thing. Nor are costume dramas or elaborate dance numbers. Still, once this movie moved past Elizabeth Bennett's (Keira Knightley) incredibly annoying family life and the plot started to pick up, I found myself enjoying the movie more. Not in a "I can't wait to see the mini-series" way, more in a "it's better than Memoirs of a Geisha" way.
Knightley acquits herself well in the lead role, attacking the dialogue-heavy script with a spark that eventually won me over enough to care about her and Mr Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen) making it happen. Since women's lead acting roles are so sparse, I have no objection to her receiving a Best Actress nomination here. However, despite her winning performance, she does feel out of place in the movie (particularly in the beginning of the film), owing not to her acting ability, but rather the fact that she has too modern a look for the period. Her slender neck, sunken features, and, oh I don't know, mascara just didn't fit in with the rest of the movie. She makes up for it as the movie progresses, but still feels a little odd in the part. Not as odd as Jena Malone as her younger sister Lydia, who stuck out like a sore thumb, and grated on my nerves. Not as much as Brenda Blethyn annoyed me as the marriage-obsessed mother of the five daughters of the Bennett clan, but I'm thinking it with her it was the character that annoyed me, and not the performer. The movie got much easier for me to watch when it involved more scenes without Mrs Bennett than it did scenes with her.
As for the rest of the cast, MacFadyen acquits himself well as the self-conscious and repressed Mr Darcy (yeah, yeah, I'm sure he's no Colin Firth, whatever), Donald Sutherland gets a few memorable scenes as the mentally-absent father of the Bennett brood, Rosamund Pike is absolutely beautiful as Elizabeth's older sister Jane, and Simon Woods made me laugh as the perhaps-too-doltish Mr Bingley, who was so mentally vacant that Woods could start to take roles away from Keanu Reeves if he provides more performances like that.
The verdict? It was an alright movie that looked pretty good, and had some charm. If you're into this sort of thing, but not stridently entrenched in the BBC mini-series camp, then this movie might win you over. But... I don't see myself taking in the complete works of Jane Austin anytime soon.
Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
Love Actually (2003)
Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)