I first read Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice when I was in junior high. I have since read all of her works numerous times - P & P probably around 15 times. Austen is my favorite author. Each word, each line, is turned so perfectly and conveys so much - it is simply genius. She understands human nature, and can convey her sharp observations like no one else.
About 10 years ago, the BBC and A & E first aired their 5 hour miniseries of P & P, staring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. Yes, this was when my great love for CF first began. I was so excited to see the miniseries and hoped it would live up to the book. Amazingly, it did. 5 hours gave it the time to cover the subject matter and the scope of the story as it should. I was thrilled. And I have lost count of how many times I have watched that miniseries.
So when I first heard last spring that a new movie version (only 2 hours no less!) was coming to the big screen, I was doubtful. I had no doubts about Keira Knightly - she and Scarlett Johannson are without a doubt the two best young actresses to have come along in many years. Yet, could a 2 hour movie accurately convey the heart of the story; could it portray much beloved characters? And would any man ever supplant Colin Firth as the ultimate Mr. Darcy?
So on Wednesday I dragged my husband and two kids to see Pride and Prejudice. (The kids had already seen Harry Potter with my parents last weekend, so this was the first order of business at a movie theatre for me.) The theatre was filled was estrogen. I did see a couple other men and made sure to point them out to Hubby.
I expected some fairly large changes in the plot - characters and scenes which must necessarily be written out or compressed due to the time frame. This was true. Even though the story was compressed, it remained true to the spirit and the essence of Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The main characters were portrayed faithfully. I especially appreciated that Knightly was able to play Elizabeth Bennett as the 20/21 year old girl she was. We tend to think of her as a more refined woman, who would occasionally go walking through the mud or laugh a lot. Knightly brought out the youthfulness and impulsivity (which can lead to prejudicial judgments) of Elizabeth.
One thing I particularly appreciated about the movie was its portrayal of the Bennett household and the society. Many of us have idealized this time period in a very sanitized, orderly manner. (And yes, I will keep that vision in my heart and brain as well.) Yet, I truly enjoyed the messiness and chaos the movie represents. In the midst of such chaos, one could see how a reserved Mr. Darcy is seen as proud and arrogant.
And Matthew McFayden as Mr. Darcy? McFayden is a hottie British actor who portrayed the central character in the BBC spy drama, MI-5. He was great in that role. He combined steel with gentleness, much as he combined reserve with supressed passion as Mr. Darcy. I still hold my love for Colin Firth, but McFayden gave an arresting portrayal of a very difficult man to play. Kudos.
My one casting difficulty - Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennett. He did fine - but why on earth could they not have found a stalwart British actor who would have added a bit more pizzaz, mischief and resignation to the role? (not to mention a British accent)
The movie also made an important shift in one other area. It is without a doubt the most sensual portayal of an Austen work I have seen. The sensuality begins with the fecundity of the surroundings, from feeding the pigs and ducks to giggling in bed with one's beloved sister. The great houses which are shown boast of incredible paintings filled with nudes. When Elizabeth arrives at Pemberly, she is shown a room with life-sized marble nudes, and then the bust of Mr. Darcy - proper but still sensual. The movie ends at Pemberly with Elizabeth and Darcy, not quite properly dressed to receive others - another nod to the passion bursting throughout the movie.
I know some Austen purists will scoff at the sensuality of the film - but I believe Austen herself would have understood and appreciated such an interpretation. If one reads Claire Tomalin's definitive biography on Austen, one realizes Austen was no stranger to meeting a young man and falling head over heels. She also remembered such a feeling so strongly that she could not bear to marry someone with less feeling, even if she would sink further into poverty. All her works are filled with supressed passion - the proper English restraint being the accepted mode of moving in society. One entire book was dedicated to it - Sense and Sensibility. I applaud this movie's interpretation.
I really liked the movie. It was not perfect (but pretty close). I will love to own it one day - and there will be times when I will pull out my BBC production, and other times I will pull out this one. Different, but both faithful to the heart of Austen's great masterpiece. My grade - A.