By Sarah Carlson, Arts Editor
An enduring love story, Pride and Prejudice has been retold on screen almost a dozen times, whether in a literal adaptation like the BBC’s excellent 1995 TV version or with a modern take on the classic, as in Bridget Jones’s Diary, both of which star Colin Firth as the proud Mr. Darcy.
Finally, after almost 200 years since Austen penned the classic, comes a fresh and vibrant film adaptation from Focus Features and director Joe Wright. The corset strings have been loosened, the women’s hair not pulled as tight and more scenes are set in the lush and brooding English countryside, all combined to bring a touch of authenticity to the film and breathe a little more humanity into the characters.
Devout Austenites needn’t worry; the story is still here, and everything is true to the time period, down to the silk damask curtains and societal worries. But, scenes are livelier and more believable, making the world of Jane Austen one anyone would want to visit. Instead of sedate local dances, we’re treated to rousing dance halls filled with flushed women and men.
Keira Knightley stars as Elizabeth, the second eldest of five Bennett daughters all looking for love in early 19th century England. Knightley’s far too beautiful to be Elizabeth but still brings vivaciousness to the role, a quality usually missing in most period pieces.
The Bennett sisters have a loud and clueless mother (Brenda Blethyn), whose one concern is landing a husband for each of her daughters. Their father (Donald Sutherlin) brings more sanity to the household, along with Elizabeth, but still creates his own societal faux pas.
When we first meet the family at their modest house, Longbourn, they have learned that a young and wealthy new tenant is coming to a nearby house (read: mansion), Netherfield. All are giddy at the prospect of an eligible bachelor moving in next door and they meet the new tenant, Mr. Bingley, along with his sister and his friend Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen), at a local dance.
Bingley is warm, friendly and obliging. Darcy is removed, proud and refuses to dance with any of the young ladies at the dance – all country folk and beneath his own personal wealth. He slights Elizabeth and won’t dance with her, but Bingley takes a shine to her older sister, Jane (Rosamund Pike).
Elizabeth is at first thrown off by Darcy’s ill manners but stands up to him nonetheless, leaving a lasting impression on the misunderstood friend. MacFadyen brings a touch of normality to Darcy, going beyond demonstrating his pride and adding a touch of shyness and insecurity. Yes, he’s concerned about Elizabeth’s lack of family connections and money, but he’s also just nervous when he’s around her.
A relationship of mixed signals, Darcy and Elizabeth spend most of the movie trying to interpret, albeit incorrectly, the other’s feelings, but their misunderstandings are soon resolved.
Pride & Prejudice’s beautiful score and cinematography demonstrate the art of high-brow filmmaking that can appeal to all types audiences. Knightley also shines and proves her chops as a strong leading lady. Pride & Prejudice is one of the most romantic and enjoyable films of the year, the kind that leaves you smiling as you walk out of the theatre while wondering how soon you can return to see it again.
Pride & Prejudice
Rated: PG (for some mild thematic elements)
Starring: Keira Knightley, Matthew MacFadyen, Donald Sutherlin, Brenda Blethyn
Directed by: Joe Wright
Release Date: Nov. 23 (wide)