Pride & Prejudice (United Kingdom, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

When Hollywood adapts, we get Bewitched and The Dukes of Hazzard. When the British film industry adapts, we get Shakespeare and Austen. This explains why there is another version of Pride & Prejudice to be digested. And, while nothing will come close to matching the 1995 BBC-TV version, Joe Wright's 2005 adaptation is arguably the best Pride & Prejudice one can make with a two-hour time limit. Kudos to screenwriter Deborah Moggach (and her uncredited script doctor, Emma Thompson) for selecting the perfect cuts to Austen's novel without gutting the heart and themes or making the production seem rushed. While I'll stop short of calling this movie "magical," I have no problem labeling it as very good.

Anyone who has interest in the movie probably knows the story, so I'll keep the recap short. Pride & Prejudice tells of the romance between the smart, sassy Elizabeth Bennet (Kiera Knightley) and the handsome, reticent Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen). At their initial meeting, they leave mutually unfavorable impressions but, as events continually bring them together, their opinions change. Darcy falls first, then hamstrings himself with an insulting marriage proposal. But, as he makes amends, Elizabeth finds herself falling for him.

The book contains numerous sublplots, all of which have either been truncated or eliminated for this version. The relationship between Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods) and Jane Bennet (Rosamund Pike) remains, but in a condensed form, and only because it is necessary to the fabric of the central love story. Also suffering greatly is the character of Wickham (Rupert Friend), who appears in only two scenes. (I never liked him or that aspect of the novel, anyway.) The impact of Wickham's character (running off with Lydia Bennet, then marrying her after Darcy buys him off) is more important than his presence. Most of the rest of Pride & Prejudice is left intact, and much of Austen's dialogue is retained. Wright and Moggach add an epilogue that may annoy Austen purists - it's not from the book, but it's in keeping with Austen's style and represents a good way to conclude the film. (Although I daresay no one would take such liberties with one of Shakepeare's plays.)

Kiera Knightley makes a dazzling Lizzie, on par with Jennifer Ehle's interpretation. Knightley is at times playful, at times tempestuous, and at times vulnerable. And she speaks every line of dialogue with conviction. Her co-star, Matthew MacFayden, doesn't shine as brightly, but he handles the role and exhibits chemistry with Knightley. Of the supporting players, Brenda Blethyn and Donald Sutherland as Mrs. and Mr. Bennet deserve notice, as does Jena Malone as Lydia. Judi Dench has a small part as Lady Catherine De Bourgh, but she only makes a couple of appearances. The only acting disappointments are Simon Woods and Rupert Friend, but since neither is on screen long enough to cause serious damage, they're easy to ignore. (Friend, in particular, appears to have been chosen more for his looks than his acting ability.)

We're past the era of Jane Austen that gripped movie theaters during the mid-1990s, but this production is as worthy as anything to have come out a decade ago. Period detail is impeccable, so the movie looks as good as it feels. Of Austen's novels, none is more beloved than this one, so it's good to see it once again brought to the screen with the pride which it deserves.

Pride & Prejudice (United Kingdom, 2005)

Ranked #8 in Berardinelli's Top 10 of 2005
Run Time: 2:10
U.S. Release Date: 2005-11-11
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Nothing Objectionable)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1