212 of 240 people found the following review helpful
Oft told tale made soulful, young
, November 23, 2005
This review is from: Pride & Prejudice (Theatrical Release)
I saw an advanced screening of this film in Boston and was very pleased, it is intelligent in its handle of the material and its fluency in cinematic crafting. Goodbye to dusty, "precious" interpretations of Jane Austen. This cheeky, poetic, even dark new film makes the story youthful with down-to-earth vibrancy and worship of emotion. Here are young people making the mistakes and dreaming the dreams of the young (when it was written it wasn't antiquity, it was life). Lizzie is not a smirking omniscient but a quick witted independent; hotheaded and fiercely loyal to her sister. She is wary of an unfair world and uses her wits to survive. Darcy is not an impenetrable stoic but a shy sensitive soul with high unwieldy social pretensions fending off the outside world. And they are both lonely and have big yearning hearts, so the filmmakers made one great decision -- they let them fall in love the first moment they lock eyes. In a shot we see hearts behind fortified personalities and an instant chemistry that takes a movie's worth of battling with each other and themselves to right itself. It's an earthy move that sets the tone for a film about the people and world behind the antiquated manners, a world not so different from ours.
Now set in 1797, when Austen wrote the first draft of the book, the filmmakers committed to main plot points and themes, and astutely represent the Romantic Age and Austen's characters. The love between Jane and Lizzie is supreme and fuels a desire in Lizzie to tear at Darcy when he separates Jane from Mr. Bingley. She's hurt, she reciprocates the pain, and it is bitter. Pride and prejudices are drawn clearly: Lizzie searches hard to find fault with Darcy, and Darcy cannot bring himself to let down his guard. Both have their reasons justified, but they foil their own chances at love constantly until they see how wrong they are and are too heartsick to keep going. Class conflict is suddenly personally injurious and vicious. When Charlotte Lucas marries for security, it's a grave matter and she must bitingly sober up a disdainful Lizzie on the realities of their world. The Bennets are too eccentric and improper for their own good. Lady Catherine (Dame Judi Dench, who is downright fearsome) is not just a cold figure for Lizzie to spar with, but someone capable of deeply hurting others. The filmmakers are savvy in their understanding of history. Setting it back 20 years is a remarkable move, because we accept more diversions and variation with the 18th century than the 19th and it presents Austen as a Romantic, which automatically requires the story to be interpreted from a different, very legitimate, perspective. The ideals of the Romantic Age are ingeniously, subtly played here: human equality, gritty realism married with beauty for the sake of beauty, but a beauty which is never elitist or decadent, always grounded, simple, and universal: nature, the human being, emotion.
The ensemble and mis-en-scene are electric. The camera spryly edges in and out of rooms and conversations instead of sitting arthritically in a corner. The dance scenes are less about ballet, now rollicking and spirited as characters send signals, flirt, deflect and analyze one another. In true Romantic form (worthy of filling Wordsworth with pride) the aesthetic unabashedly revels in beauty, but always the simple joys of our world: sunrises, dewy landscapes in wide shots, colors everywhere. It has a lovely score, period inspired and without any pomp and circumastance. Simple blocking is caffeinated and given substance, something is always going on in the background. Lively, layered interactions between characters make rich scenes, neither wasting space nor time. Consider a scene with Mr. Collins, played by the magnificent Tom Hollander (a standout here, so delightfully weird. When he jaggedly squirms his way up to someone you want to shriek). He wants to speak to Lizzie, alone, and a bolt of fear strikes through her as she pleads in vain not to be abandoned. The sisters are merciless, Mrs. Bennet delighted, Mr. Bennet at a loss, and Collins prepares. It's all silent and it's hysterical.
Suggesting variation to revered characters is a frightful task, but here it's a revelation. The entire cast is brilliant, but the two leads are transcendent in their roles. Keira Knightley is charismatic, random, wonderfully young, intuitive to the bone -- she inhabits Lizzie. Matt MacFadyen is deep, remarkably subtle, but mostly he is soulful. I've long held him as a sympathetic actor, but he shines in this. The two instill an unexpected exuberance of feeling in their performances. Neither ever acknowledge the camera exists and make the most of every second they have on screen to project their characters. When you throw them together you get a love story full of emotional subtext, double meaning, and gloriously heavy moments.
Because so much dialogue was cut, simple lines have impact and much of the exposition is visual. Epic little moments linger and rain, revealing souls. The thoughts and intentions behind the actors' eyes and words are visible at all times. This movie understands the power of a shot or glance. Lizzie comes to understand Darcy in how he embraces his sister or smiles (a momentous occasion, indeed). When she talks about love it's stirring because it's finally spilled into the open after we've seen it near the edge many times with half said sentiments and stifled tears. Usually "I love you" comes with extra explanatory prose, but here sincerity kills cliché: parties are fun, a misty field is breathtaking, the dawning of love a revelation, the heartbreak is throbbing.
It's a brilliant film. There is something breathless and luminous about it, from its youth and the break from propriety, to the beauty and spontaneity of life and romance, pain and joy, which provide the color.
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