Keira Knightley as ‘Elizabeth Bennet’ in “Pride & Prejudice”As I’ve said before, dramas aren’t really my bag, and I have an allergy to biopics/literary adaptations that try to condense too many events and character beats into a couple of hours… but if there’s anyone who could make me want to watch a period flick like Pride & Prejudice (2005), it’s Joe Wright! As far as fave directors go, I’d still have to give the edge to Tarantino and Jeunet, because they write most of their own material, but Wright has definitely earned a place on the podium alongside them… and he’s my fave British director right now, by a long chalk. For those who don’t know, this costume romance is set during the early 19th century, and follows the fortunes of the Bennet family, who are blessed with five daughters of varying ages and temperaments. They live a relatively comfortable and genteel life on a working farm with a sizeable house, but when Mr. Bennet pops his clogs the property will pass to his cousin, a rather pompous pastor named Collins, so Mrs. Bennet is hell-bent on marrying her daughters off, to ensure their future financial security. As luck would have it, their new neighbour is an extremely eligible young bachelor by the name of Mr. Bingley, who is introduced to the local society at a fancy ball, along with his snobbish sister Caroline, and his dour chum Mr. Darcy, who apparently “owns half of Derbyshire”. Bingley takes an instant shine to the eldest Bennet girl, genial Jane, while her headstrong sister Elizabeth fails to melt the icy demeanour of Darcy. SPOILER: Although it seems that both matches are doomed to failure at times, thrown off course by various twists, turns, red herrings and shocking revelations, everything works out quite nicely for everyone in the end. Hurrah! Judi Dench as ‘Lady Catherine de Bourgh’ in “Pride & Prejudice”I can’t say I found the story itself especially engaging, for the reasons stated above, as well as the fact that it’s disappointingly similar to Sense & Sensibility, which I’d already seen in the form of a BBC series from 2008… but I was kept on the edge of my seat by the talented cast, who deliver mesmerising performances across the board. Obviously top-billing goes to Keira Knightley as ‘Elizabeth Bennet’, and I don’t think she’s ever been more beautiful, or more adorable, than she is here. I’m sure fans of the original novel have a lot to say about how she compares with previous incarnations, but this is my first encounter with the character, so all I can say is that I found her to be a very engaging and spirited heroine. I thought she was a great match for ‘Mr. Darcy’ (Matthew Macfadyen), and I particularly enjoyed her subtly snarky interactions with ‘Caroline Bingley’ (Kelly Reilly) and ‘Lady Catherine de Bourgh’ (Judi Dench). I kept hoping she’d quote Shaft’s “I just said up yours, baby!”, but that would probably have been a modernisation too far, wouldn’t it? Still, it’s strange how a simple head nod and curtsy can become so charged with unspoken hostility! Talulah Riley as ‘Mary Bennet’ in “Pride & Prejudice”Rosamund Pike looked lovely as ‘Jane Bennet’, although the character was a little too vanilla for my tastes… so (if asked) I’d have to say my second favourite sister was probably ‘Mary Bennet’, played by Talulah Riley! There was just something slightly odd and awkward about her, so she caught the eye even when she was just quietly watching her more outgoing siblings giggling and capering about. There isn’t much information about Mary on the novel’s Wikipedia page, because apparently she was only a very minor character, but I was amused to read her described as “the only plain Bennet sister”! Rather poor casting there then, because I doubt Riley could ever look “plain”. ‘Mrs. Bennet’ might have been a rather hard character to warm to, with her obsessive matchmaking and pessimistic diatribes about how everyone’s going to die alone and penniless, but Brenda Blethyn managed to make her seem strangely sympathetic all the same, bless her. And, although she didn’t really have much of a speaking part, it was fun to spot Sinead Matthews as ‘Betsy’, the Bennett’s maid, shuffling around the house singing to herself. As for the menfolk, I was surprised to see Donald Sutherland playing ‘Mr. Bennet’, simply because he isn’t a native Brit… but he’s such a charismatic performer that it would be a major coup to have him in any cast. The appearance of Tom Hollander as ‘Mr. Collins’ was a far less startling sight, because he’s a regular player in Wright’s ensemble, and this isn’t the first time I’ve seen him as a member of the clergy either! Keira Knightley as ‘Elizabeth Bennet’ in “Pride & Prejudice”Of course, I also have to give a tip of the hat to Wright’s visual invention, with his recklessly long takes, and eye for dazzling imagery… the scene where Elizabeth is spinning herself around on a rope-swing being a particular standout for me. Unfortunately, this means I’m now going to have to buy the DVD, just so I can listen to his commentary and appreciate all the motifs and symbolism I’ve no doubt missed along the way. Tch! Fun fact: I found the ending a bit abrupt, as it seems to cut away from Mr. Bennet mid-chuckle, and was intrigued to discover that the American version includes a final scene of Elizabeth and Darcy together as a married couple… but it tested rather poorly with British audiences, and was subsequently excised from our version! Thankfully it’s included as a deleted scene on the DVD, so I’ll be able to check it out eventually…


About Dee CrowSeer

A comic book writer with an interest in feminism, philosophy, and affirmative action. He/him.
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