1 December 2005
There are two reviews I could write for Working Title Films’ Pride and Prejudice: I could review it as an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, or I could review it just on its merits qua movie, without reference to its source material.
Let’s get the adaptation review out of the way first. I could give nearly infinite reasons (some large, some small) why this is a bad adaptation of a great work of literature, but I have neither the time nor the inclination. I will say this much: P&P is probably Austen’s funniest novel, yet this movie was not funny. The dialogue? Not funny. Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Bennet? Not funny. Mr. Collins? Not funny. Sir William Lucas? Barely visible, but still not funny. I laughed twice in the entire film (three times if you count the part in the end credits where it said “based on the novel by Jane Austen”). As an adaptation, I would give this movie one-and-a-half stars out of five. Kudos for cramming most of the essential plot points into 127 minutes of running time, though.
As a movie, it fares slightly better, but unfortunately there’s not a lot to distinguish it from the myriad other poorly-researched period romances out there. The dialogue is unimpressive and occasionally downright cheesy, although Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet has an occasional zinger. Examples of the cheesiness of which I speak: upon accepting a marriage proposal, one of the characters utters a perfect, teary “Yes,” then inexplicably follows it up with “A thousand times yes!” Another actress manages to sell the line, “Don’t judge me, Lizzy!” but then, just in case we missed it, tacks on an additional, “Don’t you dare judge me!” Dame Judi Dench is made to utter the line, “I’ve never been so insulted in my life,” except with some other, synonymous word substituted for “insulted.” The language over all is a strange melange comprised of moderately contemporary, though formal, usage, with an occasional archaism thrown in.
The acting is good, but not amazing, with one exception (Judi Dench, who rocks, as always). Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen) looks appropriately love-struck at the appropriate times, although there seems to be little motivation for his snottines the rest of the time. Charles Bingley (Simon Woods) comes across as a complete idiot, albeit a harmless one. Jane Bennet (Rosamund Pike) has little to do in the movie other than act giddy/happy or sad/bitter, but her character’s IQ seems to be higher than “garden vegetable,” which makes her attraction to Bingley a little puzzling. Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet ... hm. This is really her movie, and she is quite adequate, but she just didn’t inspire me the way she has many other critics. It was a good performance, but certainly not anything transcendent. Maybe I just don’t get it because I’m not male. Guys seem to like her.
The sets appeared to have been designed to showcase an enormous class distinction between the Bennets and the Bingley/Darcy class, and to that end the Bennet home is pretty much smothered with dirt. There are barnyard animals everywhere, and all the water on the property appears to be stagnant. At one point a pig walks through the house. In the interior shots of the Bennet home, it appears as though all the sets were painted, and then for some reason all the paint was distressed with a belt sander. I’ve seen other reviews that praised the movie for showing the “nitty-gritty” side of Georgian life; I felt this aspect was maybe a teense overdone.
Some of the visual conceits were a bit heavy-handed as well; I felt like I was watching somebody’s First Year of Film School project. Look! Our view of the scene is distorted, just like Darcy and Elizabeth’s views of each other! Look, Elizabeth’s silly mother is running through a flock of geese! Look, the weather is tempestuous, just like Elizabeth’s feelings! OK, we get it, you’re very clever. Please stop now.
It’s really not a bad movie; I just don’t think it’s amazing as does everyone else under the sun. I give it 3 stars out of 5 instead of two and a half only because Matthew MacFadyen perfectly captured that look that a guy gets when he’s about to kiss you for the first time.
Two issues which are really unrelated to the quality of the movie, but which puzzle me just a bit:
1. Why does Keira Knightley have no chest in this movie? She appears even more, um, “boyish” than she was in Pirates of the Caribbean. Has she in fact lost the last 2% of body fat she was carrying, or have the filmmakers just made it appear that way, perhaps to demonstrate that she’s a tomboy?
2. What was up with the singing housemaid? Seriously, what?