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Jane Austen rocks again onscreen

Dench, Blethyn, Knightley, Sutherland share their 'Pride' experiences

Letter-writing did not die with Jane Austen. The director of the current film adaptation of “Pride & Prejudice” eschewed the phone and email in favor of an old-fashioned missive to actress Judi Dench.

Joe Wright recalls, “I wrote her a letter, ‘Dear Judi, please come and play Lady Catherine. I love it when you’re a bitch.’ ”

And she wrote back: “Yes, please, I’ll come and be a bitch for you.”

Even more civilized were Brenda Blethyn’s favorite memories of playing Mrs. Bennet. “I was covered in shit, cows’ shit, pigs’ shit, and I got dive-bombed by a wasp and it hit my eye and right there, my face went out like this,” she says, making a balloon face. “Fortunately, it was a Friday and I had the weekend to recover.”

Keira Knightley claims she “loves” Austen’s novel, even if she didn’t exactly read it the first time around. “I don’t think it matters how old you are, I fell in love with this story when I was 7,” she recalls. “I had the entire Jane Austen series, on books on tape.”

Which leaves it to a man, Donald Sutherland, to offer an intellectual perspective. The film’s Mr. Bennet sees an evolution in the consciousness of the Austen adaptations to film. “The novel is about women and you look at the (Laurence Olivier-Greer Garson( film or the BBC series (with Colin Firth), it’s Olivier’s or Colin Firth’s (film). That’s what makes this ‘Prejudice’ an interesting picture: It’s not a romance. It’s really about women facing the assault of the mores and manners of the times.”

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