Pride and Prejudice proves itself

Anxious about finals? Is the Pittsburgh weather getting to you? Suffering from pre-holiday depression? You might be in need of something a little old-fashioned and a little gooey, with an unabashedly happy ending—in which case, the new Pride and Prejudice is right up your alley.

The classic comedy of mismatched lovers has been going strong ever since Jane Austen first published her novel in 1813. In the last decade, however, the story has been revisited a number of times—with a modern and humorous twist in Bridget Jones’ Diary, in the slightly misguided Bollywood incarnation Bride and Prejudice, and in the 1995 BBC miniseries, which starred Colin Firth as a wonderfully uptight Mr. Darcy and followed the book nearly line for line.

Austen has never looked better. This movie is set just a few years before the novel originally intended, at the tail end of the eighteenth century, and captures the natural beauty of the period. Everything looks fantastic — the landscapes, the people, the clothes, the houses, even the food.

And in the midst of it all, Keira Knightley glows as the spunky Elizabeth Bennet. Knightley is a beauty with obvious brains and a sharp tongue. Herein lies a warning, however: as one of the film’s greater assets, Knightley is also its greatest liability. There’s just so much of her. Look at how daring she is, getting her skirts wet by tromping across that meadow! Look at how playfully flirtatious she can be! In my experience, there are two kinds of people: those who like Keira Knightley and those who can’t stand her. If you fall into the latter category, this might not be the film for you.

Fortunately, I fall into the former, and with some exceptions, I thoroughly enjoyed her performance.

Also fortunate is the choice of Matthew MacFadyen as Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth’s nemesis and lover. MacFadyen’s Darcy is incredibly handsome and an undeniable snob, but as the movie wears on, his outer layers peel away to show us a socially awkward, sensitive man who’s too afraid of rejection to show his true colors. After Elizabeth informs him that he is “the last man in the world that I could ever be prevailed upon to marry,” the look on his face is alone worth the price of admission. It’s evident that he’s both taken with Elizabeth and terrified by her frankness — exactly as Austen intended him to be. No wonder Elizabeth decides to give him a second chance.

Although the other characters don’t get quite as much screen time as they might deserve, they are all well executed. Simon Woods is endearing as Mr. Bingley, the suitor of Elizabeth’s older sister, Jane, who is played with grace by Rosamund Pike. As Elizabeth’s mother, Brenda Blethyn is shrill and flighty, but she’s supposed to be, and Donald Sutherland gives her father both compassion and a wry humor. Dame Judi Dench puts in a cameo as Darcy’s aunt, the Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and her haughty righteousness makes her nephew seem like a puppy dog in comparison.

The sole disappointment was Mr. Wickham, the rake who lies to Elizabeth about his friendship with Darcy and then persuades her 15 year-old sister Lydia to elope with him. There wasn’t nearly enough time for Wickham, played here by Rupert Friend, to reveal either his charming side or his devious side to the audience.

But it’s a small mark on an otherwise great film. There aren’t any real life lessons to be learned here, and the conclusion is a little mushy. But that’s what makes it so great — when every other film views happy endings as cliched and an easy way out, this movie instead celebrates them, and with a considerable amount of style.