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“While it will never satisfy those rabid Jane Austen...”

Written on: 12/02/2006 by Timix1 (33 reviews written)

Good Points
A lush, elegant production that does right by the book and gives the underrated Keira Knightly the role of a lifetime.

Bad Points
At a mere two hours, its pacing is overly brisk at times.

General Comments
While it will never satisfy those rabid Jane Austen fans who demand that every last syllable of the book be brought to life onscreen, there is a great deal to like about this latest film adapation of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. It features gorgeous art direction and cinematography (including a couple of long, intricate camera shots that snake their way impossibly through crowded scenes), not to mention a strong cast led by a charmingly feisty Keira Knightly (a revelation here as Lizzy) and which also includes the likes of Donald Sutherland and Judi Dench. I've read about the protests from some P&P/BBC fans who believe that Colin Firth is the one and only Mr. Darcy, but Matthew MacFadyen is more than up for the challenge.

Complaints? Only the obvious: condensing a book of this scope into two hours of screen time results in the skimping of much of that tome's rich detail and plotting. Remember Lizzy's comment to Jane that her love for Mr. Darcy "has been coming so gradually, that I hardly know when it began"? Well, that line doesn't ring quite as true in this film. Had I not read the text first, I might have found the pacing - and the couple's burgeoning affection for each other - a little too brisk for my liking. Things like Lizzy and Wickham's budding relationship, the visit to Pemberley, and the family crisis over Lydia's quickie wedding are painted with the lightest of strokes. Mr. Collins' engagement to Charlotte comes as a complete surprise since the two never even share a scene together before the wedding announcement (a single shot of the two conversing in the background or sharing an awkward look is all that would have been required to plant the seed for the audience).

Having said that, I'd argue that, in relation to the mid-90's TV miniseries, certain aspects of this production just feel more right. In this updated version, one can actually believe that Jane might be considered the beauty of the Bennet family. The Mr. Collins here comes across more like the nerdish, serious-minded clergyman that I had pictured while reading the book than his downright creepy-looking BBC doppleganger. The humble, almost ramshackle Longbourn estate in this adaptation gives you a better sense of the Bennet family's meager means and more keenly illustrates why the union of Lizzy (that 'young woman of inferior birth') and Ol' Moneybags Darcy would seem so ill-suited in everyone's eyes.

Don't get me wrong; I did like the BBC version, but if anything it clung too slavishly to the text. I don't believe that a successful film adaptation of a book requires a page-by-page re-enactment (I've said it before and I'll say it again: the LORD OF THE RINGS film trilogy is the benchmark by which all future literary adaptations should be compared, and Peter Jackson made all kinds of alterations to the books). Some of the omissions are entirely forgivable, even welcome; sure, Mr. Bingley's married sister and her hubby Mr. Hurst are nowhere to be found, but they served no real purpose in the book, so what's to miss? Plus, the BBC version has all that dancing! Yes, I understand the social importance of those balls to early 19th century England, and I'm sure all those dance steps are probably some metaphor for the intricate pas-de-deux shared by Lizzy and Darcy during their initial conversations; still, there are times when I felt like I was watching an 1814 version of 'Dirty Dancing' "nobody puts Lizzy in the corner!"

As such, an ideal film adaptation of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE would probably fall somewhere between the BBC production and its big-screen counterpart. Still, it's hard to imagine a two-hour version coming off much better than this.

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