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The International Writers Magazine
: Film Review

Pride and Prejudice
A review by Sam North
Directed by Joe Wright
Based upon the novel by Jane Austen
Screenplay by Deborah Moggach

Keira Knightley .... Elizabeth Bennet
Matthew MacFadyen .... Mr. Darcy
Brenda Blethyn .... Mrs. Bennet
Donald Sutherland .... Mr. Bennet
Tom Hollander .... Mr. Collins
Rosamund Pike .... Jane Bennet
Jena Malone .... Lydia Bennet
Judi Dench .... Lady Catherine De Bourg

'You have bewitched me - body and soul Miss Elizabeth'

I'd like to think that if Jane Austen could ever go to the movies, she'd be delighted and amazed about how close in spirit this 2005 version of her novel Pride and Prejudice written in 1813 actually is.

Director Joe Wright in his first feature by his own admission is not a classics fan and indeed had never read the book until after seeing Deborah Maggach's screenplay (commissioned before he came on board by Working Title). Nevertheless Working Title chose the right man for the job. He saw right through the text and discovered it to be a slice of early social realism and tackled it accordingly. The result, incombination with Deborah Moggach's witty script is fresh, often exhilerating and with a saucy, waspish, bright Keira Knightley playing Lizzie, funny too.
It has a brisk pace and is not tempted to stray from the countryside for the delights of London and society. We stay rooted with Lizzie in her smaller world and let the outside world come to her.

One must quickly point out that the original music by Dario Marianelli and muted cinematography by Roman Osin (who has the eye of a painter)  in combination with skilful editing by Paul Tothill have really recreated a vanished England and given us the perfect combination of mood and astmosphere.

Joe Wright unusally gave the actors three weeks to rehearse to learn the dances and the Bennet family really got to inhabit their home, each getting their own rooms and were thrown together before the movie to make them feel at ease and be family with each other. It is great to see Donald Sutherland with more to do than utter a few words and he lends credibility and intellect to the role of Mr Bennet, whilst Brenda Blethyn as the mother is unrestrained in her blathering silliness, much to the elder girls obvious embarassment. (Just like a real family). The house, complete with pigs that wander in and out, is wonderfully observed and lived in, this is in total opposition to the sterility of the rich men's houses in the shape of the Bingley and Darcy mansions. The contrast to those who live and those who wish to set an example to others on how to live could not be more marked.

Making Austen revelant to the Britney and Paris Hilton generation is tough but Joe Wright has taken the book at face value and seen that women without means are incredibly vulnerable and marriage to man with income (gentlemen do not work in Austen novels) is essential. To live in a family with five marriageble daughters is ruinous. A mother might do anything to be shot of them. A father might do nothing to prevent it.

Keira's Lizzie Bennet is mocking, often silly, equally often serious and possessed of great insights and definitely does not wish to be married off to just 'anyone'. Especially the odious bore Mr Collins (played with hilarious, sweaty unctuousness by Tom Hollander) who is indeed looking for a wife and has been promised the very home the Bennet's live in.

Lizzie prides herself and her freedom above family need and it is her pride that is the crux of this story. She is consdered 'plain' and should be grateful for any attention whilst her pretty sister Jane is the one that her mother thinks will get the best 'price'. She is played by Rosamund Pike (who it could be said is a very mature 24 in this role and fairly vapid).

Enter into their closeted world the new rich landowner next door, Mr Bingley, played by Simon Woods, who is, from the start quite besotted by Jane and one would have thought this was their story. But no, enter Mr Darcy, Mr Bingley's best friend and even richer landowner from the Peake district. He is played rather too stiffly by Mahew MacFayden - filled with glowering disdain for those who are beneath him. Lizzie Bennet would beneath him too, unworthy of his attention but not for her coyness, her beauty and intelligence that capitivate him. But naturally he cannot bring himself to even think these things when they first meet at the dance in the assembly hall. (The dances are quite invigorating and the lives of these 19th century simple country people is shown as unrestrained and highly natural as they enjoy themselves with gusto, something Mr Darcy is quite unable to do).

Many millions have read Jane Austen and many will know the story from TV or the books, but in this version, the first filmed for the big screen since 1940, (saving Bride and Prejudice last year) it quite captures the heart in a way that 'Tess' did twenty odd years ago in Roman Polanski's version of the Hardy tale.

Of course England's finest country houses are on show (Chatsworth in particular) and look great, but not long after Lizzie has finally spurned Mr Darcy (having discovered he ruined her sister Jane's one chance of happiness with Mr Bingley) she is visiting with her Aunt and Uncle in Derbyshire and comes across Mr Darcy's grand home. It is at once impressive and aloof and in a trice she understand Mr Darcy and why he cannot ever fit in elsewhere. She lets loose a laugh and right at this moment is her flash of understanding. The sculpture gallery with it's sensuous figures in marble hint at hidden passionate depths in the Darcy family and the stage is set for act three.

But of course nothing ever runs smoothly. Other members of the family must live their dreams too and young Lydia (Jena malone) elopes with a rogue Mr Wickham whch could bring the whole family into ruin. Mr Darcy and her father leave to try to resolve the issue and Lizzie is about to learn the truth about Mr Darcy.
Judi Dench appears (it is a requirement for all period films these days) as the embittered Lady Catherine De Bourgh and fills the screen with her fire and brimstone but it is merely a 'turn' and we quickly run back to the kitchen for safety.

Of course if you have read the book you know how it turns out but go see this film and be prepared to fall in love with Jane Austen all over again. Keira's Lizzie Bennet is a revelation and she is captivating for every second she is on screen, her prescence felt when she is not.
A total delight.
On general release from September 16th 2005

© Sam North Sept 15th 2005
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Sam is the author of The Curse of the Nibelung - A Sherlock Holmes Mystery
Lulu Press ISBN: 1-4116-3748-8

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