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PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, 2005
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PRIDE AND PREJUDICE,  MOVIE POSTERPRIDE AND PREJUDICE, 2005
Movie Reviews

Directed by Joe Wright

Starring: Keira Knightley, Judi Dench, Donald Sutherland, Brenda Blethyn, Matthew Macfadyen, Rupert Friend
Review by Paola Desiderio


SYNOPSIS:

In 18th century rural England Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) is unwilling to marry anything less than her true love, which she reluctantly finds in the most unexpected of places.

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REVIEW:

Pride & Prejudice is a period drama produced by Working Title Films, directed by Joe Wright and starring Keira Knightley, Judi Dench, Donald Sutherland, Brenda Blethyn and Matthew Macfadyen, amongst other remarkable names. The film was nominated for 4 Academy Awards and also received 6 BAFTA nominations. Joe Wright won a BAFTA for Most Promising Newcomer, a dream-come-true for a very talented young director, with a great passion for films, dyslexia and no GCSEs, (English for “no formal qualifications”).

A disclaimer should accompany this film: If you are not an incurable romantic or display at least few symptoms of romanticism, this film is not for you. On the contrary, if you appreciate the dreamy and tortured life and love of romantic heroes, if you are inclined to poetry and secretly cultivate a death wish or even just a tendency to indulging in melancholic feelings and dreams of the impossible, you might appreciate this modern adaptation of Jane Austin ‘s novel Pride and Prejudice. The theme of the films is predictably Love with a capital letter and in all of its shapes and forms. But, in spite of the time and place this drama unfolds, 18th century rural England, its main character, Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley), is a pioneer of broken etiquette, a witty rebel and a subtle social revolutionary.

The book was first published in 1813 and the film is set in an anachronistic world where men are gentlemen and women’s greater ambition is that of being found by one of them at random so that they can marry him on the spot. It is set in a world preceding the extinction of those mythological characters called princes, who invariably came to rescue their princesses - beautiful girls with very long hair arranged in a bride and generally hopelessly trapped in some inaccessible tower. It is also a tale of gallantry and chivalry, an anachronistic old-fashion word on the verge of oblivion, which generally referred to “courteous behaviour, especially that of a man towards a woman”. (Sigh)

The story is complex and full of twists, turns and u-turns. Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley is one of 5 daughters in the Bennet’s household. Their mother (Brenda Blethyn) is very keen to see them all married as soon as possible and to the best available suitor, according to the customs of the time. When a wealthy bachelor, Mr Bingley (Simon Woods), comes to town accompanied by his sister and an even wealthier friend, Mr Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen), Mrs Bennet is restless in her attempts to match any of her daughters with these more than eligible ‘foreigners’. Elizabeth is not inclined to settle for arranged marriages of convenience and is determined to marry a man she truly loves. She takes an almost instant dislike of Mr Darcy, especially after he refuses to dance with her at a ball. Their relationship takes off and proceeds to develop on the false notes of pride and prejudice throughout the film.

Initially director Joe Wright was not very keen on using Keira Knightley for the part of Elizabeth, deeming her too beautiful for the role. Only after reluctantly agreeing to meet her in person he cast her, much to Knighley disappointment, whom he must have left wondering whether she is that pretty after all. This is quite a self-assured behaviour for a young emerging British director, who is presented with the opportunity of working with one of the most sought-after actresses in the world.

The “gamble” paid off and Keira Knighley was nominated for an Academy Award for her interpretation of this feisty young woman, who doesn’t abide to the suffocating conventions of her time. Yet the nomination seems maybe a bit premature for a young actress in a relatively straightforward role. Her portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet is brilliant, although her character appears occasionally not entirely believable, at times a little self-conscious and too modern in her manners, more like a 21st century girl in stunning period clothes, than an entirely credible Elizabeth Bennet.

Her co-stars deserve a fair share of acclaim on this occasion. Donald Sunderland is wonderful in his interpretation of Elizabeth’s father and Brenda Blethyn gives life to a delightful and duly over the top caricature portrait of Mrs Bennet, Elizabeth’s mother. Remarkable is also predictably Judi Dench’s interpretation of Elizabeth’s antagonist, Lady Catherine de Bourg.

The script is good, but it contains an excessive number of chance encounters and characters finding themselves in the right place at the right time. Elizabeth and her love interest Mr Darcy keep randomly bumping into each other, at parties, private dinners and even while taking walks in the vast rural English countryside. They in fact run into each other randomly at least 3 times as the story unfolds. It is pushing it a bit too far, even by Cinderella’s standards, leaving the most cynical members of the audience frustrated and wishing life was so easy and straightforward. The film has also two slightly different endings: one for the US audience and the other for the more cynical Brits.

Overall, “Pride & Prejudice” is beautifully shot. Its cinematography, art direction and costumes are spectacular and accompanied by an Academy Award nominated score by Italian composer Dario Marionelli. Jo Wright’s touch is fine and makes for some very emotionally charged scenes.

The film starts with a captivating single developing shot, which is a bit of a trademark for Jo Wright. The opening single shot successfully delivers two key messages to the audience: I am here to stay as a director and this is going to be a great film. It doesn’t disappoint.

Wright filmed an even more remarkable all-in-one-shot scene in his next film Atonement, where he constructs a skilful single developing Steady-cam shot, lasting nearly 5 minutes, that consecrates him as a master craftsman in filmmaking and remains one of the best shots of this kind. It remarkably involved countless extras, period settings, props, animal acting and sunset, all at the same time. If you haven’t seen Atonement yet, don’t waste anymore time.

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