PRIDE & PREJUDICE (11/23/2005)
Director: Joe Wright
Cast: Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen, Donald Sutherland

My Rating: 9/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 86% Certified Fresh

PLOT: Jane Austen’s immortal novel receives yet another makeover, with Keira Knightley as the headstrong Elizabeth Bennet, who finds herself reluctantly falling for the brooding, distant Mr. Darcy.

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The words “sumptuous” and “painterly” came to mind repeatedly while watching director Joe Wright’s delightful version of “Pride & Prejudice.” Much like Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon”, the images in “Pride & Prejudice” appear lifted from paintings of landscapes and portraits you’d find hanging in any given museum. The details are as stunning as anything you’d find in a Merchant Ivory film. It’s just gorgeous to look at.

The screenplay clips along at a nice pace, and the English accents are a tad thick at times, so you’ll definitely want to be paying close attention to the dialogue. While the cinematography is masterful, this is above all a film of words. It’s not exactly Shakespearean, but there are times when sentence construction coils on itself like a highway cloverleaf.

Other random thoughts:

• The casting of Keira Knightley is utterly perfect, but Matthew Macfadyen looks JUST a shade too old for her, although it’s entirely possible that was normal for the period. Who WOULDN’T fall in love with this woman?

• Carey Mulligan makes her screen debut in this film as one of the Bennet sisters. Both she and Jena Malone are suitably obnoxious and giggly playing teenage girls, but they do look a little too old for the part. Just sayin’.

• Donald Sutherland is magnificent as the patriarch of the Bennet family. His love for his wife and daughters is supremely evident, as is his frequent exasperation at their nattering and chattering. His somewhat frazzled wardrobe is the perfect indicator of his inner self.

• I just have to mention the cinematography again here. There are one or two long takes (not “Goodfellas” long, but long nevertheless) that are like a master class in conveying information using minimal dialogue. It doesn’t hurt that the costuming and production design are flawless.

• Two words: Judi Dench. Reportedly, the director convinced her to be in this movie by writing her a letter in which he stated, “I love it when you play a bitch.” She delivers in spades.

• In today’s world, I wonder what folks would think of Mr. Darcy’s actions. He falls for Elizabeth, but she rebuffs him when she believes he ruined her sister’s prospects of marriage. He then proceeds to assist her family enormously, but behind the scenes, and then tells her, “Surely you must know…it was all for you.” Today’s PC watchdogs might call that stalking. Discuss.

As a general rule, I am not a huge fan of Jane Austen adaptations. It is a measure of the quality of this movie that I felt compelled to make it part of my collection (along with Ang Lee’s “Sense & Sensibility” and Patricia Rozema’s “Mansfield Park”). As period pieces go in general, I would rank it with “Amadeus” and “Barry Lyndon”. It’s a gem.

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