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Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice is a truly solid bit of filmmaking. I can’t say whether it is a good adaptation or not, being I have not read the novel nor seen the other film treatments, however, as a piece of work in its own right, it succeeds on all accounts. Gorgeous to look at, this debut shows all the signs of the greatness he was to achieve with this year’s Atonement. From multiple long takes, sweeping through the scenery, choreographed to perfection in order to allow the characters to flow in and out of frame, to wonderfully shot dance sequences at the two balls, the craft is unreal. I don’t want to knock the story, though, as it is quite good. Never having really taken the time to acquaint myself with the Jane Austen canon, I am pleasantly surprised with how good the tale of love and premature judgments of character is. Firing on all cylinders, I accept all the praise that was lauded on it upon its release fully.

Wright seems to have the period drama down to perfection and it will be interesting to see what he does with his new film The Soloist, very much a departure from his two previous works. What we can expect, however, is a precise attention to detail and composition. Throughout this film we are given frames resembling works of art, (not to mention the actual artworks depicted—I absolutely loved the marble statue of the veiled woman, breathtaking), with light and atmosphere filling every available space. The little things, like when Elizabeth Bennet is in search of her soldier friend at the ball and we see Mr. Darcy look at her from behind as she continues to walk away, add so much depth with no dialogue necessary. He knows what he wants to show at all times and is never afraid to allow what’s onscreen do the talking for him through emotions and actions. For a director to trust the craft and the medium at such an early stage of his career, so unabashedly, is a rare trait. Most would rely on his actors to pull out greatness, but instead he relies on no one but himself, and the vision he wanted to put to celluloid.

If I were to fault Wright and the film at all, it would be with the handling of some performances, although I’m not sure how much I can really blame. The Bennet family is supposed to come across as loud and obnoxious, a family ill-suited to the status for which they are trying to marry into. They do this in spades, but I may have wanted it to be toned down just a tad. Jena Malone’s role as the youngest sister is just plain annoying, but her crassness and lack of subtlety do help in a dinner scene later in the film in order to give her reason to slip and tell her sister a secret. Brenda Blethyn, as the Bennet matriarch, is also very over-the-top. The performance could be a bit grating at times, but thankfully we are given lengthy reprieves without her to allow us to handle those moments when she is in full force.

The rest of the cast is absolutely fantastic. Keira Knightley, as she did in Atonement, really surprised me again with her starring role as Elizabeth. She is an actress that finally has deemed herself to deserve the accolades she receives in my mind. I understood people’s fascinations with her looks (although maybe not in total agreement), but never the skill at her craft. Now, though, I am on the bandwagon. Mr. Darcy, our second lead, is brilliantly portrayed by Matthew Macfadyen as well. His transformation from stuffy aristocrat to enraptured slave to love is believable at every turn. Despite his burgeoning love, he was still trying to be true to himself and his friends when he gave advice on matters such as marriage. It takes the events between he and Elizabeth for both to realize their own fallibilities and stubborn pride. Only when they finally open up to each other and tell of what the other doesn’t really know do they see that what they thought were good intentions were in actuality poor judgments. A good supporting cast bolsters these two stars too, with acknowledgements going to Rosamund Pike, Donald Sutherland (a wonderful final scene), Simon Woods, and the always-great Tom Hollander.

For all those that decide to pass by Pride and Prejudice because it is a romantic fluff piece, I only have to say give it a chance. As far as drama goes, the story is well told, and as far as cinematic excellence, it delivers at every moment. I won’t go on record and say that it must be the best version of the classic tale—I’m always told the Colin Firth piece is better—but I will say that this is one heck of a film. See it for the grandeur and the spectacle, but also become engrossed in the tale and the journey that love takes these two very different people on showing them and us how very much the same they are.

Pride and Prejudice 9/10

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photography:
[1] Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (2005) Copyright © Focus Features. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Rosamund Pike as Jane Bennet in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (2005) Copyright © Focus Features. All Rights Reserved.

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