Perhaps to my shame, I admit I never finished Pride & Prejudice. From what I did read, however, I was quite impressed with the celebrated Jane Austen novel. While perhaps her most famous/beloved work has been adapted at least twice on film and television, the 2005 adaption remains one of the most popular versions. This version of Pride & Prejudice is a beautiful film, simultaneously contemporary and traditional, that is a delight throughout.
The five Bennet sisters, living in genteel poverty, are happy. Mrs. Bennet (Brenda Blethyn) wishes nothing but advantageous marriages for her girls, while Mr. Bennet (Donald Sutherland) would like to keep out of things altogether. Jane Bennet (Rosemund Pike) has caught the eye of Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods), the wealthiest man around. Jane's sister Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) is not opposed to marriage but is not looking for it either.
Things take a complication when she strikes a love-hate relationship with the brooding, proud Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfayden), Mr. Bingley's best and wealthier friend. As the proud Darcy and the prejudiced Elizabeth continue their pas de deux d'amour, their various friends and family intermingle. The small and small-minded distant Bennet cousin Mr. Collins (Tom Hollander) pursues Elizabeth, while caddish soldier Wickham (Rupert Friend) manages to lure young Lydia Bennet (Jenna Malone) away. Eventually, true love triumphs for both Jane and Elizabeth, as the futures Mrs. Bingley and Mrs. Darcy rise above pride and prejudice.
From the opening sequence where the camera flows around the rambling, ramshackle yet loving Bennet home to where our lovers are bathed in the sunlight of their love, Pride & Prejudice is a sweeping, beautiful film. Director Joe Wright is very fond of having the camera follow the characters all around, but this works exceptionally well here. We get quick interactions between small groups of characters that give us story details without bogging things down.
There is spirit of life in Pride & Prejudice as we see the various interactions between characters. Wright, along with screenwriter Deborah Moggach, do allow some moments of magical fantasy to enter the film. As Darcy and Elizabeth dance at the Bingley ball, at one point it appears as if they are the only ones in the ballroom, allowing their sharp comments to disappear as they fight their growing love.
One aspect that stands out in Pride & Prejudice is how contemporary the film feels. There is an almost rapid-fire delivery to the dialogue, not in a screwball comedy way but in a sharp, fast manner that has no sense of stuffiness to it. In short, the world of Pride & Prejudice feels lived, real, alive, as if we were genuine observers in this Regency Romance. I would put it as having the Darcy/Elizabeth romance be made up of respectable flirtation.
Each performance was simply perfect. Knightley comes into her own as Elizabeth, a very modern woman who is sharp, intelligent, not above throwing shade at the arrogance of the wealthy, but also aware of her own mind. She is brilliant when rejecting Collins' proposal, moving when seeing another side to Darcy, and delightful when showing her affection or irritation with her family.
Macfayden, to my mind, has not been given enough credit for his Darcy. He certainly is an extremely handsome man (I would not blame women if they fainted when he appears through the morning mist, shirt open and coat flowing), but he shows the complexity of Darcy's emotions. Starting out openly haughty, he also shows how Darcy attempts to hide his growing attraction to the mind and body of Elizabeth: a quick glance, a flustered manner. Macfayden is excellent as Mr. Darcy.
Hollander brings humor to the bumbling Collins, Friend a plausible vulnerability to Wickham. Blethyn balances comedy and irritation to Mrs. Bennet, Sutherland showing the outwardly indifferent but genuinely caring Mr. Bennet. Rosemund Pike makes the case that one could have a film centered around Jane Bennet, and Woods like Blethyn balances comedy and romance with his Bingley. We also see early performances from Carey Mulligan as Kitty Bennet, and while Judi Dench has a small role as Lady Catherine de Bourgh, she is equally impactful.
Pride & Prejudice may be a costume picture, but there is no sense that it is theatrical. Instead, it is as quietly fiery as the romance between Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, two individuals who are clearly made for each other. Beautiful, moving, fast-paced and keeping the sense of the time setting while injecting a modern sensibility to things, Pride & Prejudice is an excellent film.