(Photo of MacFadyen as Darcy): Alas, poor Darcy is so "bewitched" by love that he saunters across the countryside without dressing properly! (Or does Director Joe Wright just delight in giving us the "thrill" of glimpsing MacFadyen's chest hair?)
If you don't have preconceived notions about P&P, you may easily enjoy this fiercely romantic film.
However, since I ventured to the theatre with my own pride and prejudices concerning Jane Austen's novel, I find myself greatly perplexed by this 2005 adaptation.
While there is much to praise, I believe the film leaves too much of Jane Austen's comedy behind on the bookshelf.Where is Her Pride?
Instead of a strong sense of pride
Elizabeth Bennett (played by Keira Knightley) exudes a fidgety giddiness with bursts of giggles and bouts of eye-rolling. She might even be mistaken for one of her restless and immature younger sisters. Ultimately, this Elizabeth/Lizzy displays more melodrama than sharp wit; becoming a trembling and gasping virgin at a mere glimpse of Darcy's coattails.
Unfortunately - not only does she appear besotted with Darcy, but also, with herself. Why? Because Director Joe Wright is seemingly smitten with Knightley’s elfish appearance, and too often, the film lens catches her staring at herself in the mirror. She becomes the picture of a pining heroine - better suited for a gothic romance than a romantic comedy. Not once could I forget she is Keira Knightley. The camera, perhaps, would not let me. (Ah, for goodness sake, will somebody please give this gal a bite to eat!)Where is His Prejudice?
The (ever-sexy) Matthew MacFadyen's depiction of Darcy seems to imply that our hero is not proud at all, but merely misunderstood. His self-conscious manner suggests a shy and brooding man who cannot cope with small-talk or simple conventions - not a proud snob.
In his first proposal, MacFadyen demonstrates more urgent desperation than condescending arrogance. His Darcy, soaking in rain, seems infused with spontaneous passion. So much so that the two lovers break into heated shouting (and out of character). A close-up shot suggests that a kiss would settle all between them; put them out of their hormonal misery.Without the intense pride and prejudice, the story becomes one of confused misunderstanding, not a journey of self-revelation and subsequent transformation.Who are these Strangers?
The essential character of Wickham (played by Rupert Friend) is strangely kicked into the sidelines. Although his influence over Elizabeth is instrumental to the plot, Wickham is given obscenely little screen time. We are asked to believe he is charming and persuasive – rather than to witness it ourselves.
I usually depend upon dear Bingley to be reliably agreeable and cheerfully unassuming, but here (played by Simon Woods), he comes across as goofy, even clownish (aided by his fluff of bright, red hair), as if he is a second "Collins," rather than an appealing suitor to sweet Jane.
Collins, himself, played by Tom Hollander, seems downright eerie at the start, and later, appears to portray a tragic and vulnerable social misfit rather than a man who is comically oblivious to the feelings of others. As a result, any mockery of him feels mean-spirited.Women to Watch!
P&P '05 offers several standout performances. Compared to previous characterizations, I immensely enjoyed Brenda Blethyn’s robust portrayal of Mrs. Bennett. She balances comic self-centeredness with a keen desperation for her daughters’ futures. In her performance, comedy and drama blend comfortably.
In addition, the portrayal of Charlotte Lucas is excellent. Charlotte’s short speech about settling for marriage with Collins is one of the more poignant moments in the movie.
Also noteworthy, Rosamund Pike manages to create a sweet Jane who isn't prim or sugary.Leaving the Parlor, Leaving the Genre?
P&P '05 is visually striking and stimulating. Images of crowded ballrooms as well as the Bennett household offer a gritty (even dirty) realism that is not often seen in (more staged) adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels.
However, the desire to escape the confinements of the parlor is indulged too far for my liking. Darcy’s first proposal is set in stormy rain (leaning the film, once again, too heavily toward gothic). The director, I suspect, hopes for more drama, but the drama, Dear Director, is in the dialogue, not the atmosphere.
Jane Austens' P&P is not an atmospheric novel. No unexpected midnight guests, no sudden bolts of lightning. Yet, this director seems to strive to transform Jane Austen's "Comedy of Manners" into a "Gothic Romance."Or is he indulging our fast-paced society, short attention spans, need for instant gratification and youth-driven market? Is any adaptaption of P&P completely blind to the contemporary audience it seeks to engage?Elizabeth Bennett as Cinderella?
The final sequence between Lizzy and Darcy has such a corny fairy-tale quality to it that this
audience member wonders when Darcy became Prince Charming?
I've long-believed that the strong and sensible nature of Jane Austen's Lizzy will allow her to create a content life for herself regardless of marriage, but regrettably, this Lizzy’s happiness seems to be inextricably tied-up in becoming Mrs.
Darcy.Watch it? Definitely.
Watch it for Brenda Blethyn’s moving and funny Mrs. Bennett (and Donald Sutherland’s touching Mr. Bennett). Watch it for the brief but impressive appearance by brilliant Judi Dench. Watch it for sexy MacFadyen’s portrayal of Mr. Rochester – ooops! I mean, Mr. Darcy! Watch it for sheer romantic and escapist fantasy.
Watch it because, despite its faults, the film is superior to most general cinema offerings.
...assuming, of course, you can forebear the clichés of lovers set against sunsets/sunrises, rain-drenched, and yes, wandering about in improper attire!Recommended Reading
Mercy's review of Pride & Prejudice
and Holly's prd & prjdc