U.S. Release Date: November 11, 2005
Distributor: Focus Features
Director: Joe Wright
Producer: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner
Composer: Dario Marianelli
Cast: Keira Knightley, Donald Sutherland, Judi Dench, Jena Malone, Carey Mulligan, Rosamund Pike
Running Time: 2 hours and 6 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG (some mild thematic elements)

Jane Austen's Pre-Feminism in Pretty Pictures
by Scott Holleran

Director Joe Wright's melodious Pride and Prejudice, based on Jane Austen's novel, is a festive display of bright, jovial romanticism in long, lingering takes that loop around and spill into a beautiful British landscape photographed by Roman Osin. For all the pretty sound and pictures, the period piece is of little consequence.

To fans of Austen, who wrote Sense and Sensibility, adapted for the screen by Emma Thompson, whose hand is in this script, too, this is worth the fuss. For the rest of us, it is a ponderous soap opera.

Austen's female-dominated universe is intolerable, to borrow a term from the story. Easy on the eyes and ears, especially in its final scene, the two main characters—Elizabeth (muggy Keira Knightley) and the man she supposedly loves, Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen)—are hollow. That they fall in love at all is an afterthought preceded by huffy misunderstandings. Please pass the pillow.

The story's focus is the Bennets, a family with many daughters parented by a bystander father (Donald Sutherland) and an overbearing mum (Brenda Blethyn at her creakiest). They flit, sniff and tromp about—rarely without the music blaring—as they play with ribbons, gossip about others and yammer on at the dining table.

This is the late 18th century and, since the family farm doesn't make much money, marrying off the daughters to men of means is the family's central purpose. Middle child Elizabeth finds herself drawn to wealthy Darcy, in spite of the fact that she cannot stand him. Older sister Jane (Rosamund Pike) piques another rich man's interest.

The family's fortune is looking up, though multiple complications ensue, including issues of propriety, class, someone's past and an impulsive daughter (Jena Malone). Frivolous females abound.

Only this is supposed to be romantic, and the gentlemen lack the substance to make the ladies interesting. When the plot directly relates to Darcy and Elizabeth—with Judi Dench as a rich bitch relative in opposition to their union—Pride and Prejudice can be almost involving, at times moving, though Elizabeth, or maybe it's Knightley, is too catty to look up to a man like Darcy.

They dance without touching and, in one of several nicely achieved moments, they touch without embracing, and they spar, conspire and heave insults at one another. Darcy is a problematic character; too passive to be the hero the movie would have us believe him to be, though Macfadyen exhibits as much gusto as the role permits.

Back to the Bennets, it's more of the same, which is to say a sort of ritualistic sneering at men, with one male suitor literally hanging on a lady's dress, walking behind her, and with Knightley's Elizabeth always in charge. Despite the gowns, the frills and an orchestral air of romance, each female raises her status only when the male lowers his—from the father to Darcy—and being bewitched, as one gentleman puts it, passes for love.

Director Wright lavishes this adaptation with glimmering touches of color, luminous lighting and graceful movements, and the pictures are breathtaking. There's enough character and story to pass the time in between, but that pillow may come in handy.

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DVD Notes
The usual suite of options awaits those who enjoy the movie, including commentary by soft-spoken director Joe Wright, whose mutterings range from thoughts on the weather to the addition of Knightley "sitting on a swing in Kent," a leisurely approach that enhances the story in a cinematic sense throughout the movie. Among other footnotes, Wright reveals that he avoided a final pan up to the stars to avoid being "too sentimental."

Several byte-sized snippets at five and eight-minute intervals are culled from HBO's First Look series, presented here on this single disc in its entirety and, as it is, that program is a reliable enticement to watching Pride and Prejudice.

Macfadyen and Dench are notably underrepresented though Knightley, Blethyn and screenwriter Deborah Moggach are featured in location interviews, which lend themselves to the spirit of the movie. While Behind the Scenes at the Ball has nothing to do with the long, elaborate ball scenes in the movie, the general style is frothy and fun.

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