I was so revolted by the heinous Hollywood marketing of Jane Austen’s classic (“Sometimes the last person on earth you want to be with is the one person you can’t be without” – I mean come on!) that I was tempted to skip it. The previews made Keira Knightly look as if she were traipsing down the Winona Ryder path of a modern woman too modern to make the classics breathe. Boy, am I glad I was wrong! There were men in the audiences as fully caught up in the story, laughing and applauding and essentially “Oh no he didn’t!” -ing their way throughout the film. The audience clapped at the end! Clapped at a mall multiplex showing of a film adaptation of a book published in 1813 about a woman and her humiliating family finding a man willing to marry her for love. (If Bridget Jones and the 1995 BBC version didn’t give it away already, I can’t protect you from spoilers.)
The movie was tightly scripted – no 6 hour BBC masterwork but a true feast of the essence of the book and all its characters, without leaving anything out (a miracle) and with “new” dialogue that sounded perfectly suited. It was incredible to watch something so familiar reinvented in such a way that it was so accessible to “mainstream audiences” while still remaining true to the source material; a triumph for screen writer Deborah Moggach, whose writing credits are largely TV miniseries.
What seemed like odd casting of Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennet becomes evident as to its purpose when he steals the ending right out from under our leads. I have read this and other takes on it a dozen times, seen other film versions almost as many times, and I bawled my eyes out at the end. I wasn’t alone, either. Now THAT is what movies are about. And of course Judi Dench as an indignant tyrant, well, how can you go wrong there? I have to admit, I never really warmed up to Matthew MacFadyen as Mr. Darcy, but it is not due to his performance – he delivers every line, both the cold and the vulnerable, with supreme perfection. And it is important, as her family realizes, that he is perfect for Lizzie; we can wonder all we like from the outside. The rest of the enormous cast is delicious (Brenda Blethyn!) and just right. If only that horrid ad campaign weren’t making it look like an insipid, horrible waste of time.
Director Joe Wright makes Austen’s country gentry more rustic and less buttoned up and fancy than other Austen adaptations (this is not a polemic against such things) and as a result, everyone feels a little more modern without acting as much. A crowd scene looked more like the extras tent for Les Miserables than a fancy ball, and people looked like they were really having fun, really meeting the potential mates of their life, and not just posing prettily listening to Chopin studies and writing florid letters about nothing. It makes this 200 years-distant world feel much more real. We can forget the Regency rules we aren’t familiar with about who can speak to or write letters to whom, how family connexions are vitally important to all business affairs, and just enjoy the agonizing course of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy as they insult each other into love.
It’s good stuff, something even the boys can enjoy. If you’re gonna get your man to a Jane Austen movie, this is the safest bet yet. Austen fans, it won’t disappoint.
MPAA Rating PG
Release date 11/11/05
Time in minutes 127
Director Joe Wright
Studio Focus Features