I studied Jane Austen in school and firmly believe that Pride & Prejudice is and was her finest work. It isn’t as sentimental as 'Sense & Sensibility' as allegorical as 'Mansfield Park' or quite as funny as 'Emma'; but it always represents, for me, the classic piece from Austen, it is beautifully written and although light in tone it is not flimsy. It is a wonderful piece of literature. Enter a fresh director looking to make his film debut, a beautiful young actress looking to prove her talent and a television writer ready to make her mark. And what do you get? …a thing of beauty...
I say it unabashedly: Pride & Prejudice was my favourite live action film of 2005 surpassed only by Tim Burton’s animated Corpse Bride. As I’ve said in previous writing, I love the British, especially on film. When a film is filled with incessant British chatter their just seems to be a special panache about it [re Gosford Park, Howards End, Sense & Sensibility in recent times]. For any film with heavy dialogue it needs a talented cast to pull it off. The casting begins and ends with the Bennett’s. The Bennett parents are casted to perfection with Brenda Blethyn and Donald Sutherland. A match made in cinematic heaven, but not for the obvious reasons. In the novel, Mrs. Bennett is a bit of neurotic fishwife who can sometimes be as vacuous as her teenage girls. Mr. Bennett a well mannered man of the books is sometimes annoyed at her relentless stupidity, but there are moments when we can see that they really are devoted to each other. That is something this casting is able to do perfectly. I did watch the 1995 miniseries version of Pride & Prejudice and this is one of the things that they could not capture from the novel. But in this 2005 experience we can believe that there was a time when there was no other attraction for Mr. Bennett. In a way their conversation at the beginning of the film sets the tone for the rest of the film.
One thing that comes dangerously close to spoiling the film though is the character of Mr. Bingley, played by Simon Woods. For some reason the character is played as something of an airhead. It does lead to some laughs in the first half, but at the end of the day the calm and unpretentious Rosamund Pike deserves someone way better, Mr. Bingley is supposed to represent the model of a conventional romantic hero a la Richard Burton whereas Darcy is a sort of antithesis a sort of a Paul Newman. Of course Matthew McFayden is no Newman, but he puts up a valiant effort. Bingley on the other did not particularly impress me.
I rather feel that Rupert Friend who played the roguish Mr. Wickham who in some scenes seems like a startling look a like to Orlando Bloom would have done a better job as Bingley. He has the sort of bland charm that we unearth from Bingley in the novel. But don’t feel that I’m trying to recreate the novel verbatim in the film. There are things excised from the novel for the film version. But the beauty of Pride & Prejudice is that it doesn’t feel truncated or incomplete.
There are two scenes in Pride & Prejudice that I absolutely love. In addition to the Judi Dench scenes mentioned above. There is a moment in the second half when Elizabeth receives a dreadful notice about her sister Lydia . She walks in and out of the room where her aunt and Uncle sit with Mr. Darcy. Unable to speak she is barely able to sputter the words out in tears. The second occurs towards the end. It’s a hot summer day and the house is lethargic. Jane has just sworn that she is over Mr. Bingley when a sister spies him coming to the house with that dreadful Mr. Darcy. The house flies into a flurry of quick cleaning to make themselves and the house presentable. It lasts less that a few minutes, but Ms. Bennet’s line Everybody act naturally is almost a theme for the film.
Pride & Prejudice is NOT a period piece of the usual type. In this period pieces the houses are not spotless, there are pigs in the houses, clothes hang on the line and are wet by the rain, the hems of our heroine is covered in mud and the cast really do act naturally. Don’t be a purist, and don’t stick to the book like some high priest. This film is wonderful. Approach it with a free mind and willing mind. I really don’t think you will be disappointed.