Saturday, October 29, 2005

Swallowing my pride and prejudices: spoiler alert

The AP and I went to see Pride and Prejudice this afternoon. We picked the right movie session -- at 1.30 in the afternoon, the place was half-full, mostly with white permed heads looking like a cotton harvest above a red velvet field of seats. As we came out at 4.00 (yes, it is a long movie, but it doesn't feel it) there was a ticket line stretching out into the street!

Gentle reader, I tried to go in with an open mind! I tried to keep the BBC version well back in my consciousness, but it was hard. Don't get me wrong -- I think this is an excellent film, but it's hard not to think about how people played their roles in both versions. BBC Lydia was superior to movie Lydia. Much as I love Tom Hollander (especially in Bedrooms and Hallways), and thought that he captured Mr Collins well, I just can't go past BBC Collins for utter sliminess and obsequiousness. I prefer the BBC Mrs Bennet, and Mr Bennet. There was way too little movie Wickham, and he had hardly any twinkle or charm.

Of course, there's only so much a movie can fit in, and a full drama tv series has the luxury of being true to the length and detail of a novel. The movie had to play with time, settings, pace and tension, and I think it did a pretty good job. It was very lush, the settings were edible, the costumes beautiful but not too self-indulgent. I don't think, as had been reported to me, that the Bennets were banished to dramatic squallor. I do think it was a more faithful rendition of rural England of the time than other prettified period pieces.

Keira Knightley was good as Lizzie -- although, of course, too skinny, but that's to be expected in this day and age. However, it was pretty obvious that she'd watched the BBC version, because she seemed to model herself upon Jennifer Ehle, and one or two times I could swear she'd stood in front of a mirror with the BBC playing next to her and a remote control and mimicked Jennifer's Lizzie until she got it right.

And here's the bit where I swallow my pride. Matthew MacFadyen was a terrific Darcy, once you got past the first few garbled deliveries. Not as much eye-candy as You-Know-Who, but I thought he was pretty close to what Jane Austen was describing in the book -- not overly handsome (he does grow on you, though), quietly proud, and excruciatingly withdrawn around unknown people. My heart bled for him over and over, as he wanted to get to know the girl, but kept holding back. The scene where he is around his sister is so true to the novel; when he smiles it is almost shocking how much his face changes. And what I respect in the film, for all its faults (and there are a lot), is that unlike most Hollywood garbage (in that once the surly hero shows his 'inner' self, he is transformed instantly to a gushing, likeable dude for the rest of the film), that is actually the only smile you get. He stays serious and intense, right to the last drop. Worked for me.

I guess I'm giving it a thumbs-up. In fact, I know I am. It acts like Austen and looks like Bronte, at least in the drama of the camerawork and settings. I kept thinking that MacFadyen would make an excellent Heathcliffe... when I looked him up (no photo, bummer), I discovered that he had been in the BBC's Wuthering Heights, but played Hareton Earnshaw.

Oh, by the way, I just read another review on the web that said that Emma Thompson had a big part in buffing the movie screenplay up to scratch, but it was only acknowledged as a 'special thanks' right at the end of the credits. If that's true, thuumbs-down to the producers.

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