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  • Pride and Prejudice - Director Joe Wright
    by Zettel at 02:14 on 19 September 2005
    Not quite Rachmaninov but close. Matthew MacFadayen’s Mr Darcy emerging from the early morning mist to open his passionate heart to Elizabeth Bennett runs neck and neck, or rather chest to chest, Colin Firth’s wet shirt. It’s the surging sub-Rachmaninov score that perhaps gives it the edge.

    It’s a challenge: you have about two hours to deal with a complex multi-layered book taking a witty, sharp-eyed satirical look at complex social mores, and class-defined relationships. But at the heart of this is one of the most powerful and endlessly appealing love stories in fiction. Movie-wise, box-office-wise it’s a no brainer. And Joe Wright goes for broke. Every cinematic skill allied to a focused Deborah Moggagh screenplay, is superbly employed to crank up the repressed passion of Lizzie and Darcy. And you’d have to be a curmodgeonly old cynic or an Austen purist to deny that it works. Early feminist piece? Get of out of here. Right book, wrong movie.

    Hoplessly corrupted over too many years of too many Hollywood great romances – I loved it. The outrageous over-the topness of it. Inevitably as the film is focused on the love story, nearly every other character in the film is reduced to cameo. But what cameos. Tom Hollander’s Malvolio-like Reverend Collins who could bow and scrape and bore for England is deliciously observed. Brenda Blethyn’s Mrs Bennett manages to tease out the underlying sympathy due to her appallingly embarrassing character. Judy Dench’s Grande Dame Lady Catherine is as tone perfect as it is possible to get. And Donald Sutherland, in my favourite role in the piece as the bemused, over-wifed, over-daughtered, Mr Bennett, turns in a finely judged performance. Aside from the passion of the main love story; the conspiratorial, wry, deep love between this father and his favourite daughter, is for me, the most satisfying relationship in both book and film. Mr Bennett loves precisely Lizzie’s intelligence, independence, and wilfulness. It has done no harm to the feminist cause that there are men like Mr Bennett, who admire, respect, and nurture, those very qualities that women have had to fight to have recognised and accepted more widely. And Mr Bennett's sense of loss as he consents the marriage of the daughter he never thought any man could be good enough for her to love, is the most moving moment in the movie.

    The film is sumptuous to look at; every image lovingly fashioned and milked for every ounce of romantic resonance by a score that echoes Rachmaninov 2 in more ways than one; with long, mournful, solo piano sections building to surging strings as the tension and the passion mounts. Visually we are at times in Hitchcock’s Rebecca territory with rugged landscapes disappearing to infinity. And one gloriously incongruous and totally out of place shot, has Lizzie apparently removed from Hertfordshire and the home counties to the craggy wilds of Yorkshire, standing precariously at the edge of a rocky precipice looking for all the world as if she’s going to cry out for Heathcliffe. (Next up Mr Wright? Same Leads?) No visual cliché is missed, including of course the sun back-lit final coming together (the chaste kiss that is). Mind you it would have been nice if they’d set up the shot differently so that Keira Knightley didn’t have to conspicuously turn ninety degrees to set up the profile. The only restrained thing about this movie is its ending. But that works very well and tends to support the idea that the florid, Hollywood style of the rest is quite intentional.

    The narrowing of the story to Lizzie and Darcy could have been dire if the actors weren’t up to it. But Knightley and MacFadyen are excellent. There is real chemistry between them and the sheer tension of unrequited passion is palpable in the key scenes. Knightley is far too young and breathtakingly beautiful for Austen’s actual heroine, but she is becoming an accomplished screen actress who can make those gorgeous dark eyes eloquent in suggesting intelligence, fire and wilfulness. Life. And her gamine, almost ballet-like swan-necked grace can get the blood running in more than Mr Darcy. I’m not quite sure what she does with her smile when laughing and wish she wouldn’t, but when she’s on screen – like Scarlett Johansson, you look. MacFadyen just gets better and better. His fine performance in the flawed but satisfying My Father’s Den, is as different as one can imagine from Darcy. But you believe in the inner passion of his misunderstood, stiff-necked character, and the personal insecurities that hold it trapped within. He is the ultimate modern male romantic hero: a man whose debilitating inability to express his deepest feelings is unlocked by the love of a strong, passionate woman. This stuff plays! Big. Hearts were fluttering big-time in my nearly full cinema – and that was just the hopelessly romantic guys. This one will do great business. Rightly – if you take it for what it is - simply a superb piece of romantic, escapist cinema.

