Written by Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice has been made into a film several times, with varying results. The novel itself is a classic, written by one of the most pioneering woman in literature history. This 2005 film version stars Keira Knightley (Atonement) as Elizabeth “Lizzie” Bennett, one in a family of five sisters, living in Hartfordshire, a small English country town. Lizzie is the second-oldest sister and should already be married, according to her overbearing mother (Brenda Blethyn, Beyond the Sea). However, much like Jane Austen herself, Lizzie wants to marry for love, and not just to please her parents (although her father (Donald Sutherland, JFK) just wants her to be happy). To add to her parents concern, once they die, the girls will have nowhere to live, as back in those days, property and money passed only to males, and in their case it goes to the girls’ cousin, Mr. Collins (Tom Hollander, A Good Year).
The family gets a reason for excitement when they find that the rich and single Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods, Rome) is coming to town. What they didn’t realize is that he has a few people with him—his sister, the stylish and snobby Caroline Bingley (Kelly Reilly, The Libertine), and Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfayden, Grindhouse), his best friend. The Bennett family meets the Bingley’s first at a ball, where Lizzie’s older sister, Jane (Rosamund Pike, Fracture), comes into contact with the handsome Mr. Bingley. They’re both smitten, but Jane is shy and doesn’t show her emotions readily. Lizzie finds Mr. Darcy to be quite rude, and clashes with him and his opinions of “country folk.” Before it seems as though Jane will be offered a marriage proposal from Mr. Bingley, he and his posse leave Hartfordshire, giving essentially no reason except to say that Mr. Darcy misses his sister. They do return, but before that, Mr. Collins comes and stays with the Bennetts, looking for a wife. He has his sights set on Lizzie and offers her marriage, something Lizzie wants nothing to do with.
Meanwhile, they find out that Lizzie’s sister Lydia (Jena Malone, Saved!), has gone off with a soldier and is planning on elopement, which will affect all the other sisters’ chances of marrying. It would be like a black mark on the family. Here is where Mr. Darcy comes to the rescue.
As well all know, opposites attract, and further interaction between Lizzie and Mr. Darcy makes them both realize that they’re in love. Success! I don’t know if Jane Austen actually said this, but a character playing Jane Austen in the film, Becoming Jane, went something like this, “my characters will have, after a little bit of trouble, all that they desire.” And it’s true, she gives her characters happier endings than she herself ever experienced.
As for the quality of the film, I’ll say this: If you’re going to see Pride and Prejudice done right, watch the BBC mini-series. My concerns for this film are centered on both the writing and the acting. And really, what else is there? The largest problem is that you’re not invested in these relationships. I needed more screen time watching Mr. Darcy and Lizzie interacting and hating each other in order to see that they really loved each other. This should have been addressed in the writing. When Mr. Darcy proposes to Lizzie, although I’ve seen it a dozen times, it was extra surprising here because they hadn’t spent much time together. As for the acting, there was no chemistry between the two main characters, and although it is hard to measure up to Colin Firth who is questionably the ONLY Mr. Darcy for these eyes, theirs is the key relationship to enjoy in any version of Pride and Prejudice.
The VC-1 encoded 2.35:1 widescreen effort is in good form to be honest. Blacks are pretty deep throughout and provide an excellent contrast to the Irish countrysides, which possess a lot of detail and depth in the backgrounds. There’s not a constant multidimensional look to the image, but otherwise it’s pretty solid.
The Dolby TrueHD track doesn’t really bring much to the table. The film itself is dialogue driven, but there’s very little immersion or directional effects to be had when watching this. Sonically it was pretty capable.
As for DVD extras, there are quite a few, but they’re short. First we have six-minutes of “Conversations with the Cast,” which is just that. The most common theme with these conversations is how much everyone enjoyed being like a family. A short piece on “Jane Austen, Ahead of Her Time,” talks about Jane Austen’s nonconformance with society in that century. Even Bollywood did a version of Pride and Prejudice, a few seconds of which is featured here. You’ve got a six-minute piece on “A Bennett Family Portrait,” where the cast and a representative for the Jane Austen Society talk about how in Austen’s time, marriage was seen as a job. Donald Sutherland talks a bit about his role and how much he loved being a part of the family. HBO did a “First Look” on the film which is about 13 minutes long, where the camera takes you to the Bennett’s film home. In fact, before shooting, the director wanted the entire cast to experience the house, so they played sardines, and bonded. There is a lot of similar footage from other extras, so if you miss this, you’ll catch it somewhere else. “The Politics of 18th Century Dating,” is a four-minute piece on relationships in Austen’s time. Basically, men and women couldn’t touch unless they were married or unless they were dancing. “The Stately Homes of Pride and Prejudice,” features an interactive map of the five different houses that are featured in the film. You can select a house and watch a brief, 2-minute film on the exterior, gets some facts, or you can see a gallery of photos for each home. The longest extra is a commentary on the film by Director Joe Wright (he also directed Atonement, which also stars Knightley), who seems to have a lot of love for romantic films, reminding viewers that Pride and Prejudice is kind of the template for the traditional love story. Unfortunately, the rest of his commentary is wholly uneventful, beyond the typical tidbit of information on each scene.
Keira Knightley on one of the featurettes says that people feel like they own Elizabeth Bennett, and that everyone has a certain idea of what to expect of someone playing her. This cannot be truer, and in my opinion this particular incarnation of the famed novel falls flat. It’s clear that Knightley is talented, but there’s no draw here, other than devotion to Jane Austen. What can I say, for me there’s no Mr. Darcy beyond Colin Firth.