Pride and Prejudice (2005)
I've never read...... hmm, yet another blog post starting off with an admission of not having read a famous or acclaimed book. In this case though, reading Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice' was never that high on my 'to-read' list because it always struck me as a chick-book, but if this film adaptation is anything to go by, I was wrong. I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed this period drama.
'Pride and Prejudice' takes place in turn of the 19th century England and tells the story of an intelligent, witty, and romantic young woman, Elizabeth Bennett (Keira Knightley), and events that take place around her that all relate to love and marriage. Elizabeth belongs to a fairly well off family that comprises her father (Donald Sutherland), mother (Brenda Blethyn), and her four sisters. The parents are intent on securing their daughters' futures by getting them married as soon as possible, in part because the family's assets will be inherited by Mr. Bennet's nephew Mr. Collins (Tom Hollander) and not by any of the girls. When a wealthy young man, Charles Bingley (Simon Woods), moves in to a nearby estate the Bennett's attempt to arrange for their eldest daughter Jane (Rosamund Pike) to marry him. During the course of various social events and visits, Elizabeth meets Mr. Bingley's very wealthy but sullen and unfriendly friend Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfayden); the two are initially directly at odds, but it is evident from the outset that each also finds the other fascinating. Events subsequently occur that upset the delicate balance of Elizabeth's family and social circles, and that cause her to both loathe and be drawn to Darcy.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out where this story leads, but as they say its the journey that makes it worthwhile. Given the period setting and cultural norms of the time, this doesn't play out like a contemporary romantic comedy, and it hasn't been in any way modernized. The 'courtships', such as they are, take place in a very stiff and formal manner, with much of the interaction between Elizabeth and Darcy being limited to sharp, witty exchanges and a few subtle but intense moments. In some ways their relationship develops when the two of them aren't together, by way of events occurring off-screen and conversations with other characters. I found the whole thing to be a fascinating window into a time when the whole marriage dance was performed in such a ritualistic and contrived manner (in the Western world, that is. It's still done that way in plenty of other places). The film is full of formal and often verbose dialogue that again befits the setting (or at least, the perception of the setting), and this combined with the production design, lovely English countryside visuals, and music all create a believable period atmosphere.
Keira Knightley, being at the centre of the story, needed to deliver in order to really sell the film. I've always thought she was a good actress but I haven't particularly liked her in any of her films. So colour me surprised, I was impressed by her performance and really enjoyed her work in this; she channels her vivaciousness perfectly while also managing to convey her affections for Darcy and her conflicted feelings with subtlety. Matthew Macfayden isn't particularly great as Darcy, but his scenes with Knightley are, so overall he acquits himself well. Judi Dench appears as Lady Catherine, and once again demonstrates that she's really good at playing pompous, arrogant, and bitchy women in positions of power (that's not a criticism, it's true!). The rest of the cast are quite good, with Brenda Blethyn and Tom Hollander being great in the comic relief (ish) roles of Mrs. Bennett and Mr. Collins respectively.
'Pride and Prejudice' is a wonderful film; it's very well made and features a terrific and endearing performance by Keira Knightley. I don't know how good of an adaptation the film is, but on its own terms it's an entertaining and charming romantic story that's well worth watching. I'll have to now read the book to see how they compare...