Home > Film > Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Pride and Prejudice (2005)

From the moment the dawn breaks and the sun rises to gild the lettering of the title, Pride and Prejudice (2005), you know you are in for a beautiful version of a traditional story. Indeed, as a piece of film-making, the cinematography from Roman Osin and art direction from Ian Bailie are second to none. There are, however, several issues to address. First, as to the plot, we have to make sacrifices if we are to emerge from the cinema in under two-and-a-half hours. The scriptwriters, Deborah Moggach and Emma Thompson, have cut down everything to the bare essentials of the two love stories. More or less everything else is dumped into to a few quick scenes and cameos from the supporting cast. This is not to deny the director, Joe Wright the chance to stage two balls with the manners of the period firmly on display. Except, during the second private ball, the device of having everyone disappear from the screen while Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) and Mr Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen) dance is an annoying distraction only mitigated because the sight of key people trying to avoid each other by moving through the crowds is decidedly apt. This scriptwriting process does produce a fast-track from first meetings to the breathless embrace of Elizabeth and Mr Darcy as the second dawn breaks over their impending marriage.

Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen end on the right note

 

Second, although we get to see Elizabeth in something approaching full flow, there’s a considerable amount of screen time denied Mr Darcy to establish his off-putting character. It’s the same with Jane Bennet (Rosamund Pike) who gets significantly less time than Elizabeth with poor Mr Bingley (Simon Woods) relegated to a comic turn. I know he’s not very bright but this is carrying the dimness a little too far. It’s rather the same with Mr Collins (Tom Hollander) who’s held up as clownishly short and awkward for us to mock before he makes an edited version of his proposal and then disappears more or less entirely. I think I did see Wickham (Rupert Friend) a few times, but not as often as I might have expected. I suppose he can make his contribution to Bennet family happiness off-screen.

Rosamund Pike and Simon Woods in a passionate huddle

 

Next, we come to the casting. Brenda Blethyn as Mrs Bennet is rather less afflicted by her nerves than in other versions. This is a more sensible person than we usually see, rightly obsessed with the need to get her daughters married off. In those days, marriage was very much a commercial necessity and, without a male heir to protect ownership of the family home, Mrs Bennet is committed to seeing her daughters safe in the shortest possible time. It’s hardly surprising she should be stressed. Judi Dench cannot put a foot wrong in her two minutes on screen. This is the usual stunning performance as a dragon, in this case Lady Catherine de Bourg. The outstanding catastrophe is Donald Sutherland. What were they thinking? I can’t imagine the producers hoped to increase the international distribution by having a Canadian star as Mr Bennet. As it is, this is a man struggling with his accent and, it would seem, to keep his teeth in place. Both hand gestures and facial movements seem to suggest a man afflicted by early false efforts about to drop out. Almost as bad was the lack of animation. Finally, we come to Keira Knightley.

 

This is an early version of the rebellious daughter and subsequent pirate we’ve all come to love. I’m stunned we should have such a fierce Elizabeth. In times when women were expected to be largely decorative and submissive, her body language and verbal aggression would mark her down as one of society’s barbarian princesses. She strides across the landscape, swinging her bloody sword from side to side, in search of another man’s head to add to the scalps hanging from her belt. Seeing her so dominating is hilarious. Except. . .

Brenda Blethyn and Donald Sutherland as the Bennets accenting the positive

 

When we denizens of the oughties go to the cinema, what do we expect to see as entertainment? If we were aiming for historical accuracy, then we would want not just the costumes and stately homes to match the period. We would expect the culture and language to be reproduced. The alternative approach would be to completely relocate the plot for contemporary audiences. So Clueless starring Alicia Silverstone as Austen’s Emma gives us a high school teen comedy of manners, showing a not unpleasing attempt at romance with a period twist. Returning to Kiera Knightley, this is a modern girl in a period dress. She cares nothing for propriety, never avoiding eye contact when giving her dismissals to the men who propose to her. It’s a, “look at me when I’m talking to you” approach to rejection. Yet it’s this performance that will most appeal to the modern audience. When you have the film framed by two dawns, this is signalling its intention to be lushly romantic. That means our Elizabeth has to wear her heart on her sleeve, first to be passionately wrong and then to be passionately right. That way, we can all stagger out of the cinema, profoundly grateful she finally saw the light (literally and metaphorically). I actually felt quite sorry for this Mr Darcy. He was doing everything according to the How to Propose for Dummies play book of his times only to be confronted by a harridan who shouts him down. Whereas he should have said, “Who cares about the difference in our status in the eyes of the world, let’s get it on right here, right now”, he began by apologising. Well, that’s never going to earn him brownie points with this Elizabeth, is it.

 

So, as a film to entertain modern audiences, this is a success. We can’t expect to see respect paid to an old author if that’s not going to get paying customers through the door. More to the point, modern audiences will not sit still long enough to get us through more of the detailed plot. And, if I stop being my natural curmudgeonly self for a moment, I will admit to enjoying quite large chunks of it. Whatever the faults, Pride and Prejudice (2005) looks the part and, courtesy of Joe Wright, is one of the most beautifully filmed versions of an Austen I can remember seeing.

 

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