“Not all of us can afford to be romantic.”
Thanks in large part to Roman Osin’s spectacular cinematography and Sarah Greenwood’s resplendent production design, Jane Austen’s novel of five sisters and how they grew floods the big screen with scene after scene of unforgettable beauty. Not to be outdone, composer Dario Marianelli, aided and abetted by the entire sound crew and, notably, pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet’s exquisite legato and sense of phrase, fill the ear with a soundtrack that bears repeated hearings on its own. Like the book, this production is an oasis of class and style: filmmaking in the very grand manner.
Many of the performances, too, have much to admire.
With the principals, Keira Knightley is a picture-perfect Elizabeth Bennet, coquettish and bold when required, more than able to “stare down” the most arrogant male with her sarcastic/sardonic tongue, but not as convincing when she learns more than expected about her assumptions and needs to devour a large helping of crow. As her counterpoint, Mr. Darcy, Matthew MacFadyen, likewise, does his best work when haughty and full of himself. His metamorphosis into the interminably smitten lover is not as solid, yet—perhaps—that is what the stubborn pair have in common.
The secondary match, sister Jane (Rosamund Pike, radiant at every turn) and Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods, whose love-struck reticence soon evokes chuckles rather than pity) provide a happy diversion where dramatic contrast is required. No matter, any deficiency there is more than made up for by Kelly Reilly’s spot-on rendition of the Bingley’s over-protective sibling and Tom Hollander’s hilarious Monty Python-like portrayal of Mr. Collins (kindling unabashed memories of “The Dirty Vicar” sketch).
The adults are also generally well behaved. Donald Sutherland’s daughter-weary take on Mr. Bennet is a constant pleasure—most especially his startling scenes with Elizabeth where his inner humanity, compassion and worldliness is served up with totally convincing ethos, wisdom and fun. His conniving and stress-aholic wife (Brenda Blethyn) is engaging and appropriately controlling in the initial acts, but will have some reaching for the mute button by the climax. Happily, by then Darcy’s Aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourg (Judi Dench), replete with a five-star wig and marvellous demeanour of the hopelessly wealthy, has taken her rightful place as the Grand Dame of the show, dooming all other pretenders to an “also ran” finish.
The film’s music serves not only to reinforce the scene, but also creates a few. Piano students everywhere can commiserate with Mary Bennet’s (Talulah Riley) countless hours of scales and arpeggios on the pianoforte that only translate into humiliation in the parlours of the upper class. Similarly, Elizabeth is forced to display her well-rusted skill then shamefully used as party Muzak during “She who must be obeyed’s” post-dinner pontifications to her adoring guests that pay homage by listening and feigning interest in the “witty” remarks. These deft notions are brilliantly handled by director Joe Wright, showing a marvellous understanding of the subtext of the novel and the brutal truths of the period.
Less successful is the giddy-girls’ eavesdropping-behind-the-door gag. A couple of helpings would suffice. The steady dose not only goes stale, it reveals a lack of creativity in the business bits that, in the final analysis, separates a very good presentation from a spectacular one. JWR