It has come to my attention, over the last year or so, that there are a lot of people who hate this movie. I am not one of them. More on that at the end of this post.
I first saw this version in 2006 when it had come to DVD. I liked it all right. The second time I watched it was last year, when I was rereading the book for the first time in many years. I liked it very well indeed. And this, my third time through, I liked it immensely. I'm not going to recap the story here, though if you don't know what it's about, I included a brief summary in my review of the book here
There are a lot of little reasons why this movie resonates with me. It feels very real, very grounded, and makes me feel as if I'm taking a trip into that time period, not just watching a movie. This Longbourne estate has pigs, chickens, a kitchen, mud, dust motes, a childhood swing, sagging book shelves, and servants who speak and sing and hum and are not invisible. Daily life is important here, in all its ordinariness.
And this movie is filled with life! The dances are vibrant and enthusiastic -- I want to join in with the fun and get swept away by the sheer energy that almost bursts my TV set. There are slower, more refined dances too, especially during the dance at Netherfield, but those are not the only sorts of dances depicted. These people do not live in a stuffy, stodgy world where elegance and refinement are the end-all, be-all of existence -- they are enjoying life unabashedly. Caroline Bingley can look down her nose at so much joy all she wants -- that's her loss. (If you want a taste of the vitality of this movie, go here
to watch the Meryton Assembly scene on YouTube.)
In fact, when Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen) first arrives, he looks more than a little wistful at not feeling comfortable joining in the festivities. I think what I especially like about this Mr. Darcy is that he doesn't come off as an unpleasant snob so much as a man accustomed to his own particular way of life. He brings out the Darcy who, in the book says he only likes to dance with partners he is particularly acquainted with, and is not blessed with the knack of making easy conversation with strangers. This Mr. Darcy, because of his wealth and family connections, is showered with the attention of strangers wherever he goes when he would probably rather just sit comfortably with a friend or two. He quite engages my sympathy and interest from the first.
|Mr. Darcy being proud, but not undeservedly so.|
But I'm neglecting Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley), and that won't do! This Lizzy is also fill of life, sparkling with youth and energy. Whatever she does, she does wholeheartedly, whether it's walking to see her ailing sister, reading a book, swinging in circles, or cutting a verbal sparring partner down to size with her keen sarcasm. It is no surprise that retiring Mr. Darcy would be captivated by her.
|Lizzy loves life! |
And captivated he clearly is, almost from the first. In the book, of course, he begins by admiring her "fine eyes," and in this, his lingering glances speak eloquently of his interest.
|Another pair of fine eyes!|
Okay, time to talk about the rest of the cast just a bit. I'm working on a comparison of the casts of this and the 1995 version, so I'll save most of my thoughts for that, lest this post be 19 pages long. I'll just mention three that I particularly like.
First, Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennet. I love the way he's always dressed sort of sloppily, as if even when getting dressed he can't keep his mind from wandering to other things. It really brings out his almost absent-minded ways, definitely the fact that he's careless of his surroundings, his station in life, and his family. Not because he doesn't care, but because he's always thinking of other things.
|Mr. Bennet at breakfast|
I also really like Rosamund Pike as Jane Bennet. She is exactly the Jane I imagine in the book -- beautiful, but not in a showy way, and so sweet and kind. There is no wonder that Mr. Bingley falls in love with her -- really, it's amazing there aren't more men chasing her. Who wouldn't want to marry Jane?
|Can't you tell how sweet and kind she is just by looking at her?|
And then there's the incomparable Dame Judi Dench as Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Is there anyone who can deliver caustic condescension like Dame Judi? It's a mark of Lizzy's strong spirit that she doesn't quail before Lady Catherine, especially when she's angry. I would probably cry, but Lizzy stands straight and firm, unabashed. Good for you, Lizzy!
|Lady Catherine in all her splendor|
But what I like best about this movie is how accessible it is, how friendly and welcoming. If you have never read a Jane Austen book in your life, you will still understand this movie perfectly well (unlike the 1995 Persuasion
, ahem). It draws viewers in, saying, "Come and meet some fascinating people, make friends, fall in love if you like." It doesn't demand that its viewers be Austen enthusiasts already, and by so doing, it can give newcomers an appreciation of that world and those characters, as well as the brilliant writer who created them.
I have a friend who has never read a Jane Austen book. She enjoyed this movie so much, she asked me to recommend an Austen novel for her to read, something I don't know that she would have seriously considered if not for this movie. I can give it no higher recommendation than that.
