A New Version of Pride and Prejudice (Apr 2006)

A New Version of Pride and Prejudice Renews Interest in Jane Austin's Classic Story

Focus Features Accomplishes What A & E Wasn't Able to Do

By Christopher Kendalls

April 3, 2006

 Vastly improves upon what was, at the time, the latest version of the film
 Newer, lesser known actors are mixed in with veterans of their profession
 Complex camera angles and sophisticated shooting techniques add to the artistic feel of this film
When Universal Studios released a newer, reinterepreted version of Jane Austin's classic epic Pride and Prejudice there were skeptics, there were pundits, naysayers, to be sure. I should know because I was one. Yet, surprisingly, the famous version heralded in through A & E featuring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle was soon a distant memory by this reviewer. This story finally receives the treatment that is deserves.

Not only are all of the characters fleshed out here, but this interpretation has a few extra scenes that enhance the experience for the viewer. I did watch the A & E version, of which I think lent itself more to the aesthetic of the time in which it was filmed than it did that of the original story. This movie needed some depth, and we see a side of the Bingley's, as well as Mr. Darcy, that we hadn't before. In spite of it's shorter running length, 2 hours and 9 minutes, 8 of which appear to be credits, this interpretation is a far departure from earlier incarnations of this masterpiece by Jane Austin.

For those into DVD extras there isn't that much more material here than there is on the A & E version of the film. What is amazing is that, given that this film is much shorter than the A & E version, it actually contains a lot more, and they have expedited the speed of the film without loosing any of it's substance. Donald Sutherland speaks of working with the Bingley family almost as if in character, which is a bit weird, and "Behind the Scenes at the Ball", of which one would expect to be about the ballroom scenes, is actually a short about what it was like for the cast to work together, particularly for the sisters in the Bingley household, of which the youngest two weren't professionals like Keira Knightley, so there is a big sister/mentor type of relationship there that may be of interests to some.

The film is also a testament to the fact that you can create a great work of art without having the biggest actors in the business, though Brenda Blethyn and Sutherland were able to blend into the cast without overshadowing or overacting any of the others on set, a rarity in Hollywood these days when veterans and younger actors work together. As far as the love interest itself goes, Elizabeth Bennet & Mr. Darcy show their vulnerabilities, and aren't as scripted or unanimated as they are in earlier incarnations of this story.

There is a scene where Elizabeth goes to Darcy's house, tagging along with those who liked to look in the windows of expensive real estate; which struck comparisons to modern day obsessions with celebrity in my mind. While some would argue that the only thing that scene was missing was a tour guide, it was nothing for the film to quickly resume the importance of chronicling the pace of this relationships unfolding, when Elizabeth mistakes Mr. Darcy's sister for a love interest, and apologizes for being there in the first place.

What was also refreshing about this film, is the stark contrast between the poor, rural life of the common person to that enormous wealth of the Darcy's. Speaking of which, we get more of a sense of Mr. Bingley's desperation, and depravity at the hand of the governess as well. Basically, in this film all of the original scenes from previous versions was present, but they were all done at different camera angles, which meshed well with the newer scenes only present in this particular release; it all flows very nicely, and is extremely artistic, which makes it a lot easier for those who aren't already engrossed in this story to take interest in it for the first time.

While Emma found a new life in Clueless, an unusual interpretation of the story, I can only hope that even more of Jane Austin's classics are portrayed this well on the big screen. I was really, really surprised that someone was able to take this film even further than A & E's classic, given that it is the gold standard; though I guess these days that all depends on who you ask ...