“A Mrs Bennett, a Miss Bennett, a Miss Bennett and a Miss Bennett, sir.”
I deliberately chose to rewatch this version of Pride and Prejudice as Joe Wright’s film was the last I saw and I wanted to remind myself of it on its own merits, before returning to the iconic BBC television adaptation. Joe Wright seems to inspire a strength of feeling in some people which is almost akin to that which his frequent collaborator Keira Knightley is (IMHO) unfairly subjected and I don’t imagine his choice to take on Austen’s beloved story in an abridged film format and to cast Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett would have endeared him to anyone new.
But Wright’s visual eye cannot be doubted as he has a clear gift for condensing and crystallising the key emotional moments of a story. He captures beautifully the informality of a public dance where the people actually talk, contrasted with the private moments of secrets and passions for all concerned; his customary flowing tracking shots are present and correct and there’s a hugely romantic feel. This really comes through in his composition of scenes – the first touch between the pair as Darcy lifts Elizabeth into her carriage is powerfully charged, the sense of emotional freedom that comes for the girls when they are allowed to dance is always convincing and there’s a clever reinterpretation of the wet shirt scene that tips the nod to the original but stands on its own two feet – Macfadyen wins my vote over Firth for those that are interested.
And for fans of the story, there is a series of interesting choices that differentiate this version and recast various relationships. Notably, Mr and Mrs Bennett feel like much more of a genuine long-married couple rather than the comedy props that they often come across as, Donald Sutherland’s kindliness partnered by the softer comedy of Brenda Blethyn and they make a thoroughly believable bedrock for this family. And Elizabeth and Jane’s relationship also comes across as a more strained sisterly affair, more complicated by jealousies and secrets than the book ever suggests (as I recall). Indeed the interactions of all the girls feels freshly different.
The supporting cast is full of loveliness too. Peter Wight and Penelope Wilton brim with a great warmth as uncle and aunt; Dame Judi rocks some epic hair as Lady Catherine, Kelly Reilly possessed a wonderful snootiness as Caroline and Tom Hollander portrays the carefully composed obsequiousness of Collins with his customary skill. It’s a shame that Sinéad Matthews appears as a maid yet again (though she does seem to have broken out of that typecasting now) and I loved Rosamund Pike as elder sister Jane, but then I seem to love most everything I’ve seen her in (conveniently forgetting Madame de Sade…). A great achievement all round.