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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Pride and Prejudice (2005)

"Are you too proud, Mr. Darcy? And would you consider pride a fault, or a virtue?"
- Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: February 28, 2006

Stars: Keira Knightley, Matthew MacFadyen
Other Stars: Brenda Blethyn, Donald Sutherland, Tom Hollander, Rosamond Pike, Judi Dench
Director: Joe Wright

MPAA Rating: PG for mild thematic elements
Run Time: 02h:08m:08s
Release Date: February 28, 2006
UPC: 025192807220
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AA-A- C

DVD Review

Film can be an uninviting and ill-fitting medium for many novelists, but it is testament to the high quality of Miss Austen's writing and construction that not only do her novels provide spectacular blueprints for motion pictures, but they serve almost as paragons of the form, the necessary, even archetypical predecessors for any romantic comedy ever filmed. One doesn't recoil from the prospect of a film from a Jane Austen novel, as one might from, say, F. Scott Fitzgerald, a writer of the first rank whose work seems poorly suited to the screen. (Anybody who has suffered through the Redford/Farrow version of The Great Gatsby will back me up on this.) The problem, of course, is that the number of Austen novels is limited—you can count the complete works on two hands. Is it worth it, then, to have yet another filmed version of what's perhaps her most famous and highly regarded novel, Pride & Prejudice?

The answer, happily, is resoundingly yes, and director Joe Wright and his colleagues have made a thoroughly delightful and engaging film, one that will captivate you even if you punted on reading the book, or settled for the Monarch Notes, or patched together an understanding from other filmed versions along with a healthy dollop of Bridget Jones's Diary. With the novel we know we're in very good hands from the first wonderful sentence ("It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife"), and similarly here, Wright's film is most reassuring. He doesn't attempt to mimic Austen's prose style, and wisely doesn't wallpaper the movie with voice-over—instead he trusts the material and his lovely cast to bring it across, and it works very well indeed. The movie is something of a valentine to the English countryside, and compositionally Wright is very careful, occasionally borrowing from the paintings of Miss Austen's time. He may go a bit overboard with the Steadicam, though, and the camera freely floating through this eighteenth-century universe can seem occasionally arbitrary.

Our story concerns Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, and their five young, lovely, unmarried daughters—the rules of primogeniture have conspired against these young women, and they must marry well to ensure the economic security of their family. Donald Sutherland presides as Mr. Bennet, a bit of a character, flighty but charming, down to earth and practical; his wife, played smartly by Brenda Blethyn, is the one bringing the sense of urgency to the courtships of her daughters, and her life's work has become marrying them off, well and as soon as possible. Setting the story in motion is the arrival of Mr. Bingley, who is handsome, wealthy and single—the Bennets figure that he must frankly be in search of a wife, and Mrs. Bennet thinks that her eldest, the lovely Jane, would make a perfect bride for the young gentleman. Aside from his snotty sister (who looks down upon the déclassé Bennets), Bingley has brought along a mate: one Charles Darcy, whose brooding countenance, curt manner and (horrors!) refusal to dance immediately make him universally reviled among the Bennets. Singling him out for particular ridicule is Elizabeth, the second Bennet sister—and yet the spark between the two is undeniable. In fact, it will fuel the rest of the run of the story.

Elizabeth and Darcy are one of the legendary pairings in literature, and their twin portrait deserves its place alongside those of Beatrice and Benedick, along with the more unfortunates: Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, and the like. Matthew Macfadyen is the very image of Darcy, the embodiment of the old adage that still waters run deep; but the fireworks are exclusively Lizzie's province, and Keira Knightley lights up the sky. She's an extraordinarily poised Elizabeth, and has a most expressive face, cluing us into the many thoughts that she is simply not allowed to express in polite society, or even behind closed doors. She's especially good at nuance, at conveying a wealth of emotion off the words, at a time when women particularly could not speak their minds. Lizzie is courted by the absurd Mr. Collins, a man of the cloth poised to inhabit the Bennets' house and everything in it; the pendulum swings in the other direction when she meets and is enchanted by Wickham, a soldier well turned out in his obligatory red coat, who has an unseemly history with Mr. Darcy.

Knightley isn't the only star in the galaxy, though, and aside from Sutherland, Blethyn and Macfadyen, there are a raft of memorable performances. Judi Dench is hilariously and dangerously imperious as Lady Catherine, Mr. Collins' great patron; Rosamond Pike makes for a lovely but never self-conscious Jane. Wright and screenwriter Deborah Moggach reinforce Austen's observation that a misstep by one of the Bennet sisters could tarnish the family's good name irrevocably; there may never have been a more keen social critic than Jane Austen, and her salient, sly commentary has lost none of its bite and incisiveness with the centuries. It's a lovely movie, handsomely made and dramatically propulsive. When the filmmakers visit the writer's grave, to tell her about the picture and the grosses, she should be well pleased.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: A strong effort on the transfer, in which the source material is treated with great respect; only occasionally do the darker shades lack the saturation one might like.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Spanish, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: Early on, there's almost no scoring—it's refreshing to watch a film that's unafraid of stillness, of quiet. The musical contributions pick up as the running time goes on, and they're generally well balanced with the dialogue tracks.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring On A Clear Day, Prime, Medium, Brokeback Mountain
4 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Joe Wright
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Director Joe Wright's commentary track is perfunctory—shooting and casting details, standard stuff about locations and uncooperative weather. It's not bad, but it's not a necessary listen. Meatier are four accompanying featurettes: A Bennet Family Portrait (06m:03s) features interviews with all of the principal actors, along with Wright, Moggach and producer Paul Webster. Jane Austen, Ahead of Her Time (08m:04s) focuses on the writer's modernity, with contributions from Louise West, a curator at the Austen home. Behind-the-Scenes at the Ball (06m:17s) is a misnamed, over-hyphenated opportunity for the actors, between setups, to express their love for one another, and they continue to do so in an HBO First Look piece (13m:08s), making this a rather overextended mutual admiration society. Also, a special word of thanks to those who sent along this copy for review, for it arrived in a package of whimsical practicality, the DVD nestled in a bouquet of rose petals and packing peanuts.

Extras Grade: C

 

Final Comments

A model of literary adaptation in the best sense—you need not even have heard of Jane Austen or care for nineteenth-century fiction to appreciate the craft, the delight, and the sheer fun of this film. You can feel the echoes of Austen's writing in just about every romantic comedy you've ever seen—the filmmakers here do right by the inexhaustibly popular tale of Elizabeth and Darcy. Well done.

 


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