More “Pride,” less “Prejudice” in new adaptation

Betsy Milarcik

Sometimes the key to making a “fresh” film is not to move forward, but to look to the past. Based on Jane Austen’s unforgettable novel, “Pride and Prejudice” takes the audience from the modern age of exploding cars to the regency period in England, to a time when balls reigned, “gentleman” was considered a profession, and women did not always have the right to inherit. This last characteristic is the main conundrum experienced by the Bennet family, a clan consisting of a somewhat poor gentleman, his flighty wife, and his five unmarried daughters.

Worrying about these five girls is Mrs. Bennet’s main occupation; marriage means security, and a lack of marriage means poverty. Naturally, Mrs. Bennet is particularly pleased when she learns of Mr. Bingley, a rather wealthy gentleman who has moved into the neighborhood. Her excitement only increases when she meets the elegant Mr. Darcy, his even richer friend.

Although the relationship between Mr. Bingley and Jane, the eldest and gentlest of the Bennet girls, seems to go quite smoothly, there is only animosity between Mr. Darcy and the spirited Elizabeth Bennet. Mr. Darcy’s pride offends Elizabeth, although she has quite the opposite effect on him. Romantic and sweet, the story of “Pride and Prejudice” is one that only grows more charming with every retelling.

The film does an excellent job of bringing this classic tale to the screen. The true heart of “Pride and Prejudice” comes from Keira Knightley’s dazzling performance as heroine Elizabeth. Always independent and assertive, but also tactful and good-hearted, one can’t help but fall in love with her, supporting the feisty female in her various endeavors.

Most of the performances are good, but there are a few notable exceptions. Donald Sutherland’s grizzly portrayal of Mr. Bennet makes him hardly worth notice. Wizened with age, he seems oblivious to most of the film’s happenings, existing only for the plot rather than for the character interaction. Mr. Bingley is also portrayed poorly, acting buffoonish at times. Other than his vast riches, it isn’t always obvious what Jane finds so appealing about him.

Although “Pride and Prejudice” is well done and enjoyable overall, several small problems build up over the course of the movie to make it less than perfect. This film might not be the best introduction to the story for the total Jane Austen beginner. The necessity of cutting down a lengthy novel for the big screen often creates problems, and “Pride and Prejudice” is no exception.

Sequences move so quickly that events that occur during them are missed completely. There are also some sound problems as the characters often talk over other sounds. In the beginning of the movie, conversation occurs over the loud giggles of the two youngest Bennet girls. A bit later, Elizabeth whispers comments to a friend … during a noisy ball. A lot of information is lost simply because it cannot be heard.

The fast-paced scenes that lead to a lack of understanding are countered by dawdling, dramatic nature shots. At some points, the movie skips between rushed and dragged scenes in such a manner as to make one dizzy. Many of these drawn out scenes occur at the end of the film as the movie takes a turn for the worse, at least from the perspective of a Jane Austen purist. Sentiment abounds in the film’s conclusion to an awkward extent; the film abandons its witty ambience in preference of a less formal, more romantic one. I considered this to be a negative aspect, but that’s a decision that every viewer will have to make for himself.

“Pride and Prejudice” is quite flawed, as movies tend to be, but it is also a smart and fun alternative to the usual movie fare. I highly recommend this wonderful film for all those who delight in the light and romantic.