Pride and Prejudice - Not quite Austen: Review
The latest celluloid version of “Pride and Prejudice” (released in India in March 2006) is one among the several that have been made from Jane Austen’s most memorable piece of fiction. Deborah Moggach wrote the screenplay, and Joe Wright framed that into what seems like a delightful collage of early 19th century England. The view is often breathtaking, and some of the outdoor shots remain in the “mind’s eye”, to steal Wordsworthian idea of the English Lake District. Against this enchanting backdrop, Wright has chosen a cast of beautiful people; Keira Knightly as Elizabeth Bennet sparkles, and although in the literary version, it is her sister Jane who is the beauty of the Bennets, the film is unashamedly partial to Lizzy.
Well, obviously. Moggach and Wright have focussed on Elizabeth and her story of pride and prejudice, and the innumerable sub-plots that Austen wove into her masterpiece have either been ignored or clipped to a large extent. However, there are two that are there, though in truncated versions: Bingley’s (Simon Wood) affair with Jane (Rosamund Pike) and Wickham’s (Rupert Friend) elopment with and subsequent marriage to Lydia Bennet have been retained ostensibly to embellish Darcy’s (Mathew MacFayden) goodness and the softening of his arrogant pride.
Despite this, Austen’s analyses, even description, of the English society’s intra-class conflict is sadly lacking in Wright’s “Pride and Prejudice”. Austen wrote in the late 1700s and early 1800s novels all right, but they were virtual treatsises of a social order that lived by sarcasm and stiff upper lip. In these stories, she introduced and developed strong women characters whose wit and penchant for harmless mischief enlivened reading and took her books into a realm of fascination.
An Austen fan would be disappointed with Wright’s movie on this score, but he has kept in much of Lizzy’s liveliness through Knightly, who at barely 20 and with just about “Bend it like Beckham” behind her, refreshes our memory of a great Austen character. Elizabeth’s fascinating humour coloured with her tempestuous vulnerability makes her performance worth a look at “Pride and Prejudice”.
Brenda Blethyn and Donald Sutherland as Mr and Mrs Bennett offer an amusing contradiction to their five daughters. While Blethyn is a typical Austen hyper woman, Sutherland’s end-of-the-film twist sets the tone for the feel-good end. It is here that he moves us with his wonderfully restrained emotion that says how much he adores Lizzy. Austen, certainly.
But MacFayden disappoints us by being much too wooden rather than proud, and looses the fine opportunity to create the right and growing chemistry with Knightly in a work that centres round the couple.
(This review appeared in The Hindu dated March 17 2006)