Starring: Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen, Donald Sutherland
Studio: Focus Features/Universal 28072
Video: 2:35:1 enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, English/French/Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Extras: Commentary by Director Joe Wright, A Bennet Family Portrait, Jane Austen – Ahead of Her Time, Behind the Scenes at the Ball, HBO First Look at Pride & Prejudice
Length: 2 hours 9 minutes
A beautiful adaptation of the famous Jane Austen love story. The story of misunderstandings and love is well-presented by all the actors – characters who we come to know and love ourselves (except for the nasty dutchess played by Judy Densch and the unprincipled soldier who is one of Elizabeth’s early suitors). The setting couldn’t be more Austen-accurate: a series of amazing estates and gardens in the East Midlands region of England. The landscape photography reminded me of David Lean’s in Ryan’s Daughter, and it is accompanied by skillful use of nature sounds that almost have you smelling the environmental scents – such as the pigs and sheep near the Bennet home.
The story stresses the importance of families of the period getting their eligible daughters married off – “before their expiration date” – as someone in the extras comments. In the case of the Bennets this is more difficult due to their meager economic standing and the fact they have five daughters. The oldest and most beautiful looks well set with a wealthy young man who is temporarily living on a nearby estate, but that seems squashed when he leaves. The next oldest, Elizabeth, meets the very wealthy and handsome Mr. Darcy but several misunderstandings result in her telling him he was the last man she would ever marry. The joys and wild abandon of the Bennett family are cleverly depicted when they are suddenly aroused from their various informal lazing around the house by the announcement of a noble male visitor at their door. The whirlwind of motion that ensues transforms to a scene of the greatest formality and decorum as the girls and their mother stand to bow to the visitor who is at last ushered in. Knightley is lovely in her role as Elizabeth, with the most expressive eyes and mouth.
The musical score by Dario Marianelli often features the piano, and it is occasionally played by some of the young ladies on screen. Towards the end it transforms into almost a full-fledged piano concerto which sounds a bit too far into the Romantic period to be musicologically accurate but which is nevertheless a beautiful adjunct to the lush feeling of the entire film. Music for the two balls is also great fun, and very authentic-sounding. The musicians are shown in more detail and realism than one usually finds in such period film scenes. Some of the countrified dances are shown to be much wilder and noisier than we might have expected of the time. The transfer to DVD is without serious blemish, and the widest-screen letterboxing (the same as Lawrence of Arabia) makes this a deluxe filmic experience for any home theater presentation with a large enough display.
– John Sunier