Review: Pride and Prejudice (2005 movie)

Here's yet another in a series of movies I’ve seen over the past few months based on or inspired by Jane Austen’s most popular novel. This one is a reasonably straightforward adaptation that features some extraordinarily beautiful photography and a strong cast. Surprisingly little of the plot is omitted except, curiously enough, for the relationship between Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley’s sister. The elaborate balls are every bit as energetic and stirring as they must have seemed to Elizabeth’s ball-loving and boy-crazy youngest sisters, to the point of unreality.

Except for a few early scenes in which Keira Knightley comes across as a bit to childishly silly, she makes a credible Elizabeth Bennet. In fact, all five Bennet sisters are well-portrayed, with bookish middle sister Mary treated rather more affectionately than in the BBC version.

On the other hand, the film is marred by a number of odd and annoying missteps. For example, when Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley arrive at a ball, their entrance for no conceivable reason shocks those already present into a frozen worshipful silence, and the two men march slowly through the parted sea of bowing and curtseying attendees like a pair of aloof princes. It’s silly and simply not believable. Unfortunately there’s more where that came from.

Another example: A stable or similar structure adjacent to the Bennet home is open on both sides to permit carriages, livestock, and people to pass through unhindered. Or rather they would be unhindered, except that some lunatic has caused a swing to be hung in the middle of said opening and sat Miss Elizabeth Bennet in it, suspended barefoot over a well-trafficked stretch of dirt that in our universe or any plausible variant would be virtually paved with the droppings of cows, pigs, dogs, horses, geese, ducks, chickens and other livestock and fowl. Worse, her sitting and slowly twisting around in this swing (we see a montage of various scenes rotate by from her point of view) is apparently meant to convey the passage of a considerable amount of time, as if she were trapped in the swing for months on end waiting for some rescuer to carry her piggyback indoors. You’d think once the director actually saw this setup its ridiculousness would be immediately apparent and the scene would be instantly revised to something more sensible. You’d think that, but you’d be wrong.

At a key point in the novel, Elizabeth hears something from the housekeeper at Pemberley that’s very important to her later willingness to believe something she might otherwise have been inclined to dismiss as a self-serving falsehood. But the film’s music track drowns out most of what the housekeeper says, and Elizabeth herself seems too occupied admiring the statuary to pay attention anyway.

Indeed, she’s so distracted that she soon becomes separated from the little tour group and ends up having to walk miles back to town on her own, her aunt and uncle inexplicably having left without her. That did not happen in the novel because Jane Austen was not, in fact, an idiot.

Another thing in the movie that I’m at a loss to explain: A significant past trauma suffered by one character is downgraded to a disappointment, consequently reducing the dramatic tension of a key later parallel development. Why the devil would you do that?

Finally, the single best line in the novel (Elizabeth’s comment to Jane about her reaction to seeing the grounds at Pemberley) is omitted entirely.

There’s so much here that’s good, from the gorgeous cinematography to the cast to Jane Austen’s original story, a lot of which survives translation, that the various pointless shortcomings and stupidities are all the more irritating. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from seeing this version (lots of people really like it) but I was disappointed.

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