×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Pride & Prejudice

A keeper for the ages, pic brings Jane Austen's best-loved novel to vivid, widescreen life, as well as making a star of Keira Knightley. Benefiting from a visual approach by young Brit director Joe Wright that melds realism with romance in a canny balance, film looks set to appeal to more than just Janeites and upscale distaffers.

With:
Elizabeth Bennet - Keira Knightley Darcy - Matthew Macfadyen Mrs. Bennet - Brenda Blethyn Mr. Bennet - Donald Sutherland William Collins - Tom Hollander Lady Catherine de Bourg - Judi Dench Jane Bennet - Rosamund Pike Lydia Bennet - Jena Malone Caroline Bingley - Kelly Reilly Charlotte Lucas - Claudie Blakley Mr. Gardiner - Peter Wight Mrs. Gardiner - Penelope Wilton Charles Bingley - Simon Woods Lt. Wickham - Rupert Friend Kitty Bennet - Carey Mulligan Mary Bennet - Talulah Riley Georgiana Darcy - Tamzin Merchant

A movie for the age, and a keeper for the ages, “Pride & Prejudice” brings Jane Austen’s best-loved novel to vivid, widescreen life, as well as making an undisputed star of 20-year-old Keira Knightley. Making positive use of thesps closer to the characters’ real ages, but also benefiting from a visual approach by young Brit director Joe Wright that melds realism with romance in a canny balance, film looks set to appeal to more than just Janeites and upscale distaffers. Following its world preem at Toronto, pic goes wide in Blighty Sept. 16 and goes Stateside Nov. 18.

Aficionados of the 1995 five-hour BBC miniseries, with Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, won’t necessarily be convinced by this bigscreen version. But anyone coming to the movie fresh and not demanding a chapter-by-chapter adaptation will respond to the pic’s emotional sweep, sumptuous lensing and marvelous sense of ensemble.

Popular on Variety

Wright, 33, who comes from a realist tradition in Brit miniseries (“Charles II: The Power & the Passion”), and scripter Deborah Moggach, a novelist and miniseries adaptor in her own right, extract the youthful essence of Austen’s novel, as well as providing a richly detailed setting. Scenes barely sketched in Austen’s dialogue-heavy, description-light prose leap fully detailed onto the screen, thanks to Sarah Greenwood’s terrific production design and Jacqueline Durran’s textured costumes.

Taking their cue from when the novel was first written rather than published, both designers go for a softer, late 18th-century look rather than a stiffer early 19th-century one. More relaxed vibe fits better with an adaptation that gives a slightly modern twist to the characters. As an evocation of period English life in the shires, “P&P,” though set around a century earlier, is the most flavorsome since Phil Agland’s under-rated version of Thomas Hardy’s “The Woodlanders.”

Moggach’s solution to paring down the novel is to concentrate on Elizabeth (Knightley), the second of five daughters belonging to a couple (Donald Sutherland, Brenda Blethyn) of reasonable but by no way lavish means. When news comes that a wealthy young bachelor, Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods), has moved into a nearby stately manor, Elizabeth’s mother smells a convenient match in the making.

Film’s knockout first reel, composed of two long sequences, scoops the viewer up into late 18th-century market-town life and the main characters’ lives. Opening sequence, with the first of many long steadicam takes, follows Elizabeth as she walks up to and inside the family home. Pic then cuts straight to a local ball, where Elizabeth’s elder sister, Jane (Rosamund Pike), comes under Bingley’s eye but Elizabeth herself gets off on quite the wrong foot with Bingley’s handsome but standoffish friend, Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen).

As Elizabeth and Darcy start their convoluted, sour-sweet courtship, events swiftly etch the novel’s main developments. Elizabeth becomes interested in a dashing soldier, Lt. Wickham (Rupert Friend), who has an awkward history with Darcy; meanwhile, she’s pursued by a boring reverend, William Collins (Tom Hollander).

Initial set of romantic entanglements comes memorably together at the 35-minute mark in another, much more upscale ball, this time at Bingley’s residence. Helmer Wright’s use of long steadicam sequences and Moggach’s ability to keep a large number of characters on the boil come into their own here. Elaborately but not showily choreographed, and giving the viewer a precise sense of social geography within the interlinked rooms, it’s the movie’s set piece, as Elizabeth negotiates advances from both Collins and Darcy.

Pic starts to tighten the emotional screws just prior to the hour mark, with the first entry of romantic piano-and-strings scoring. Darcy’s passionate proposal, and Elizabeth’s equally passionate rejection, show both thesps at the top of their game, emotionally fueling the long final act and coda.

Looking every bit a star, Knightley, who’s shown more spirit than acting smarts so far in her career, really steps up to the plate here, holding her own against the more classically trained Macfadyen (as well as vets like Blethyn, Sutherland and Judi Dench) with a luminous strength that recalls a young Audrey Hepburn. More than the older Ehle in the TV series, she catches Elizabeth’s essential skittishness and youthful braggadocio, making her final conversion all the more moving. Thesp’s only weakness is her over-clipped delivery, more Kensington than rural Hertfordshire.

Macfadyen makes Darcy a more conflicted, softer figure than Firth’s indelibly etched performance, but one that fits the movie’s more realistic mood.

