Hippo Manchester
December 1, 2005

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Film: Pride and Prejudice (PG)
by Amy Diaz

Jane Austenís most modern-film-friendly of all her love-and-manners novels gets a shiny new coat and two new burning-passion actors with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfayden in Pride and Prejudice, a version that at just a bit over two hours is still less than half as long as the BBC version.

That version, which came out in the mid-1990s and made its way into the pop culture universe in part due to Bridget Jones and the characterís Mr. Darcy/Colin Firth worship, is a favorite largely because of a scene in which Firth (a big manly hunk of Brit) dives into a pond to cool his passions. When he gets out, all wet and muscle-revealing due to the stickiness of his clothes, he is the nearest thing to nerd-girl porn ever aired on British television and A&E.

That is a pretty big hurdle for any subsequent adaptation to surmount.

This Pride and Prejudice doesnít try, really, and wisely decides that itís not about the steaminess of the Darcy but the sassiness of the Lizzy. After all, one of the things that makes Pride and Prejudice such a beloved book is that its heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, is the most likeable of Austenís eight or so principal girls.

Elizabeth here finds suitably trouble-making eyes and independent spirit in Knightley. Even though the rest of her sisters seem like wallflowers comparatively ó technically, older sister Jane (Rosamund Pike) is supposed to be the looker ó this Elizabeth works tolerably well because her beauty is not of the Gwyneth Paltrow fragile-flower variety but of a more active and moxie-having kind.

And really, the girls (who get all the lines ó Mr. Darcy mumbles, Mr. Bingly bumbles and Mr. Bennet raises his eyebrows and sighs a lot) can make this film tolerable or not. At its bare bones and divorced from Austenís subversively witty prose, itís a big gooey love story about nice people in love, wicked people in love and snarky people in love.

The nice people are Jane and Bingley (Simon Woods), a gentleman who moves into the Bennetís neighborhood and is instantly set upon like a wounded piglet by hungry wolves. The pushiest family is the Bennet family, with its five daughters to marry off. Luckily, Bingley takes a liking to Jane and she to him but much mewing and fumbling keeps them from doing much about it until the filmís last act.

Snarky, at least the polite 19th-century British version of it, comes from Mr. Darcy, richer than Bingley but snobby enough to keep most women at bay, and Elizabeth, who is filled with the aforementioned chutzpah. They also have a bit of a thing, but dance around it in part because each sees flaws in the other and in part because how else do you keep a book with an obvious ending going for long enough to get in some social commentary and a few good scandals?

Peppering the surroundings of our couples are the Bennet parents, the weary dad (Donald Sutherland) and the flighty mom (Brenda Blethyn); Bingleyís bitchy sister (Kelly Reilly); the delusionally self-important Mr. Collins (Tom Hollander) and the flighty youngest Bennet girl Lydia (Jena Malone), a mall-slut in the making who runs off with the player Mr. Wickham (Rupert Friend).

If you are not inclined to like Pride and Prejudice (that is to say, if you are not a girl or a fan of 19th-century novels) then you wonít like this version any more or less than any others. But if you cooed at Colin Firth and his wet shirt and like the restrained heat of a good corset romance, you wonít be disappointed either.