Directed by Joe Wright. US/UK/France. 2005.

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Jane Austen’s novel is lauded as her greatest work and it has been adapted for television on five occasions most notably the Anthony Davies’ version for the BBC in 1995 with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth as Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, but only once for the screen – in 1940 starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier.

Keira Knightley is a beautiful young woman, and in the Pirates of the Caribbean she played the damsel in distress well, since then she has not had an opportunity to show her acting muscle, but here she has been given a quintessential role and knows that an audience will come and watch.  And it is her performance in this as Ms. Bennett, the bright and intelligent daughter, who does not so much seek a partner to love but someone who loves her. 

Nevertheless this is not just Knightley’s show she is supported by a stellar cast  – Brenda Blethyn as Mrs. Bennett plays her like she does all matriarchs but here she plays it a level for comic effect (had Julie Walters acted it you would be laughing too much) because of her nervousness, not an accent or false laugh.  Donald Sutherland (Mr. Bennett) lends all of his years of experience to the role of the patriarch, most so in the final scene with Knightley.  And then we have Matthew Macfadyen as Mr Darcy, who appeared in BBC’s ‘Spooks’, plays Darcy as a brooding, unhappy soul initially – deliberately Wright photographs from a distance to show this – but slowly through the two hour running time he grows into the role releasing his tension and see him growing in love with Knightley.  Also away from the Firth template we do not get a wet shirt moment, instead Macfadyen has a walk through the mist to Knightley; (in a shot borrowed from Lawrence of Arabia) the camera does not break from him as he strides through the field to capture the moment in its entirety. 

‘I tried to be faithful to the book, so I haven’t changed a lot’, states the screenwriter Deborah Moggach and you can see this as the film is split up the Bingley’s leaving Hertfordshire for London and the marriage of Lydia all the while we have the undercurrent of the Elizabeth-Darcy story throughout.

Having never seen the BBC adaptation nor read the novel, so I was unaware at how witty and amusing the story is in its dialogue which is in no small part due to the language and wonderful use of wordplay, someone who is alien to the novel and this language would be able to follow the piece.

Cinematically the director and the DoP, Roman Osin depict the countryside in all its glory not for sentimental effect considering it was shot entirely on location it is an admirable job.  There are some brilliant scenes the kiss in sunrise after the mist-walk, the way the camera wonders through the Bingley house (a la Russian Ark) like a guest eavesdropping on conversations along with the thrust and vigour of the dancing scenes are a thrill.  Along with the impressive photography, the costumes, set design provide a real sense of authenticity along with the location shooting. 

Critics will ask do we need another Austen adaptation in this world, I would say that answers the question, it is reassuring to see a film that shows a time of beauty, where the pursuit of happiness and romance is paramount and family values; after all without Austen we would not have romantic comedies, and that cannot be such a bad thing. 

Like Elizabeth Bennett it is quite accomplished and has a lot going for it.

Jamie Garwood
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