Sparks fly when spirited Elizabeth Bennet meets single, rich, and proud Mr. Darcy. But Mr. Darcy reluctantly finds himself falling in love with a woman beneath his class. Can each overcome their own pride and prejudice?
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The story is based on Jane Austen's novel about five sisters - Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty and Lydia Bennet - in Georgian England. Their lives are turned upside down when a wealthy young man (Mr. Bingley) and his best friend (Mr. Darcy) arrive in their neighborhood. Written by
From the film's first shot - Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet wandering reading through a field at dawn, thus invoking all the clichés cinema has developed to address the phenomenon of the strong-minded rebellious female character in period drama - I knew I was in for something to make me want to kill myself.
Joe Wright seemed not only to have not read the book, but to be under the regrettable misapprehension that what he was filming was not in fact Jane Austen's subtle, nuanced comedy of manners conducted through sparkling, delicate social interaction in eighteenth century English drawing-rooms, but a sort of U-certificate Wuthering Heights. Thus we were treated to every scene between Elizabeth and Darcy taking place outside for no apparent reason, in inappropriately rugged scenery and often in the pouring rain. Not to mention that Jane Austen, and in particular P & P, is not about passion, sexual tension or love. It's about different strategies of negotiating the stultification of eighteenth century society. Which was completely ignored, so that the Bennets' house was a rambunctious, chaotic place where everybody shouts at once, runs around, leaves their underwear on chairs, and pigs wander happily through the house; the society balls become rowdy country dances one step away from a Matrix Reloaded style dance-orgy; and everybody says exactly what they think without the slightest regard for propriety.
The genius of Jane Austen lies in exploring the void created by a society in which nobody says what they think or mean because of an overwhelming regard for propriety, and the tragic predicaments of her characters arise from misunderstandings and miscommunications enabled by that speechless gap. So both the brilliance of Jane Austen and the very factor that allows her plots - particularly in this film - to function was completely erased. Subtlety in general was nowhere int his film, sacrificed in favour of an overwrought drama which jarred entirely with the material and the performances.
It was so obviously trying to be a *serious* film. The humour - which IS Pride & Prejudice, both Austen's methodology and her appeal - was almost entirely suppressed in favour of all this po-faced melodrama, and when it was allowed in, was handled so clumsily. Pride & Prejudice is a serious narrative which makes serious points, yes, but those serious points and weightier themes are not just intertwined with the humour, they are embedded in it. You can't lose Jane Austen's technique, leaving only the bare bones of the story, and expect the themes to remain. Not even when you replace her techniques with your own heavy-handed mystical-numinous fauxbrow cinematography.
Elizabeth Bennett is supposed to be a woman, an adult, mature and sensible and clear-sighted. Keira Knightley played the first half of the film like an empty-headed giggling schoolgirl, and the second half like an empty-headed schoolgirl who thinks she is a tragic heroine. Elizabeth's wit, her combative verbal exchanges, her quintessential characteristic of being able to see and laugh at everybody's follies including her own, her strength and composure, and her fantastic clear-sightedness were completely lost and replaced with ... what? A lot of giggling and staring into the distance? Rather than being able to keep her head when all about her were losing theirs, she started to cry and scream at the slightest provocation - and not genuinely raging, either; no, these were petulant hissy fits. And where the great strength of Austen's Elizabeth (at least in Austen's eyes) was her ability to retain integrity and observance while remaining within the boundaries of society and sustaining impeachable propriety, Knightley's Elizabeth had no regard whatsoever for convention. Furthermore, she seemed to think that wandering around barefoot in the mud in the eighteenth century version of overalls established her beyond doubt as spirited and strong-minded, and therefore nothing in the character as written or the performance had to sustain it. An astonishingly unsubtle and bland performance. In which quest for blandness and weakness, she was ably matched by Matthew Macfayden.
Donald Sutherland as Mr Bennet seemed weak, ineffectual and permanently befuddled without the wicked sense of humour and ironic detachment at the expense of human relationships that makes Mr Bennet so fascinating and tragic. His special bond with Lizzie, as the only two sensible people in a world of fools, was completely lost, not least because both of them were fools in a world of fools, and that completely deprived the end of the film of emotional impact. Mr Bingley was no longer amiable and well-meaning to the point of folly, but was played as a complete retard for cheap laughs, and the woman who was playing Jane was so wildly inconsistent that she may as well not have tried to do anything with the character at all. The script veered wildly between verbatim chunks of Jane Austen - delivered with remarkable clumsiness - and totally contemporaneous language which would not be out of place in a modern day romantic comedy.
Just get the BBC adaptation on DVD and save yourself the heartache.
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