Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pride & Prejudice (2005 film)

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 12/5/05 w/ Additional Edits.

Novelist Jane Austen has been known for creating witty and fantastic romantic novels during the 19th Century. Several of them had become films like Sense & Sensibility in 1995 by director Ang Lee that starred Emma Thompson who won an award for the film's screenplay. Another film that received great reviews in 1996 based on an Austen novel was Emma starring Gwyneth Paltrow while a year earlier, a modern day version of that novel called Clueless was also popular. Another of Austen's famous novels is Pride & Prejudice that some said was the blueprint of what would become the romantic comedy. The story of five young women living in a poor area in 18th Century England where one of the daughters rebels the idea of marriage for money while falling for an introverted but conflicted man named Darcy.

Throughout the years, there's been several versions of Pride & Prejudice on film yet in 1995, a five-hour miniseries starring Colin Firth as Darcy is often considered to be the most quintessential adaptation of Austen's novel. Recently, there's been other variations on Pride & Prejudice including the Bridget Jones films that also starred Firth as a Darcy-like character and Gurinder Chadha of Bend It Like Beckham directed a Bollywood-inspired version called Bride & Prejudice. Now a new version has emerged where this time around, to play the novel's heroine of Elizabeth Bennett, they turn to one of the hottest young actresses around in Keira Knightley to play the role of rebellious heroine.

Directed by Joe Wright with a screenplay by Deborah Moggach (with additional treatment from Austen fan Emma Thompson), Pride & Prejudice is a love story that explores class, society, and marriage for love or money. Set in 18th Century England, it's a story of how the rebellious Elizabeth Bennett decides to change those rules while dealing with the more conflicted Mr. Darcy. Also starring a large cast of British actors including Brenda Blethyn, Judi Dench, Rosamund Pike, Talulah Riley, Carey Mulligan, Tom Hollander, Simon Woods, Peter Wight, Penelope Wilton and Matthew McFayden as Mr. Darcy plus American actress Jena Malone and Canadian actor Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennett. This new film adaptation of Pride & Prejudice succeeds in bringing the Austen classic to life once again for a new generation of filmgoers.

While living in a modest farm with their own land and a small income, the Bennett family is awaiting some riches to come with Mr. Bennett destined to be gone soon. With Mrs. Bennett (Brenda Blethyn) knowing that if her five young daughters are to survive, they would have to be married to someone who is rich. For the second eldest daughter Elizabeth, it's an idea she doesn't really like. After the family is invited to a party, Elizabeth is introduced to the quiet, arrogant Mr. Darcy who is accompanied by Mr. Charles Bingley (Simon Woods) and his sister Caroline (Kelly Reilly). Elizabeth's older sister Jane (Rosamund Pike) is feeling very attracted to Mr. Bingley while Mrs. Bennett introduces the rest of the clan that includes the quiet and introverted Mary (Talulah Riley), the giddy and excitable Kitty (Carey Mulligan), and the youngest yet outgoing of the clan, Lydia (Jena Malone).

While Jane has fallen for Mr. Bingley, she is invited to meet with him more though despite being ill during her rainy trip. Elizabeth decides to meet Bingley where she finds herself not at odds with Bingley's snobbish sister but also the more prideful Mr. Darcy. Still with her sisters desire to be married, Elizabeth finds herself being courted by a young pastor named William Collins (Tom Hollander). Then during a trip to London with her sisters, Elizabeth finds herself attracted to a militia officer named Mr. Wickham (Rupert Friend) who knows Mr. Darcy despite a falling-out. After another party where she's forced to contend with Mr. Darcy and the courting of Collins, Collins proposes marriage to Elizabeth but refuses. Mrs. Bennett is upset at the situation as she tries to set up the engagement as in the end, Collins weds Elizabeth's best friend Charlotte (Claudie Blakley).

After realizing that Collins was more well-meaning while visiting Charlotte, Elizabeth joins the wedded couple to a dinner held by Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Judi Dench), who is the aunt of Mr. Darcy. Mr. Darcy is also at the dinner where despite his aunt's social prejudice, he becomes impressed by how Elizabeth manages to hold herself. When Elizabeth learns that Mr. Darcy tried to break the possible engagement of Jane and Mr. Bingley, she becomes very angry at him as Darcy tries to explain himself and professing his love for her. After a tiring period, Elizabeth decides to visit her relatives Mr. Gardiner (Peter Wight) and his wife (Penelope Wilton) where they visit the renovated Darcy home where Elizabeth runs into Mr. Darcy again as well as meeting his sister Georgianna (Tazmin Merchant).

While dealing with Darcy's behavior, Elizabeth decides to come to distressing news of Lydia running away to marry Wickham. Even after learning of the real nature of his falling out with Darcy, Darcy ended up giving in despite Elizabeth’s protests to the chagrin of her mother. When Elizabeth contending her feelings for Darcy and vice versa, she tries to confront herself about her own pride and prejudices about him as she tries to find way to satisfy herself and her family.

While adaptations are tricky to pull, especially a Jane Austen novel. Another issue is the many versions that came out where the most notable to rival in terms of purists is the 1995 miniseries. Still, Joe Wright along with screenwriter Deborah Moggach remain very faithful to the entire novel though its understandable that purists will be upset on what was cut. What really is surprising about the film for newcomers is the style of dialogue and the language its spoken where it is very rich within every word that gives the script a true sense of authenticity.

