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November 15, 2005

New Pride & Prejudice just a little Austen-tatious

Let me preface this article by admitting the awful truth: I am a Pride & Prejudice-loving, Colin Firth-worshipping, total Jane Austen geek. If you’re one of those people who hate Jane Austen, and ridicule the silly girls who love Pride & Prejudice, stop reading now. This article is not for you.

It’s impossible to talk about this new movie without first at least mentioning what has come before—notably, the six-part BBC miniseries. Even the most pop culture–inept person would have found it hard to miss the Colin Firth fever that almost swept both sides of the Atlantic from Bridget Jones’s Diary. It may not be right, but it’s inevitable that moviegoers compare the two versions, and I’m no exception.

For the record, I was not particularly thrilled that a new version was coming out in the first place. I’m loyal to the BBC’s version, and anyone else playing Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy just seemed wrong. In short, this new version is treading on sacred ground. It would have been so easy for this movie to go terribly, terribly wrong. I’m happy to report, however, that it is definitely not a train wreck. Keira Knightly did a great job. She doesn’t pose to be admired but perfectly captures the vitality of Lizzy Bennet, bringing some unexpected and much appreciated humor to the character. Knightly’s otherwise unknown talent for comedy shines through. Our new Mr. Darcy is an entirely different matter. Mathew MacFadyen delivers his lines as if he’s struggling to remember the words, and rushes them out at the expense of emotion and believability. MacFayden improves over the course of the movie—Darcy’s failed marriage proposal is particularly good—but for the most part he seems concerned with looking moody. At a certain point it just becomes too much. We get it. You’re a brooding kind of guy—let’s move on.

It’s the supporting characters in Pride & Prejudice that truly bring it to life. Mrs. Bennet is perfect and, for my money, the best thing about the film. Bingley is transformed into a loveable geek, and Jane is perfect as the reserved and golden-hearted older sister, that is, without a doubt, better than her BBC counterpart. The audience at the theater where I saw the film especially loved Mr. Collins, who, just so you know, sports an entirely appropriate mullet.

If there was one glaringly ridiculous move on the film’s part, it was the choice of cheesy romantic scenery. There is extremely moody weather and, instead of actually heightening emotion, it just seems silly when important conversations only take place at dawn or dusk. The pacing is also a little off. The tension that should slowly build between Elizabeth and Darcy happens much too fast. They jump straight from arguing to intense looks that seem to say “I want to rip your clothes off.” Darcy, in particular, lacks a transition from “annoyed” to “enamored,” and, really, that’s what everyone is there to see. The audience wants to be convinced along with the protagonists themselves, and the movie chooses to work off assumptions rather than earn the ending.

The good news about the new Pride & Prejudice is that you forget about Colin Firth—it stands on its own. The bad news is that the film didn’t really bring anything new to the canon of prior Pride & Prejudice renditions. Things were generally good, but nothing was really different or spectacular. The director’s attempt to experiment with camera angles doesn’t amount to a new vision that absolutely must be shared with the world.

Of course, I really liked this movie. It’s a good, giddy time, and leaves you with that high, distinctly associated with happy love stories. But I’m not so sure how much of that is the movie’s doing and how much is just the nature of the story. You tell me. At the end of the day there’s no way that I can possibly judge this movie. As my friend Roshan said afterwards, “In your heart you love it—you know there are things wrong with it, but you love it and you can’t help it.” Exactly. If you really want to know the truth, ask that snobby movie kid in your dorm. I say, go.