So it's an achievement when a famous book makes it to the big screen, or the small screen, intact -- and kudos must go to the A&E/BBC miniseries Pride and Prejudice for flawlessly recreating the classic JANE AUSTEN novel. This production is as faithful to the book as Cliff notes (though at five hours long, it's not much of a time-saver -- you might as well read the book). The filmmakers fill in the off-camera scenes of the book so seamlessly that Austen might have written them herself.
The cast includes some BBC veterans and they are all excellent in this production, especially David Bamber as the oily Mr. Collins and Benjamin Whitrow as the ineffectual but loving Mr. Bennet. Firth is an obvious choice to play the awkward, haughty Darcy -- the book doesn't give him much to do, except stand in the corner at parties and brood about sleeping with Elizabeth Bennet (Jennifer Ehle), but he does that pretty well. Firth may actually be the best screen Darcy ever (including Lawrence Olivier, who starred in a 1940 version of Prejudice).
Ehle does a nice job as Elizabeth, though much different from the spitfire played by Keira Knightley in the 2005 version. Ehle's Elizabeth is a dignified but forthright individual, surrounded by leisure pursuits, but unable to ignore the problems faced by women of her time: how to balance individuality and love with economic necessity.
All three concerns meet head-on in Pride and Prejudice when Elizabeth visits Darcy's estate, a trip which shows off Darcy to better advantage. Austen the artist/woman was too honest not to include some ambiguity about which aspects of Darcy win Elizabeth over -- is it the shirtless dip in the pool? Or his generous nature in resolving her family's debts? Or is it his very suitable estate (here realized by Lyme Park, a Cheshire pile which routinely stands in for settings in Masterpiece Theatre productions)? Elizabeth comes clean in a letter to her sister: basically, it's the house. A happy ending is in sight from then on, though like all romantic novels (most of which were influenced by Austen), complications ensue. In the end, Elizabeth finds love on her own terms.
Warning: Pride and Prejudice is not for men (which is why I got my wife to contribute heavily to this review). There is no action in it, and the plot centers on marrying off daughters to British dandies. But guys, your S.O. will love it. Pride and Prejudice is where classic lit and chick lit meet -- it's probably the only high-school English novel that teenage girls read for pleasure, and it deserves its popularity for being a readable classic which sympathetically presents a well-loved character. Likewise, this production deserves the accolades it received for its faithful translation of Austen's book to the screen.
The 10th Anniversary Edition of the film comes in a green fabric slipcase along with a 120 page book about the making of the film.
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Director: Simon Langton
Producer: Michael Wearing, Sue Birtwhistle, Julie Scott