The Bennet family is not rich, and when Mr. Bennet (Donald Sutherland) dies, the estate will pass out of the family’s hands and into those of a rather pompous little twit of a parson. There are five daughters, and their future can only be achieved through marriage. Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) is the second daughter (improbably described as plain). Her path repeated crosses that of Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen), an aloof, brooding gentleman who apparently has little use for her or her …amily. She doesn’t like him much, either. They are both, of course, in for a surprise.
Colin Firth became the definitive Mr. Darcy in the television mini-series adaptation back in the 90’s. Large shoes for Macfadyen to fill, but he does a fine job, giving Darcy a rather more tormented, Byronic spin. The film stands or falls, of course, on Knightley’s performance, and she is a thoroughly winning Elizabeth Bennet, effortlessly conveying her wit and decency. Her smile and laugh should be trademarked, and her work her more than makes up for Domino. A fine romance.
The music’s mix is quite wonderful, a lush match for the lush cinematography. The environmental effects are very strong too, so the audience is right in the middle of rain showers and boisterous balls. In the latter instance, however, some of the dialogue becomes very difficult to make out. Otherwise, the dialogue is crisp and undistorted, completely free of buzz. Overall, the track is one in which to plunge deeply.
The picture is, quite simply, stunning. The colours are gloriously rich and warm. The contrasts are very striking. Flesh tones and blacks are both superb as well. The result is a film that looks rather like it could be hanging on the walls of the National Gallery, yet the richness of the visuals never make the Bennet house look like a museum – it is very thoroughly lived in. There is no grain and no visible edge enhancement. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen ratio preserves the very nice compositions.
Director Joe Wright’s commentary can be rather technical but never less than engaging, and covers thematic issues as well. Wright also has amusing anecdotes on offer, and is self-deprecating too (he is displeased with how the first encounter between Elizabeth and Darcy was shot, finding it rather flat). There are four featurettes, which, while being squarely from the promotional school, are still interesting. “A Bennet Family Portrait” analyzes the characters and sets the social context of the film. “Jane Austen, Ahead of Her Time” focuses on, well, the author. The HBO First Look is the usual making-of piece. The oddity is “Behind-the-Scenes at the Ball” – the title gives no indication that this is actually just profiles of the Bennet women. The menu’s main screen, intro and transitions are animated and scored, and the secondary screens are scored.
Chalk up yet another very strong Austen adaptation, worthy of sitting on the shelf with Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion.
Special Features List
- “A Bennet Family Portrait”
- “Jane Austen, Ahead of Her Time”
- “Behind the Scenes at the Ball”
- HBO First Look