Other casting is aces down the line, with Blethyn reining back her Mrs. Bennet into a believable mother hen, Sutherland overcoming a sometimes wobbly English accent in a perf that pays dividends at the end (in a beautiful scene with Knightley), and Dench perking up the picture at key moments as a waspishly commanding Lady Catherine.

Mass of smaller roles add texture to every scene, increasing the sense of ensemble and keeping the screen busy. Pike’s well-meaning Jane is a touching study in selflessness, while Kelly Reilly’s Caroline Bingley brings a tart sexual jealousy to her early scenes with Macfadyen and Knightley.

Film’s most controversial changes are in the characters of Collins and Bingley, both of whom are used for comic relief. But despite being completely different from the novel’s Collins, both physically and emotionally — as well as being considerably older — Hollander does make the role work dramatically in Moggach’s condensation, allowing modern auds a way into the social rituals without direct satire.

Amazingly, given the book’s enduring popularity, this is only the second bigscreen version of the novel, 65 years after MGM’s Greer Garson-Laurence Olivier B&W starrer, typical of studio-bound English literature productions of the period. Current production was entirely filmed on location, using a variety of period structures all around England.

Pride & Prejudice

U.K.-U.S.

Production: A correction was made to these credits on Sept. 12, 2005.
A UIP (in U.K.)/Focus Features (in U.S.) release of a Focus Features presentation, in association with StudioCanal, of a Working Title production. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Paul Webster. Executive producers, Debra Hayward, Liza Chasin. Co-producer, Jane Frazer. Directed by Joe Wright. Screenplay, Deborah Moggach, based on the novel "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color, widescreen), Roman Osin; editor, Paul Tothill; music, Dario Marianelli; piano solos, Jean-Yves Thibaudet; music supervisor, Nick Angel; production designer, Sarah Greenwood; supervising art director, Ian Bailie; art directors, Mark Swain, Nick Gottschalk; set decorator, Katie Spencer; costume designer, Jacqueline Durran; hair/make-up designer, Fae Hammond; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital), Danny Hambrook, Catherine Hodgson, Paul Hamblin; choreographer, Jane Gibson; assistant director, Guy Heeley; casting, Jina Jay. Reviewed at UIP screening room, London, Aug. 17, 2005. (In Toronto Film Festival -- Gala Presentation.) MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 126 MIN.

With: Elizabeth Bennet - Keira Knightley Darcy - Matthew Macfadyen Mrs. Bennet - Brenda Blethyn Mr. Bennet - Donald Sutherland William Collins - Tom Hollander Lady Catherine de Bourg - Judi Dench Jane Bennet - Rosamund Pike Lydia Bennet - Jena Malone Caroline Bingley - Kelly Reilly Charlotte Lucas - Claudie Blakley Mr. Gardiner - Peter Wight Mrs. Gardiner - Penelope Wilton Charles Bingley - Simon Woods Lt. Wickham - Rupert Friend Kitty Bennet - Carey Mulligan Mary Bennet - Talulah Riley Georgiana Darcy - Tamzin MerchantWith: Cornelius Booth, Sylvester Morand, Rosamund Stephen, Janet Whiteside, Sinead Matthews, Roy Holder, Meg Wynn Owen, Samantha Bloom, Moya Brady, Pip Torrens, Jay Simpson.

More Film

  • My Zoe

    'My Zoe': Film Review

    There are two films in Julie Delpy’s ambitious, sharply-made but unbalanced “My Zoe.” There’s the scabrous relationship melodrama, about bitter exes sharing custody of a beloved child, which contains the story’s most potent emotions. And there’s the sci-fi-inflected ethical-dilemma grief movie, which houses its most provocative ideas. Both have much to recommend them, not least [...]

  • Richard Jewell

    The Big Lie of 'Richard Jewell' (Column)

    For a man who was so enraged at the administration of Barack Obama that he spent his 2012 Republican Convention speech lecturing an empty chair, Clint Eastwood has made a number of conventional, level-headed — one might even say liberal — political dramas. Films like “Invictus” and “J. Edgar” and “Midnight in the Garden of [...]

  • Oscar Isaac Star Wars The Rise

    Oscar Isaac Has Never Felt Like a 'Star Wars' Insider

    Unlike his “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” co-stars Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, Oscar Isaac had already established a long and acclaimed acting career before J.J. Abrams cast him as ace X-wing pilot Poe Dameron in 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” including standout roles in 2006’s “The Nativity Story” and 2011’s “Drive,” and [...]

  • Les Arcs to Showcase New Projects

    Les Arcs to Showcase New Projects by Jonas Alexander Arnby, Agnieszka Smoczyńska

    Denmark’s Jonas Alexander Arnby, France’s Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli, and Poland’s Agnieszka Smoczyńska are among up-and-coming directors from across Europe whose latest projects will be presented at the 11th Coproduction Village of Les Arcs Film Festival. This edition of Les Arcs Coproduction Village will showcase a total of 22 European projects spanning 19 countries. [...]

  • Chez Jolie Coiffure

    'Chez Jolie Coiffure': Film Review

    Shortly before the credits roll on “Chez Jolie Coiffure,” a customer in the eponymous hair salon asks her stylist, Sabine, if she has any plans to go home this year. Out of context, this sounds like the kind of standard, empty small talk one often makes while having one’s hair cut: what good movies you’ve [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content