Okay, now for the costumes. Like much of the scenery and set dressing, these costumes feel very lived-in and realistic to me.
|Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth, and Jane at the Meryton Assembly|
Lizzy tends to wear plain dresses, which highlights her direct personality. She also wears what appears to be one of her father's old coats, which I absolutely love -- it shows the connection between the two characters in such a simple, direct way.
|Lizzy in her father's coat|
She does wear one dress a couple times that I really don't like -- it seems out of place, too modern. I think it's the open-necked, button-down shirt that really throws it off, for me.
|This looks more like something from The Sound of Music.|
I don't really care for the long, straggly bangs that several of the female characters have, particularly Elizabeth Bennet and Charlotte Lucas, but I don't know enough about hairstyles of the Regency era to judge whether they're un-period or just different from what I've seen in other movies.
|Kelly Reilly as Caroline Bingley|
I said at the beginning that I would address a few of the things I've read in the blogosphere, some of them so spiteful and mean-spirited that they're worthy of Caroline Bingley. I'm not going to name names or link to any of the other reviews, as I don't want to pick fights. But a few things get criticized over and over, so I'll just talk about a couple of those more common complaints.
First, I'm kind of amused by how many people get riled up by the fact that this not only does not include every single scene from the book, but it also does not take every line of dialog straight from the page. This is called an adaptation, right? Merriam-Webster.com defines the word "adaptation"
to mean "a composition rewritten into a new form." Yeah, not going to be exactly the same as the book in every particular. You want the book, read the book! To me, this movie captures both the story and the characters, and that is what I look for in the movie version of any story. Maybe I am just more accustomed to this idea than some people because I watch so many versions of Hamlet
, and each one is cut a bit differently, yet most still manage to convey the story and portray the characters faithfully.
Okay, second, there seem to be a lot of people hating the "botched proposal scene." It's true that they shift the action from the Collins' home to outside in a rain storm, and it's true that they changed some of the dialog (see the above definition of an "adaptation"). But this is actually the scene that made me sit up and start liking this version the first time I saw it. This is partly because I have a thing for wet men, and partly because it's so brilliantly acted. Both Macfadyen and Knightley step all over each other's lines, giving their heated words the feel of an actual argument. In the book, Lizzy is infuriated by his proposal, and Darcy is angered by her refusal, so I don't see how this can be viewed as out of keeping with the spirit of the scene. In fact, it shows how deeply both characters feel.
|Can't you see he loves her most ardently?|
People also seem to be incensed by the fact that Darcy and Lizzy nearly kiss at the end of the scene. Why? Darcy loves her, most ardently, as he here proclaims. We know by his later actions that Lizzy's refusal does not cause him to stop loving her. And in my admittedly limited experience (having been married a mere ten years to the first man I ever really dated), anger and attraction can be pretty closely linked. The arousal of any strong emotion brings other emotions to the surface more readily, I've found. I suppose people might find it improper that Darcy and Lizzy would be tempted to kiss when they are not only not married, but not even engaged, and I admit that in that era, such a kiss would likely be frowned on. But they don't actually kiss, so I don't see the point of condemning them for impropriety.
Finally, I have read several blogs that say that anyone who likes this movie at all
is clearly not a true Jane Austen fan. Er... what? Did Jane Austen set down rules saying what constitutes being a fan of her work? Or does someone else have the right to make such rules? Come on, that's ridiculous. A "true" fan of Jane Austen is someone who enjoys and appreciates her work, for whatever reason. I wouldn't even address this except that I think making proclamations like that is a good way to alienate people who might just be discovering the world of Jane Austen. If someone likes this movie, and then reads that if they like it, they can't be "true" fans of her writing, mightn't that make them give up and never actually read her novels? To me, that would be really sad, so shame on people who think they can determine which movie versions others should and should not like. Everyone has the right to like or dislike whatever movie they want!
Anyway, this movie has nothing really objectionable in it, though of course Lydia running off with Wickham is quite scandalous, and some of the dresses do show off a good deal of their wearers' assets.
This is also my third entry for the Pride and Prejudice Biecentenary Challenge
on Austenprose.com. My previous entries are here
on my book review blog.
I leave you with this shot of Mr. Darcy striding through the morning fog to declare that Elizabeth has bewitched him, body and soul. Not quite how it goes in the book, but delicious nonetheless.
|A long coat is nearly as good as a cape, to be honest. Yowza.|