Truth in Pride
Pride & Prejudice (4 out of 5 stars)
Starring Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen. Directed by Joe Wright.
I don’t have enough fingers to count how many different renditions of Jane Austen’s “Pride & Prejudice” I’ve seen. And though most are good, particularly the PBS miniseries starring Colin Firth, none are as convincing and realistic as Joe Wright’s “Pride & Prejudice.” Whenever I have watched a film set in the 18th century, I used to gawk at how flawless the women’s skin would be, and at how “clean” all the clothes were considering the conditions of the time.
Wright, who showcased his knack for British realism in the miniseries “Charles II: The Power and the Passion,” makes sure we see the rotten teeth, the stained outfits, the dirty hair, the sweaty armpits; all things that were amply present even in the richest households. From the opening sequence where the Bennett sisters are swirling around the market-place in their soiled-tip skirts, while second-eldest daughter Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) introduces us to the modest household through one long steady-cam shot, we’re transported into the reality of the time. It’s a time when clean water was a commodity, furniture was dusty, and people lived in their clothes until the stench became unbearable.
Mother (Brenda Blethyn) can barely control her flirty younger daughter Lydia (Jena Malone), but is very proud of Jane (Rosamund Pike), her beautiful first born. The topic of gossip is the arrival in town by the wealthy Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods), who Mrs. Bennett insists is perfect for her Jane. At the town ball, Bingley, his gorgeous sister Caroline (Kelly Reilly) and snotty friend Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen) stand out in their refined clothes amongst the townsfolk in their rumpled shirts and pants. But this doesn’t stop Bingley from falling for the lovely Jane, and Darcy noticing the very lovely and outspoken Elizabeth.
Austen’s tale of Darcy’s complex courtship of Elizabeth is well known, but in “Pride & Prejudice” screenwriter Deborah Moggach conveys the youthfulness of the characters in a manner not seen in other renditions. The actors here are all age-appropriate to the book — Knightley is 20 — and their interpretations are credible and understandable. When Lydia runs off with the first cad she meets, it doesn’t come as a surprise since throughout the film her attitude has been capricious and self-absorbed, like any indulgent teenager of her day. And though Elizabeth is very smart for a peer, Knightley plays her with the appropriate arrogance and know-it-all of a person who reacts before thinking, especially when it comes to love. But the subsequent vulnerability and humility comes through profoundly convincingly.
Kudos to Wright for pitting together such well-honed classical thesps such as Blethyn, MacFadyen, Donald Sutherland (as the Bennett patriarch) and Judi Dench (as Lady Catherine de Bourg) against the young and fresh Knightley, Malone, and Pike. The contrast is refreshing and adds rich texture to every sequence.
This “Pride & Prejudice” is like no other. It’s a must-see.