Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is one of those novels, like Les Miserables or Frankenstein, that has been made into a movie about a gazillion times. I have managed to avoid all versions including the novel up to now as I'm not big on romantic stories. I subjected myself once to one of the many versions of Wuthering Heights and came away with a hardcore loathing of the characters and writer Emily Bronte. I think I unconciously lumped Ms. Austen in with Ms. Bronte and avoided anything attached to their names, however, I've bitten the bullet and watched this new version of Ms. Austen's popular story and I have to admit, my prejudices were unwarranted.
Mrs. Bennet (Brenda Blethyn) spends her days plotting her 5 daughters' marriages while Mr. Bennet (Donald Sutherland) passively accepts her machinations. She and the Bennet daughters get all in a tizzy when the well-to-do Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods) moves to town. At a local ball, it is the eldest daughter, Jane (Rosamund Pyke), who catches the handsome but bumbling Mr. Bingley's eye, but it's the next eldest, Elizabeth (Keira Knightley - who was nominated for an Oscar for this performance), who notices Mr. Bingley's somewhat distant but handsome friend Mr. Darcy (Mathew MacFadyen). Despite their mutual attraction, a series of misunderstandings and preconceptions keeps these two apart.
As I said before, I watched Pride and Prejudice totally ignorant of the plot, the characters, or the movies before it. My judgement is based soley on this version alone - you will have to go elsewhere if you want someone's opinion of who the best Mr. Darcy ever captured on film is. All I can tell you is that I was totally charmed by this movie. No, the plot isn't anything you haven't seen before - the strength of this movie and the novel, I suppose, are the great characters. All of them are complex and for the most part likable. The Bennet family, despite this movie being set at the turn of the 18th century, are instantly recognizable if you have a family at all. Everyone is deeper than they at first glance appear; for instance Mrs. Bennet comes across as money-hungry but she really is only doing what she thinks is best for her daughters and her family, Mr. Bennet's passivity hides a deep love for Mrs. Bennet and all his daughters, and Mr. Bingley comes across as a goofball until you realize he's really a decent guy. And then there's Mr. Darcy, who at one glance is your basic dark, mysterious type who starts coming across as an arrogant jerk, then you realize he's simply an introvert who cares deeply about the people in his life.
It falls on the actors to do such good characters justice and they all do. Keira Knightley especially does a fine job portraying Elizabeth's intelligence and outspoken demeanor. Elizabeth spends most of the movie loving and hating Mr. Darcy with equal measure and Keira nails her conflicts perfectly. Donald Sutherland and Bredna Blethyn bring much warmth and love to the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Mathew MacFadyen is a find - he does the tough job of bringing a distant character to life. Any introvert must be difficult to portray because they simply don't parade their emotions the way extroverts can. Sure MacFadyen's a hottie, but not typically so; he does not rely on his looks to make the women watching this movie love him as much as Elizabeth does.
The DVD of Pride and Prejudice is fairly decent - the sound and picture are of good quality and there's a fair amount of extras. The best of the extras is a short feature on author Jane Austen. I doubt I'm the only person who watched this movie and wondered about her other novels. I'm always complaining about the extra materials not reaching far enough and this is the type of extra I'm talking about - supplementary material either about the subject or the creator are always welcome in my DVD library.
The other extras are fairly standard "making-of"s and then there's the obligatory director's commentary by Joe Wright. While sometimes he drones too much and loses my interest, he does a lot of self-criticisms about his work which is interesting. Some directors seem oblivious or too proud to comment on what they think works and doesn't work, so it's refreshing to listen to at times. I was also amused by him pointing out the reactions of secondary characters in some scenes, but he lapses into narration and interpretation too often.
Pride and Prejudice is not a perfect movie. It drags a bit towards the end but ultimately I truly enjoyed watching these characters for the movie's 2 hour (plus) running time. I was afraid I was going to be subjected to too much angst and drama but here it is handled with a light touch which makes it more palatable. I would recommend this version for all Jane Austen fans - I'm sure there are plenty of places on the Internet where her die-hards have been squabbling over the casting and the parts of the novel they changed to make it filmable - but it's a good version brought to life by outstanding acting. As for those of you, like me, who typically avoid chick movies and chick literature, swallow your pride and set aside your prejudices and give this a view because I think you will enjoy yourself immensely.