    Zettel 2005
  • Re: Pride and Prejudice - Director Joe Wright
    by EmmaD at 12:24 on 19 September 2005
    Yes, it's great stuff, and an impressive try at reducing such a subtle, complicated novel to the length of a mainstream movie. I loved the messy noisiness of the Bennet household, and the superb performances. My only quarrel with the script (apparently not much Moggach left, one intervening script writer who hasn't been given a credit, and a great deal of Emma Thompson) is that Mr and Mrs Bennet are seen at the end to be fond and supportive of each other. It's an important part of the book's characteristic astringency that they are not, and that one of Darcy's objections to Elizabeth's family is that Mr Bennet behaves so badly in being openly scornful of his wife. As it is in the film, it's one shaft too much Hollywood glow.

    Two points to disagree with this review, which otherwise I agree with: Lizzie is 20 in the novel, and Keira Knightley was 19 when it was filmed, so actually she's the right age. And though a slightly silly moment, the rock she's standing looking out from is in Derbyshire, where she is with her aunt and uncle. I wondered if it was a deliberate, physical looking-forward to the Romantic period Brontës from the Augustan background of Austen.

    But a terrific film, nonetheless.
  • Re: Pride and Prejudice - Director Joe Wright
    by Terry Edge at 14:55 on 19 September 2005
    I'd like to put in a word for the music to this film; it's great - sort of classical with muscle. I heard it on the radio while having a kip at the Children's Writers' Conference at the weekend (not during the conference, I ought to add). I don't know what the station was, but I tuned into it as it was playing another fine piece of atmospheric, spacey music that turned out to be the soundtrack to 'Shark Boy and Lava Girl'. At this rate, I think I'll just skip the movies and listen to the soundtracks instead. (I'm sure this film is very well done but I won't be watching it, having a deep-rooted aversion to period and contemporary Toff Lit, I'm afraid.)

  • Re: Pride and Prejudice - Director Joe Wright
    by Zettel at 18:56 on 19 September 2005
    Terry - my reference to Rachmaninov was not in any way meant to be disparaging. The use of Rach 2 in Brief Encounter is wonderfully effective for the film but has tended to undervalue the extraordinary melancholy of R's music. Rach 2, however popular, is so much more than just 'film music'. If you listen to the soundtrack of P and P and then listen to Rach 2 I think you will find distinct parallels - and that is no bad thing at all.


    Thanks for the corrections. I tried and tried but could not find Lizzie's age on the net and I could not find my copy of P and P to check at source. Point taken about Derbyshire but though I don't know that county well, isn't that scene still too remote and high and craggy? Anyway, I think Wright is intentionally not not being too literal and many of the visual references are in my view distinctly cinematic - the scene of a lone Lizzie on the cliff is just too reminiscent of the Olivier Wuthering Heights to be coincidental and it really did seem more Catherine Earnshaw than Lizzie Bennet - but that's still OK with me. If one wants a more comprehensive treatment of the multi-faceted orginal book I think the 4 hours space the TV series had achieves this better. Even if Knightley is OK for age, as I remember the book, she is rather too beautiful isn't she?

    Not sure about Mr Bennett. I'm sure you know the book better than I do but both in this and the TV series, his teasing and perhaps scornful attitude to his wife seemed to have an underlying tug of affection. That is rather as I remember the character in the book. But maybe that's my wishful thinking. In some ways his dilemma parallels that of Sir Thomas More as portrayed in A Man For All Seasons - a good-hearted woman who does not satisfy those aspects of his nature that an intelligent, much loved daughter does. This is the stuff of domestic tragedy and deeply poignant. But you may be right - maybe he was just unkind to his wife. A difficult issue. ONe's indulgence of such a personality must have some limits surely?

    Anyway both: thank for the comments. Terry, if you can bring yourself to take the period setting, that great music is wonderfully integrated with the visual sumptuousness of the movie and well worth seeing for that reason.


  • Re: Pride and Prejudice - Director Joe Wright
    by EmmaD at 19:56 on 19 September 2005
    Z - The screening I went to had a Q&A afterwards, where her age was mentioned. Joe W said he hadn't originally thought of Keira because she's too beautiful, but found that the way she's 'all elbows and knees' made her seem more human and appealing. This was in front of K.K., I might say, who just laughed. I had been very sceptical about her, before the film, but thought she was terrific.

    I agree about the music - lovely stuff. My only quarrel was that they used a Steinway or something, which doesn't matter in the least - it's not as if the music was trying to be period - until the camera moved in on someone playing a pretty little fortepiano, out of which apparently came booming a monster-concert-hall sound, all thrills and overtones. A bit like watching Genevieve, with the soundtrack recorded at a Formula One race. But I'm just a history nerd - the friend I went with didn't notice.

  • Re: Pride and Prejudice - Director Joe Wright
    by Zettel at 23:17 on 19 September 2005

    I wouldn't have noticed either...but now you come to mention it. Thanks for the insights - I love that kind of stuff. (By the way on the Mr Bennett thing, his treatment of the plain sister who wouldn't stop playing was reasonably kind in a slightly ironic way I thought).