This latest cinematic version of one of the greatest English novels of all time actually does its source proud. Keira Knightley, as Elizabeth Bennet, reveals herself, finally, to be a skilled actor; and her costar Matthew Macfadyen is simply hypnotizing, despite his lack of conventional movie star good looks. Both, in full agreement with the novel and the social mores of the day, manage to convey intense and rapidly changing emotions with the slightest alterations of expression. And both are initially as unappealing to the viewer as their characters are to one another. By the end of the film, they’re obviously soulmates, and so appealing it’s wrenching when they disappear. Donald Sutherland and Brenda Blethyn are wonderful as Lizzie’s parents, Blethyn in particular bringing a loveable charm to a character too easily played as idiotic and irritating.
The picture as a whole has a depth and richness somehow commensurate to that of the book: some of the credit for this may be taken by the cinematography and deft pacing, which immerse us in a “period” film without relying on the conventions of the genre. Close-ups, not just of faces but of hands and feet, shots through blurry glass, and dreamlike sequences that compress hours, days or months into moments, nod to the films of Wong Kar Wai, and engender the same intense emotion his films are capable of.
The entire film was shot on location in and around historical houses in England, which contributes to a palpable sense of place: as in Wong Kar Wai’s films the textures of walls and textiles are allowed to come to the foreground, as full participants in the drama. Even stripping away the near-perfect story, and eye-opening acting, Pride and Prejudice is worth seeing on its visual merits alone.
Opens November 11 at Landmark Sunshine