Aah, Jane Austen. The "Harry Potter" of the independent theater chains. Always reliable to pack the theaters. And you can count on a new film based on one of her books every few years.
Mrs. Bennet (Brenda Blethyn) is in a state, her family of five daughters is living on borrowed time. She and her husband Mr. Bennet (Donald Sutherland) live on their current estate as the guests of family members, and it has seen better days. With five growing daughters, she feels it imperative to begin marrying them off, hopefully to rich suitors who can then help provide for Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and the unwed daughters. When word arrives that a nearby estate has been rented by Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods), a rich man from London, she becomes anxious that he meet her eldest daughter, Jane (Rosamunde Pike), scheming for them to spend every available moment together. At the local ball, Jane meets Mr. Bingley and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), the second oldest of the Bennet children, meets Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen), Mr. Bingley's friend and guest. Just as Jane and Bingley seem to be headed to the altar, Mr. Bingley leaves the estate causing Jane to become distraught. Elizabeth learns that Darcy may have been responsible and her hatred grows. Yet, every time they meet, Elizabeth finds herself more and more attracted to Darcy. But is the feeling mutual?
Just when it seems another film based on a Jane Austen book, especially one already made into a film or miniseries at least six times, not counting the numerous other takes on the same material ("Bride and Prejudice", a recent example), could be excessive, this version of "Pride" pushes the envelope, offering something new.
One of the best things this film does is cast more authentic looking people in the lead roles. From Knightley on down, all of the actors have a rougher appearance, which seems entirely appropriate for the time. Some previous film adaptations of Austen's work have cast the most beautiful American (Aaaah- Gwyneth Paltrow - choo!) or British actors in the roles. Every time they appeared on screen, it looked like they just walked out of their make-up trailer. Sure, they looked beautiful, but it isn't believable. "Pride" strives for and attains a more accurate depiction.
Keira Knightley is very pretty, but she isn't glamorous. Too skinny, which may be the one aspect of her that doesn't fit the period, she otherwise seems like a pretty girl. Her features are not perfect and this helps her seem to be a natural fit for the English countryside. Also, there are many scenes in which she has just come in from a walk, or the girls are laying about reading books, etc., and they don't appear perfectly groomed; hair may be out of place or there may be mud on the hem of their skirt. It works. In one scene, Dame Judi Dench arrives at the Bennet home. Irate, her hair is not perfect, because she has just arrived on horseback. Matthew McFadyen is also very handsome, but he isn't movie star handsome. He isn't as good looking as Colin Firth or Hugh Grant and it seems more appropriate for the role, the setting and the time.
Director Joe Wright also does some interesting things with the camera, which may seem strange or obtrusive on paper, but actually make the experience of watching the film more interesting and enjoyable. In one scene, the camera follows Mrs. Bennet through a ball hosted by Mr. Bingley. She passes certain people throughout the filled rooms. When the camera spots one of the Bennet girls, it stops briefly, allowing us to hear their conversation. After we have heard what we need, it picks up and follows another character, past another conversation. Soon, the camera spots Mrs. Bennet again as she finally reaches the outdoor patio for some fresh air. In another, the camera roves across the windows in the Bennet home picking up pieces of conversation in each of the bedrooms, starting with Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. This gives us the feeling we are watching a book come to life, as though we are turning the pages as we read. It is an effective technique, aiding the look and feel of the film.
All of the performances in the film are very good. Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen are very believable as the unrequited lovers. Knightley conveys Elizabeth's intelligence, pride and passion, at turns, throughout the film. She is low key, but very interesting. When she initially meets Darcy, she claims her hatred for him and his attitude. Later, as she tells her father she really loves him, he doesn't understand, yet we do. Matthew MacFadyen conveys Darcy's boredom, growing attraction and passion as well. There are more than a few instances when their attraction to one another is palpable, yet because of their misunderstandings, or misconceptions about one another, are unable to act. It seems as though they take shifts; in one scene Elizabeth is in love with him. In others, he loves her. Throughout, reciprocation is prevented by an outside influence of some sort. The final scene is also very romantic.
All of the supporting characters are equally believable. Brenda Blethyn is a little over the top, but it works to see her running around, insinuating her daughters into the lives of every eligible bachelor within ten miles. Donald Sutherland is great as the father who is much quieter than his wife, yet he exudes a quiet admiration for his partner. He is also the more level headed member of the family providing calm and serenity to his somewhat overbearing wife. Judi Dench is also memorable as a member of the aristocracy who tries to control the lives of some of the people involved.
I don't think we can ask for more in a film adaptation of a book; the characters, their persona, the setting and the feel of the period are all correct creating an engrossing film worthy of any book.