Dir Joe Wright. 2005UK-US-Fr. 127mins.
There'sno question that 19th-century English novelist Jane Austen still has shapelylegs. Ang Lee's Sense & Sensibility (1995) enjoyed seven Oscarnominations (including best picture) and $134m box-office worldwide, $43m fromthe US alone, while Colin Firth owes his career to a 1995 BBC version of Pride & Prejudice that drewaudiences like bees to a honeypot.
Now, 10 years later, and 65 years since Aldous Huxley contributed to thelast big-screen adaptation, Working Title enters the fray with itseagerly-anticipated take on Pride & Prejudice.
WithJoe Wright making his directorial debut, Pride & Prejudice remains avery English affair, while keeping a firm eye on the international box office.
Its more commercial than previous big-screen Austenadaptations - the arthouse isn't within hailing distance here - despitegorgeously faithful period sets and costuming, and what results is the ultimatechick-flick romance.
Marketed correctly, box office should be very strongindeed, and while it may be a challenge attracting a traditional male audience,this film will travel well, especially to the US, and definitely improve on Sense& Sensibility's unexpectedly strong results. After playing Toronto, Pride& Prejudice opens in the UK on Sept 15 and in the US on Nov 11.
Brenda Blethyn, as Mrs Bennett, may have an outsidechance for a best supporting actress nomination, although prospects will beslighter for Keira Knightley in the best actress stakes - especially ifstronger competition emerges as the awards season progresses. More likely isawards attention in the craft categories.
Wright takes a faithful approach to the book. Thefive unmarried Bennett sisters are aware that, without a male heir, theirfather's (Sutherland) ramshackle estate will eventually pass to their closestmale cousin, Mr Collins (Hollander).
Each subsequently reacts in different ways to thearrival of wealthy bachelor Mr Bingley (Woods) and his impossibly haughtyfriend Mr Darcy (Macfadyen) at a nearby mansion - not to mention the militiaand the dashing Mr Wickham (Friend).
Star of the show is the outspoken Elizabeth(Knightley), who, mortified by her mother's unabashed match-making and heryounger sisters' giddy foolishness, blames Mr Bingley's faltering romance withbeautiful sister Jane (Pike) on the remote Mr Darcy. But all become victims ofthe aforementioned pride, and, of course, lashings of prejudice.
Much rests on Keira Knightley's slender shoulders: asthe sprightly Elizabeth Bennett, she's in almost every scene. If she alienatesthe film's core female audience, then Pride & Prejudice is lost.While her delivery seems anachronistic for the period, this isn't a by-the-bookadaptation, and she demonstrates more capability than previous performances haveindicated.
This take on Pride & Prejudice may be tooobvious for Austen purists (one should be able to work out Darcy andElizabeth's attraction without the benefit of slo-mo), although there's anundoubted thrill to seeing such faithful recreations of the period which willundoubtedly attract attention during awards season.
What will keep audiences entertained when theduel/dance between Elizabeth and her Darcy wears thin is some sprightlysupporting turns, in particular from Blethyn, who manages to make Mrs Bennettless irritating than she should be, Sutherland as Mr Bennett, Hollander'samusing Mr Collins and a very entertaining turn from Judi Dench as aninadvertent match-maker for the star-crossed couple.
Wright keeps up an enjoyable picture-postcard-romantictone from the outset, aided by an attractive cast, exquisite locationsincluding Chatsworth House and Wilton House Salisbury, but Pride &Prejudice lurches into pastiche by the final reel.
By this stage, however, its core romantic audienceshould be satisfied enough not to quibble - although there's a danger that morecynical audience members will break out into laughter at the wrong moment.
Deborah Moggach, based on the novel by Jane Austen