Monday, July 31, 2006

DVD Review: Pride and Prejudice

I’m embarrassed to admit that I rather enjoyed this elegant classic. Directed by Joe Wright, it’s a superb adaptation of the Jane Austen novel, thanks to an excellent screenplay by Deborah Moggach. It boasts an all star cast. Keira Knightley puts in a superb performance as Elizabeth Bennet, one of 5 daughters that must find husbands or suffer the cruel fate of becoming old, penniless spinsters.

While the theme may sound clichéd, and even dull, the settings for this film are appropriately majestic, and brilliantly authentic. The dialogue is both civilized and sophisticated, so don’t slouch in your seat – sit up and listen carefully. The film is an excellent peek into another era, when women could not inherit their father’s fortunes, where class culture dominated, and where women were forced to preoccupy themselves with the ambition of getting themselves, or their daughters, appropriate husbands. What makes Pride and Prejudice such a classic is that within this mainframe, Elizabeth attempts to contrive not only to marry well, but to marry for love.

Mathew MacFadyen plays the suave but somewhat inarticulate Mr Darcy. Donald Sutherland puts in an engaging performance as likable Mr Bennet, and Judi Dench does well to present the Upper Class at its most snobbish.

I’m impressed that this exquisite ballet of scenes was directed by a man. I am also the first to confess that this is not a movie you watch with your buddies. You book a table in advance at a romantic restaurant and then take a lady who can appreciate decorum to watch this film. Like Mr. Bennet, a gentleman might find the fluttery behaviour amusing, but it is not in the least asinine. In whatever culture or era one happens to be in, the business of getting married is a pretty sticky and often difficult process to go through. We admire the tenacity of Elizabeth, and we wish we’ll have her fortitude or resolve if and when we’re ever in her position. Women, I’m guessing, want to be her, and men want to be with her, or someone like her.

Knightley adds girlish touches to complement Elizabeth’s earnestness. While MacFadyen might come across as stoic and boring, I think it necessary that he not immediately present himself as exactly who he is. That’s how life is – we make prejudicial judgments about people, and our pride gets in the way of seeing things the way they are, even when reality begins to emerge. Impatient people will find this film boring, as it is filled with subtlety and nuance.

On the other hand, if you find one of the most famous opening sentences in all of literature compelling, then this film is for you.

Jane Austen begins Pride and Prejudice, with this somewhat ironic statement: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want for a wife.

Make sure you order a good wine afterwards, at the restaurant.

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