Saturday, November 26, 2005

Pride & Prejudice

Kiera Knightley's face is the star of the newest movie adaptation of Jane Austen's most popular novel, and that's just fine. She has a wonderfully mobile and animated face, in which we can easily read the pleasures and griefs of my daughters' favorite heroine, Miss Lizzie Bennet.

Knightley's expressiveness contrasts sharply with the memorably restrained interpretation of this character by Jennifer Ehle in A&E's also estimable production. And what is true of the part is true of the whole; Joe Wright's movie displays more cultural and emotional range than A&E's, giving us a Longbourne (the Bennet family home) that's as much a mucky barnyard as it is a gentleman's estate, and a Pemberley (Mr. Darcy's palace) with a sculpture gallery that looks like it's on loan from the British Museum.

Matthew MacFadyen is a suitably stiff, then impassioned Mr. Darcy, and if A&E fans will miss Colin Firth's shirtless turns as Darcy in the bath and in Pemberley's fish pond, they may be assuaged by MacFadyen's romantic emergence from the pre-dawn mists of the English countryside to make his proposal.

MacFadyen and Knightly's smoldering gazes during the climactic scene bespeak a couple who appreciate not only each other's character and accomplishments, but who are fully and believably anticipating the vigorous joys of the marriage bed -- something that was missing between Ehle and Firth.

Donald Sutherland is pleasantly shabby and avuncular as Mr. Bennet, and Dame Judi Dench as Lady Catherine Debourgh is the perfect snobbish foil for Knightley's always polite and witty impertinences.

CHEWIE says that Donald Sutherland was a welcome respite from the squealing girls, and his final scene with Keira (where he gives his permission) fairly made the movie for her. Yes.


Chewie said...

I haven't seen the A&E version, but you nailed the description of this one. I would spend another sentence or two praising Donald Sutherland's performance. He was a welcome respite from the squealing girls, and his final scene with Keira (where he gives his permission) fairly made the movie for me.

You didn't say what you thought of the mother...

Anonymous said...

May I say first that I like Keira Knightley who was perfectly placed in Pirates of the Caribbean and I am planning to see the new movie version of P&P even though I thought the Ehle-Firth version to be pretty close to perfect but I have to comment on your suggestion that the latter was lacking in taut sexual tension. Are you serious, Dave! Do you not remember the scene where Elizabeth is sitting next to Darcy's sister at the pianoforte while Darcy gazes at her longingly from the sofa and her chest is heaving provocatively in time to the music, stuffed as she is into that tight regency bodice. I mean, short of trick photography, this is something that Keira will be hard-pressed to duplicate. I agree that it's frustrating to contemporary audiences to have to watch Darcy propose and be accepted without so much as a holding of hands, but that is probably the way it would have been done at the time. If anything it accentuates the sense of physical attraction. Go back and watch the BBC version again, for Heaven's sake.

David Wharton said...

Anon, the A&E P&P has been a DVD staple in our house for years; my girls used to watch it endlessly whenever they were home sick -- or at any other time, for that matter. So I remember well the pianoforte scene. But I still don't think Ehle & Firth generated the kind of heat that Knightley & McFaydyen do -- probably because Knightley is just flat-out way sexier than Ehle.

I still love the A&E version, though, because (as you say) it's probably much more historically accurate, and it contains much more of Austen's great dialogue. Plus it's got more of the drippingly unctuous Mr. Collins.

Chewie, thanks for the extra sentence. I'll put it in!

Anonymous said...

It is not possible to have watched the Ehle-Firth version more times than we have but let's not get into a contest over it. Keira Knightley has a sexy mouth but the rest of her resembles a 12 year old boy. I'm trying to defend the honor of women with Rubensian dimensions here. Give us a break!

punkinsmom said...

I suppose I must be in the minority inthat I think the most charming thing about the story (Pride and Prejudice) is the dialog that Austen wrote. She was sharp, witty and sneakily scathing. I will watch this new P&P (eventually) because I am an Austen addict. I hope that, in translating her work to this new screenplay, the writers have not created just another sappy love story.