Pride & Prejudice

Cringeworthy, albeit competently produced non-romance.

Released in 2005, certified UK-U. Reviewed on 24 Oct 2005 by Scott Morris
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I'm not too proud to admit I'm prejudiced against Jane Austen novels (hohoho! Did you see what I did there? CUTTING EDGE HUMOUR!) following the force feeding of Sense and Sensibility at an early age by a misguided English teacher. It seems frightfully trite stuff, and the concerns of Austen's characters rarely correspond to mine. Rich folks and their troubles with love? Not going to get much empathy from someone several grand in debt and more concerned with where the next meal is coming from. Anyway, the process by which novels like Austen's, or plays like Shakespeare's, or poems like Shelley's go from being populist pageturners designed to allow the author to feed their family for another few months to highbrow examples of artistry in the English language in always rather interesting. Will scholars be debating the themes of Catherine Cookson novels in a couple of hundred years?

Which brings us to the arguably redundant plot recap, as I'm sure you already have the gist of it. For the gistless amongst us, the Bennet family have launched their small tribe of daughters into an unsuspecting social scene, which is the sort of thing that happened before we could launch stuff into space. While the space programme brought us such useful fringe benefits as Teflon and Tamagotchi, the Bennet's efforts to ensnare a husband prove less fruitful. Until, that is, Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods) moves into the neighbouring stately manor with his heterosexual life partner Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) in tow. No, that can't be right. Ah, it's actually Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen).

Being something of an unsociable type Darcy is seen by second eldest Bennet offspring Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) as a pretentious, disagreeable bounder, but elder sister Jane (Rosamund Pike) finds favour with newcomer Bingley. The relationship blossoms for a while before Darcy pours a goodly amount of weedkiller onto it, on the basis that the Bennets are far too unseemly a family to been seen with in public. This also puts something of the kibosh on Elizabeth's growing tolerance, nay, attraction to Darcy. Also, other things happen involving other characters that if you've the slightest interest in this film you know about having read the book. Alternatively, things happen you won't be interested in as if this sort of thing isn't your cup of tea there's no chance you'll have read this far. On this shaky basis I declare the plot recap cancelled due to lack of interest.

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The point of Pride & Prejudice tends to get rather lost amongst the deranged squawkings of the Bennet family and their mother (Brenda Blethyn)'s incessant whinging about marriage. In essence, this version is a bunch of toffs moaning about how difficult it is to find a suitable husband, this being the only issue worthy of comment in their lives. Given the number of people wondering where the next meal is coming from in this world, you'll have to understand that the concerns raised in P&P don't cut much mustard with me. In fact, no mustard has been cut at all, which may come as some relief to the mustard, but not to me.

MacFadyen's Darcy isn't so much brooding and mysterious as moody and contrary, and Knightley runs around with her best Kate Winslet impression, simpering smugly. When they finally kiss, it's in front of a rising dawn silhouetting them against a burning star symbolising hope, iffy camerawork and scorched retinas. This isn't romance, this is the bits that copy editors at Mills and Boon cut out for being too corny.

Donald Sutherland looks largely bemused and sounds largely Canadian as the Bennett patriarch; Brenda Blethyn finds a fantastically irritating niche between the overdramatic and the melodramatic to inhabit for a character that has mood swings so large and frequent we require Jon Snow to drag his election night equipment out of mothballs to measure them. Simon Woods reminds me of Jamie Oliver for some reason, which is enough to earn my undying enmity.

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P&P is often held up as the be all and end all of romantic fiction. I've not enough knowledge or interest in the subject to argue the point and if this is the best there is to offer I can't see that I'm missing much. Glib perhaps, but this version of the 'gold standard' has very little wit and the all subtlety of a smack in the face with a half brick wrapped in barbed wire. It shouts, it screams, it screeches, it stomps; it never reaches the refined elegance or reserved tensions that I belive were the reasons the book remains notable.

Of course, all of this is pretty much tilting at windmills. In Blighty at least in the, ooh, good month or so between it opening and this rant being published its proven to be a great commercial success. The explanation is obvious enough, not only is it the first romance-y/costume drama-ey film in ages it's also something that isn't a comic book adaptation, update of a TV show or needless remake. Yes, i know there's been a good few million versions produced over the year but the last one everyone remembers was the BBC miniseries, which is a slightly different kettle of fish. It's also one of the very few movies of late targeted squarely at the ladies, which combined with the aggressive marketing guaranteed success. Whether it was worth of it or not is a question best answered by the soft snores emanating from the bulk of the men dragged along by the final reel.

Pride & Prejudice is just a bad example of it's ilk. Even if this is the sort of thing that you love it's difficult to recommend, and if you're more used to robotic monkey ninja films like what I am then this is just an exercise in tedium. I can appreciate the faultless production values of the piece and the effort (albeit not the results) of the actors, but it ultimately fails to engage on any meaningful level which leaves it rather stranded. Far from the definitive version, methinks, but it's not bad enough to warrant Austen turning in her grave. Thank heaven for the small mercies.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 TippyMarks.

Joe Wright
Cast list:
Keira Knightley (Elizabeth Bennet)
Talulah Riley (Mary Bennet)
Rosamund Pike (Jane Bennet)
Jena Malone (Lydia Bennet)
Carey Mulligan (Kitty Bennet)
Donald Sutherland (Mr. Bennet)
Brenda Blethyn (Mrs. Bennet)
Simon Woods (Mr. Bingley)
Kelly Reilly (Caroline Bingley)
Matthew MacFadyen (Mr. Darcy)
Tom Hollander (Mr. Collins)
Tamzin Merchant (Georgiana Darcy)