Why make another Pride and Prejudice, when there can never be a more disdainfully handsome Darcy as Colin Firth or a twinklier Lizzie than Jennifer Ehle? Because films make more money than television, and they spend more money to make them.
Which means, in this case, that the setting is as vivid as the characters. Lush, inventive and beautifully photographed, the new Pride and Prejudice is pure heroin for the romance junkies among us (and a clever and captivating film for those of you who aren’t such unmitigated dorks).
Jane Austen’s classic, exploring with sharp wit the social mores of Victorian England, follows the fortunes of the Bennet girls, an upper middle class family with five daughters, all of whom are principally occupied with thoughts of love and marriage (which is what people thought about before TV). The story is complicated, but we are essentially interested in the relationship between Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley – redeemed), a tough-minded bon vivant with a stubborn streak, and Mr Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen), who is wealthy, arrogant and really, really hot. They don’t much like each other at first, and then they do (Pride and Prejudice being the model for every romantic comedy made in the last two hundred years).
Deborah Moggach’s script is both concise and lyrical, faithful to Jane Austen’s novel to a point but clearly conscious that modern audiences need realism to relate. Lizzie is interesting, both more playful and more innocent than her literary counterpart (watered-down, some might say, but a successful interpretation in the context of a more animated version of her society), although Darcy forgoes real haughtiness in favour of an almost immediate brooding attraction (it’s a two hour film, and there’s a lot to get through).
The real congratulations go to cinematographer Roman Osin, who gives the English countryside a sense of drama never seen before (to the very edge of the ridiculous – be prepared to have dappled sunlight burnt onto your retina), and director Joe Wright, whose composition swings easily from balletic motion to the studied tableaus of Barry Lyndon-era Kubrick. It is so very nice to watch, with such engaging characterisations and that incomparably excellent story, you’d have to be a stone not to like it.