Pride & Prejudice
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One of the greatest love stories of all time, Pride & Prejudice, comes to the screen in a glorious new adaptation starring Keira Knightley. When Elizabeth Bennett (Knightley) meets the handsome Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen), she believes he is the last man on earth she could ever marry. But as their lives become intertwined in an unexpected adventure, she finds herself captivated by the very person she swore to loathe for all eternity. Based on the beloved masterpiece by Jane Austen, it is the classic tale of love and misunderstanding that sparkles with romance, wit and emotional force. Critics are calling it "Exhilarating. A joy from start to finish" (Carina Chocano, Los Angeles Times).
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I have heard all the complaints and grumbling expressed by critics of Wright's film. The left out speeches, gloomy Darcy and muddy hems. I will admit that some of the dialogue Joe Wright slashed would have served to flesh out Darcy and Elizabeth's relationship. But, once again, the movie is BASED on Austen's novel and it would be impossible to make a two hour movie out of a book that consists almost exclusively of dialogue. In spite of the omissions, the essentials of the central story and characters remain the same.
Wright's determination to cast actors that were the same age as the characters in the novel, brought home the relization that this is a story of first love between two people from radically different worlds. Macfayden's decision to portray Darcy as shy, insecure and awkward is flawless and an accurate interpretation. This is a young man, raised in an isolated environment who's been handed enormous responsibilities while very young. He's made a major mistake with his sister that almost resulted in complete disaster. Arrogance and pride have become his armor and defense against the uncertainty of the world. Darcy has fallen back on his determination to do what is expected of him at all costs. His world is narrow and small, but it is a safe place, and he understands the rules.
Knightly's version of Lizzy is a believable representation of a very young, untried woman with more confidence in herself and her abilities than is justified by her education and upbringing. I know that is sacrilege for most Austen fans, but Austen was a great observer of human nature, and as clever and sparkling as her Lizzy is, she is not the perfect character some readers make her out to be. Knightly shows just how vulnerable her closely held belief in her own powers of human observation make her. Lizzy is smart and witty, but her ability to dismiss reality and see people as she wishes them to be lead her to make poor decisions.
A common criticism of this version of P&P is the lack of character development of the two leads. I disagree. Knightly recognizes that she is not quite a clever as she thinks and that her version of reality is flawed. More importantly, she learns that she doesn't always understand people and their motives and how just how dangerous it is to judge people's characters based on first impressions. Macfayden's Darcy learns to let go of the expectations of family and pride of place. His love for Lizzy goes against all he has been raised to believe, and moves him beyond the wall of stricture and rigidity where he has found safety, and out into the world where human foibles are accepted and he is free to be himself. In the end, Lizzy and Darcy smooth out the sharp edges of each other's personalities and both become wiser. This is a subtle film and must be seen more than once to appreciate the performances of all the actor's interpretation of Austen's characters. Macfayden has the ability to convey emotion and vulnerability with a simple glance. The importance of every encounter with Lizzy is revealed through small, but significant gestures. The viewer is rewarded with the pleasure of watching the slow unwinding of the upright and tightly structured Darcy as he recognizes his flaws and let's go of his narrow view of life.
This is a beautiful movie. The composition of simple chores like the closing of Netherfield are gorgeously done. The countryside is stunningly beautiful and Wright uses his camera to great effect. Scenes often overlap with dialogue and movement that place the viewer inside the action. I have seen the movie several times, and find something new and refreshing with every viewing.
I would recommend this film to both fans of the novel and those unfamiliar with the book. It's a wonderful introduction to Austen and hopefully, will move viewers to further exploration of her novels. As to the purist out there, give this version a fair shot and watch it more than once and with an open mind. There is room in Austen's timeless story for more than one interpretation.
All in all, an okay period piece, but I was disappointingly underwhelmed.
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