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film review ***1/2: Two Centuries Later, ...Pride and Prejudice... Still Delightful

Jane Austen Novel Adapted Perfectly for Modern Moviegoers

By Yong-yi Zhu

Pride and Prejudice

Directed by Joe Wright

Written by Deborah Moggach

Based on the novel by Jane Austen

Starring Keira Knightley,
Matthew MacFayden

Rated PG-13

Opens Friday, Nov. 11, 2005

Much as a tender heart can be touched and transformed by love, so your moviegoing experience will be enlightened and enchanted by the brilliance of Joe Wright’s “Pride and Prejudice.” His adaptation is absolutely perfect for the big screen; from the music to the camerawork to the casting, everything about this film will absolutely dazzle you.

The story is a classic. Mrs. Bennett (Brenda Blethyn) wants all of her daughters to marry rich, successful men. Unfortunately, she has five of them to send off. Jane (Rosamund Pike) is the eldest, and the best prospect of the bunch. Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), on the other hand, is younger and much plainer-looking than Jane. One night, when they go to a ball, they meet two men, Charles Bingley (Simon Woods) and Fitzwilliam Darcy (Matthew MacFayden). Bingley is a terribly amiable character, and he takes to Jane immediately. Darcy, on the other hand, is caught calling Elizabeth “barely tolerable.” From then on, the film reveals how all the relationships between the suitors and the daughters play out.

Be forewarned: this film is not the BBC adaptation with Colin Firth — this is a movie, not a miniseries. As much as one might be tempted to compare the two, they reside in completely different realms. With five hours, one can recreate every detail in the novel. With only two hours, Wright had to pick and choose what he wanted to include, and he captured all the major themes of the book. Not only did he include the most relevant parts of the novel, he also picked the perfect actors to play the parts. The hidden gem in this movie is Matthew MacFayden. He may not be Colin Firth, but his portrayal of Mr. Darcy is more than adequate. His aloofness, shyness, and subtlety in portraying Darcy’s love for Elizabeth are absolutely brilliant. His performance, in fact, bewitches us “body and soul.”

When I first heard the casting of Knightley as Elizabeth, I was skeptical of whether or not any actress could top her presence. After all, Jane is supposed to be lovelier than Elizabeth. Somehow, not only does Rosamund Pike fit perfectly into the role of Jane, she manages to light up the screen every moment she is on camera. Her cheeriness and upbeat outlook help her seal the deal as a perfect Jane.

Pike could never have pulled off Jane without Knightley looking plain, and that’s where the costume and makeup artists performed magic. She constantly has grime on her. Her dark brown hair makes her average and her drab clothing gives her a dull look. Her performance, however, is anything but ordinary. The role is incredibly subtle, much like MacFayden’s. She cannot reveal too many of her feelings, yet at the same time, she has to be brutally blunt to her other suitors. Knightley pulled off that tricky balance of extreme prejudice and hidden pride.

Donald Sutherland and Brenda Bleythn, who play Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, are wonderful as parents. While the mother’s emotions are out of control, the father is as detached as a parent of five girls can be. That contrast helps to further explicate the chaos in the Bennett home.

In addition to the casting, the rest of the film is also well done. The camerawork is superb, to which the opening shot of the movie can attest. The camera finds its way across the yard outside the Bennett house, snakes through the house and heads out the back door to travel into the yard again. The film is in fact littered with these winding camera shots. Instead of using five hours to portray the action associated in many different times, Wright uses these shots to give a fuller picture of what everyone in the film is doing all at once; something that a book can do easily, but is not so simple in a movie.

Wright incorporates the music beautifully into the film, as he often blends a particular character playing the piano into the background. Wright also uses symmetry thought the film to depict the absolute grandeur of the building, rooms and scenes in 19th century England. The shots are so poignant that they stay in your head long after the movie is over, causing you to wonder whether you should buy a castle in Derbyshire. What you shouldn’t wonder about is whether or not to see the movie: the answer is obviously yes.