Even Joe Wright's directing that features epic film movements does some fantastic work with the camera movements as it focuses not on just the relationship of Darcy and Elizabeth but giving the smallest characters a moment to shine. Overall, the directing is very spot-on and proves itself to be very true to what Austen wanted. It's romantic, intelligent, deals with social issues, and it's also funny.

Helping Wright in his visual scope is cinematographer Roman Osin who does not just amazing work in giving the film an epic look in many of the exterior scenes but also some great lighting techniques in the film's night, interior scenes. Osin's work is gorgeous in giving the film the right look. Production designer Sarah Greenwood and supervising art director Ian Bailie also do great work in getting many of the film's interiors of housing, poor and rich to look and feel right that helps set the atmosphere. Especially some of the locations and the houses that got used which are wonderfully used to a great extent. Costume designer Jacqueline Durran also deserves great commendation for her work on the costumes, especially in the ball scenes where they all look very beautiful for all the women in the film. Editor Paul Tothill also brings in some nice cutting styles and giving the film a nice pace at a bit over two-hours where it doesn't feel slow or moves to fast. Just very leisurely.

The music of the film features not just old piano tunes of the day from those times but also the piano is used very proficiently into giving the story a sense of atmosphere or as some kind of emotional outlet, notably with the character of Mary Bennett. Even the orchestral score by Dario Marianelli helps convey that atmosphere while music supervisor Nick Angel also picks the right pieces for the film, even if they're performed imperfectly. It's a wonderfully rich film score that has memorable moments but plays more into conveying the tone of the story.

Now previous castings in film versions of Pride & Prejudice has been crucial in terms of giving the right notes and style of dialogue in the film. This cast for this version of the film is well-executed in every detail. Carey Mulligan is excellent as the naive, excitable Kitty while Talulah Riley is also brilliant as the more introverted Mary who has a great scene playing a piano which she messes up only to be comforted by her father. Peter Wight and Penelope Wilton are also good as Elizabeth's well-meaning relatives as well as Tazmin Merchant in her small role as Darcy's sister and Kelly Reilly as Bingley's snobbish sister. Claudie Blakley is also wonderful in her role as Charlotte, Elizabeth's best friend who gives good reasons into marrying Mr. Collins. Rupert Friend is good as the dashing but ambiguous Wickham while Simon Woods is wonderfully funny as Bingley.

Tom Hollander is a real standout as the well-meaning but naive Mr. Collins where he brings out many of the film’s laughs in a very straight manner as he delves into that role perfectly. Judi Dench is also great with her authority-driven presence where everything she says is really offensive in terms of its social standings while wanting to maintain control in her rich world only to receive a cold dose of reality. It's a great performance by the always wonderful Judi Dench. Jena Malone is perfect in her performance as what some would call the proto-teenybopper of Lydia. Malone manages to standout in every scene she's in while stealing the show from her co-stars including at one moment, Miss Knightley (where in reality, Malone is a year older than Knightley) as she plays up to all the selfishness and energy that Lydia provides. Rosamund Pike is also brilliant in her understated, anguished performance as the eldest Jane who had a chance for love only to have it taken away. Pike really provides the sisterly companionship to Knightley as she manages to give an amazing performance.

Donald Sutherland is outstanding in his role as the soft-spoken but open-minded Mr. Bennett as he provides the comfort that every child needs with their father while maintaining his role as the head of the family. Sutherland really conveys the freedom that Elizabeth needs as he and Knightley have great scenes together as it's a great role for the longtime veteran actor who has worked with the likes of Robert Altman and Fellini. Brenda Blethyn is perfect in her role as Mrs. Bennett where she not only has great scenes with the young actresses and great chemistry with Sutherland. She really provides a lot of the comic backbone of the film with her emotional outbursts, her desire to have her daughters married, and her necessity to fit in with the upper-class. There's never a moment where Blethyn gives a bad performance as her timing in comedy is just perfect in every note.

In the role of Mr. Darcy, Matthew McFayden must've had to live up to a lot of expectations where the role was played previously by Laurence Olivier and most of all, Colin Firth. McFayden however succeeds while having great chemistry with Knightley.  Even as McFayden provides the right sense of melancholia and pride into a character that is complex and vulnerable. It's a true breakthrough performance from Matthew McFayden.

In what is definitely the best performance of career so far, Keira Knightley does an amazing job as Elizabeth Bennet. Knightley brings the angst, rebellion, torment, and stubborn side of Elizabeth Bennett in every way while making her character grow. Knightley proves herself to be a very strong, dramatic actress while dabbling in a bit of humor but using her words and her feelings to bring that character to life. It's truly her best performance in many ways since her credibility as an actress is often overshadowed by extravagant action films.

While it may not live up to previous variations of the novel, the new version of Pride & Prejudice is an excellent film thanks to Joe Wright's direction and faithfulness to the novel led by a superb cast. Fans of Keira Knightley will be glad to see the actress display her talents while being supported by the likes of Matthew McFayden, Donald Sutherland, Brenda Blethyn, Jena Malone, Rosamund Pike, Tom Hollander, and Judi Dench. Another good thing that the film will do for those who had interest in Austen will not only make those new to her work interested in her films but also the novels themselves. In the end, for a good romantic film that is needed for the holidays in a flurry of weightless fluffs, Pride & Prejudice is the film to see.

Joe Wright Films: Atonement - The Soloist - Hanna - Anna Karenina

(C) thevoid99 2011

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