Will Sorg – Movie Guy
Joe Wright’s 2005 adaptation of the classic Jane Austen novel Pride and Prejudice is one of the few period piece films from the 21st century that perfectly continue the legacy of its forebears. The film is built on the foundation of the lavish period pieces of the 20th century. Grand epics like Bondarchuk’s War and Peace or Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon inspire the film’s eye for detail in its beautiful set design, stunning lighting, and cinematography. Meanwhile, high society romance films like Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence, Cameron’s Titanic, and even previous Austen adaptations like Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility cemented period pieces as films fit perfectly to portray unrequited love and the romance of times long past.
This film excels in all aspects of those great expectations for what a period piece can be. Although I have never personally read Pride and Prejudice I found that film perfectly captures the visual language of 1800’s British literature. The film is a lush portrait of the English countryside. One of the remarkable features of the film is how detailed every moment of the film feels. There is never a point where the audience is not learning something new, whether it be through props and set design or the wonderful performances put on by the cast of the film. Much like the incredibly descriptive novels of the time period, this film is dedicated to focusing on nearly everything. From something as broad as the many intricacies of a party and how the various guests interact with each other to something as small as Mr. Darcy’s hand flexing in tension and awkwardness after his first physical contact with Elizabeth. There is not a moment where the filmmakers aren’t carefully planning and framing the film to match the careful construction of Austen’s novel.
A major theme of the novel and by extension in the film is the importance of marriage and its ties to money in the 1800’s. The Bennet family has no sons and since women could not inherit at the time, their estate will go to their distant cousin. The five Bennet daughters are constantly courting men who they hope will provide their family with financial security if their father dies. Money is seen as a simple expectation for some characters and for others like the Bennet women it is a tenuous item that could disappear at any time. The way in which the women in the film are constantly compared and assessed by those who see them as commodities that should be searched through to find the greatest one. It is one of the many ideas explored and subverted in the film and it is a testament to the source material in which there is such a broad range of ideas that get explored throughout the film.
The source material greatly bolsters the already impressive film. Austen’s dialogue is wonderful, delivered with incredible wit and nuance by the actors, and filled with meaning. The film’s two leads, Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen are phenomenal as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Their onscreen chemistry as well as their subtle but pitch-perfect physical acting is a joy to watch. They both sell their roles with a level of honesty that is hard to come by in period pieces. The way they utilize Austen’s brilliant words is difficult to explain, there is a way about them that allows you to forget that the film is set in the past or even that the film is a film at all. You become enraptured by words and actions and get fully sucked into what is happening on screen.