Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Dear Charlie:

So, Pride and Prejudice.

Before I even get started, I want to address all the weisenheimers out there who know me as The Heartless Wonder and will immediately proceed to teasing me mercilessly for this review. I am indeed The Heartless Wonder now, but in my youth, I did have something resembling the kinder emotions, and it was during that time that I made first acquaintance with Jane Austin's world.

Also, I was an English major, and don't think you get to be an English major in this day and age without having to read at least one Jane Austin novel. Heh.

At any rate, Pride and Prejudice has always been my favorite of her books, mainly because Miss Bennet was a bit like me at the time. I wasn't so set against romance then, hadn't developed my singular sense of humor about love yet. I saw a lot of myself in her practicality, in her logic.

I had to grow up a bit more to see that she was the most blind of them all, that her logic and sense were far more clouded -- thanks in part to wounded pride -- than her gentler, more naive sister's. Jane Bennet would never believe a bad thing about anyone, but she at least saw what was in her own heart, if not what was in anyone else's, even if she wouldn't share it with the world.

However, I hadn't watched any of the movies based on Ms. Austin's books, mostly because I held them up to such a high standard. Movies based on books have a terrible track record, and I simply wasn't interested in seeing a visual adaptation.

And then I changed my mind. Hey, it happens all the time. I'm not the only one.

So I watched the latest version of Pride and Prejudice the other night. Much to my pleasure, it captured all of my favorite parts of the book. Seriously. I was enchanted, and while I am often enthused or amused or excited by movies, I am rarely enchanted.

First off, congratulations to Keira Knightley for bringing a heart and fun to Elizabeth Bennet. Lizzie would probably be easy to portray as prematurely bitter, what with her snarking with Mr. Darcy, but Ms. Knightley delivers the snark as Ms. Austin intended -- as jesting flirtation, tinged with disappointment and even a tinge of regret on some occasions. There's something sweet about even her most severe put-downs. You just know that even she knows she doesn't mean them and didn't want to say them or even think them. Not about Mr. Darcy.

And speaking of, while my beloved sister will disagree heartily and cleave to Colin Firth as the definitive Mr. Darcy, I have to admit that I very much enjoy Matthew Macfadyen in the role. Like Ms. Knightley, he makes the role his own while still exhibiting Ms. Austin's heart and charm. He truly looks uncomfortable when he bursts in on Lizzie at Mr. Collins' house, then just stands there twisting his hands, trying fruitlessly to think of anything to say. He wants so badly to say something charming, something banter-ish, something witty. He wants to make conversation.

But he can't, and you see it on his face when he makes his hasty retreat. Just like you see how very much he wants to kiss Lizzie in the rain, though she has not only outright refused his proposal but completely smashed any hopes that she might, in future, consider him at all. There's a desperate, hopeless longing in his face, his eyes. An indication of exactly how caught he is, and how keenly aware of his plight he is.

Of course, having just dashed his hopes, Lizzie looks just as desperate for that kiss, though she thinks that she hates him. Deep down inside, she knows better, and she more hates herself in that moment, I think.

The interactions between Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennet are spot-on, I think, for all that they're shortened to keep the pacing going. But the side stories and supporting characters are equally spot-on in this adaptation. Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennet is inspired, and I'm usually of the exact opposite opinion there.

While Mr. Sutherland is an excellent actor, he usually plays characters that just make me want to slap someone, heh. However, as Mr. Bennet, he gets to be both amusing as hell and touchingly doting on his daughters -- especially his favorite. At the end, when he is so relieved and pleased that his special Lizzie is truly in love with the man she intends to marry, his teary smiles just melted my...errr...non-existent heart. And his continuing to quip even through his joy is absolutely priceless. Masterfully done.

And, good God, but did they pick a perfectly pompous, obsequious little gnat to play Mr. Collins! I forget who plays him, but he certainly distinguishes himself, if that can be considered a compliment. Yeesh! I wanted to throttle the man myself, though poor Lizzie trying to keep a straight face through their dance had both me and my beloved sister laughing out loud.


But at the end, the only thing I can truly say about this film is that it makes me think so fondly of reading the book the first time. It's like an in-depth summary of that beloved novel, giving all of the high points without sacrificing either the tone or the heart of the story. The characters are likeable. The story is entertaining and absorbing. The cinematography is outstanding -- from simple sweeping countryside shots to that favored rainy scene to two people feeling completely alone in a room full of dancing people.

It's simply an excellent movie. But, of course, I could be biased. Heh.


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