November 26, 2005 -- It seems like every year there is a new film version of a Jane Austen book. This year, it is yet another version of “Pride and Prejudice.” This is the tenth film named “Pride and Prejudice,” including made-for-TV movies and miniseries. I rolled my eyes when I heard the news about the production. It seems like they just did that one recently. In fact, I just saw a Bollywood version of the film, “Bride and Prejudice” in March of this year. This one, however, is exceptional. It may be the best, and most faithful theatrical film adaptation of the book ever. Nothing matches the magnificent 1995 five-hour television miniseries, but this is as good as it gets in a two-hour movie adaptation. It is far truer to the book than the famous 1940 film of the same name.
Keira Knightley of “Pirates of the Caribbean” stars as bright and independent Elizabeth Bennet, one of five daughters of an unconventional family headed by the father, (played by Donald Sutherland of “The Italian Job”) and a scheming mother, (played by two-time Academy Award® nominee Brenda Blethyn). The family, eager to marry off the five daughters, is delighted when a wealthy young bachelor moves in nearby, Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods). Bingley is immediately infatuated by Elizabeth's beautiful sister, Jane (Rosamund Pike). Elizabeth catches the eye of Bingley's friend, Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen of “Enigma”), but the two end up quarreling. A witty, sophisticated battle of the sexes begins. The story is set in England near the end of the 18th century.
Knightley gives her best performance ever as Elizabeth. Also outstanding are Blethyn and Sutherland. Another excellent performance is given by Tom Hollander, who plays one of Elizabeth's suitors, Mr. Collins. The character of Mr. Collins is a minor one in the movie, and is played in a buffoonish manner in most productions. Hollander gives a more subtle comic performance, but also manages to give his character some dignity. Yet another excellent performance is given by Judi Dench of “Ladies in Lavender.” Dench, one of the world's greatest actresses, plays the formidable Lady Catherine de Bourg. When she says the line, “I am not a woman to be trifled with” there is no doubt whatsoever that this is a colossal understatement. Matthew MacFadyen doesn't quite measure up as Mr. Darcy. He suffers by comparison to the man who has owned this role for some time, Colin Firth. Another actor who would have done very well in this role is Clive Owen. The point is, the role requires a more forceful presence.
The splendid screenplay by Deborah Moggach preserves the basic story of the book very well. Much of the dialogue in the movie is taken straight from the book. It would be nearly impossible to write a better, more faithful adapted screenplay of “Pride and Prejudice” and keep it as short as this one. Nobody writes this kind of story better than Jane Austen. As Moggach says in the film's production notes, “I tried to be truthful to the book, which has a perfect three-act structure, so I haven't changed a lot. It is so beautifully shaped as a story -- the ultimate romance about two people who think they hate each other but who are really passionately in love. I felt, 'If it's not broken, don't fix it.'” This film rates an A.
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