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Latest ‘Pride and Prejudice’ adaptation is a winner

Molly Griffin | Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Jane Austen’s novel “Pride and Prejudice opens with the line, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” The 2005 film adaptation of the book keeps this central focus on marriage, but it adds a fantastic cast, gorgeous scenery and costumes and an emotional heart that will satisfy old fans and win over new ones.

Like many of Jane Austen’s novels, “Pride and Prejudice” deals with the business of marriage and the trials of love. The five Bennet sisters – the lovely Jane (Rosamund Pike), the studious Mary (Talulah Riley), the clever Elizabeth (Keira Knightly), the immature Kitty (Carey Mulligan) and the wild Lydia (Jena Malone) – are the heart of the novel.

Mrs. Bennet (Brenda Blethyn) works constantly to make advantageous marriages for her daughters, but her efforts increase when the family learns that their property will be inherited by a distant cousin – not by someone within their immediate family. The arrival of Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods), a wealthy bachelor who moves into a nearby country estate, begins the always rocky road to love and marriage that exists in Austen’s books.

Mr. Bingley and Jane mutually fall for one another, but Elizabeth doesn’t get off on the right foot with his friend, Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen). They’re clearly meant for each other, but life throws a number of complications into the mix before they’re allowed to find happiness.

Elizabeth meets a dashing soldier, Lt. Wickham (Rupert Friend), and is pursued by a dull reverend, William Collins (Tom Hollander), who is a convenient match for the family since he is the one who will eventually inherit the Bennet estate. The love lives of all the Bennet sisters grow complicated and they find themselves with broken hearts and wounded pride, but they end up with happiness.

The costumes and scenery in “Pride and Prejudice” give it a sense of rustic English beauty. The producers decided to set the movie in the 18th century, which is when the books is set, rather than in the 19th century when it was published. This gives the film a less stiff and formal feel, which allows the film to take on looser and slightly more modern airs. Several scenes in the film are gorgeously costumed and well-shot, particularly the country dance sequence where Elizabeth meets Mr. Darcy.

The best thing about the film is the great work done by the ensemble cast. Knightly proves that she is more than just a pretty face with her lively and engaging Elizabeth, and she and MacFadyen’s Mr. Darcy have a dynamic and believable relationship onscreen. The whole Bennet family is engaging, and the relationship between Blethyn’s emotional mother hen and her laconic husband, Mr. Bennet (Donald Sutherland), is particularly amusing. Even small characters like the dull but forceful Rev. Collins or Judi Dench’s aggressive portrayal of a society matron add great depth and entertainment value to the movie.

Surprisingly, this is only the second big-screen adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice.” The first was a 1940 release starring Greer Garson and Lawrence Olivier. Other films, such as “Bridget Jones’ Diary” have adapted the plot but put a more modern twist on the book.

This version of “Pride and Prejudice,” while not the chapter-by-chapter adaptation of the BBC miniseries version of the book, is a beautiful, well-acted and moving film. The scenery and costumes and the great ensemble cast should appeal to Jane Austen aficionados and neophytes alike.