Pride and Prejudice a Surprise Success

To be greeted by a film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice seems almost to ask what for or why be? Has not the public had enough of this particular romantic comedy of manners, let alone everything by its creator? Counting both theatrical and TV movies this is well over the 10th cinematic version of the classic story, and it seems a truth universally acknowledge – by Bridget Jones herself, no less – that the 1995 BBC miniseries starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle was the definitive, done article.

But it is also a truth universally acknowledged, that a young British actress in possession of a promising future, must be in want of a staple literary role. And so this time around we get Keira Knightley as the inimitable(?) Lizzy Bennet to teach us we should not be so proud and prejudiced. How surprisingly right she is, for what appears on screen may in fact be the most heartfelt and true interpretation of the famous novel yet put on screen.

The camera’s frame may remain decidedly ‘period piece’ but within it is emotion unadorned, no strained adjectives such as repressed needing apply. In simple terms, a dance scene now finally looks like something one might want to be invited to.

The performances end up being so consistently ‘on’ and ‘right’ one quickly forgets the exceptional ability of the talent on display and eases into watching the plot unfold. Just as she battled pirates and soccer players previously before audience’s eyes, so here Ms. Knightley battles the superficial society of late-18th, early-19th century Regency England. Lizzy Bennet is, after all, something of a punk, and Ms. Knightley’s striking but unconventional beauty plays well.

In her contemplative gazes at the English countryside, viewers glimpse a character in full, the effects of her upbringing and cultural surrounding upon it peaking through. Brenda Blethyn humanizes the usually blithering, neurotic matriarch Mrs. Bennet without the comedy suffering. In his short time on screen Donald Sutherland’s Mr. Bennet exudes such warmth and wisdom a Best Supporting Actor Oscar seems certain. Even former Bond girl Rosamund Pike as family beauty Jane Bennet adds a particular grace to the proceedings.

Yet the greatest thrill is to be found in the discovery of Matthew MacFadyen as love interest Mr. Darcy. He may not be able to match the sex appeal of Colin Firth for some, but he creates a wondrous comedic pathos with the pompous, airy resonance of his voice and the imposing carriage of his body’s frame. As with Lizzy, he wins our affection slowly but strongly.

All of this is to nod to the talent of director Joe Wright. With an engaged, observational technique the glittering light of classic cinema flickers behind each and very frame. That which is well-known has been stripped-down, cleaned-up and made fresh, proving once again the tale’s timelessness. With its peaceful, spring-autumnal end a tear of joy for the lovers and a cheer of appreciation for the filmmakers seems all too deserved.