Sunday, December 04, 2005

Of pride, prejudice and Oscars

Did the world really need another "Pride & Prejudice?" Perhaps not, but I sure did.

As I was watching the SEC championship game Saturday night with some friends of mine, the subject of Joe Wright's new big-screen adaptation of Jane Austen's best novel came up (because, I always want to talk about movies, and I brought it up.)

Someone asked how the story that had been told so well in A&E's celebrated five-hour miniseries could be condensed to a little more than two hours. "Did they just talk really fast?," one smartalec asked.

Well, in a way, yes. Wright keeps the action brisk and screenwriter Deborah Moggach keeps the barbs sharp. They understand that although "Pride & Prejudice" is an epic love story, it is even more a comedy of manners, or more often the lack thereof.

The reason Austen is so tempting an author for filmmakers is her books are above all else about class envy and its ills, which have only intensified over time. To pull off her vision, you need two perfect foils, the apparent snob and the latent snob, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet.

Luckily we get Keira Knightley and the until-now unknown (at least to me) Matthew MacFadyen.

I've adored Knightley ever since the delightful popcorn nugget "Bend it Like Beckham," and here she has a role that actually requires some acting. She knows that, though a wise-cracking, impetuous young woman on the outside, Elizabeth is the most vulnerable character in "Pride & Prejudice," and she conveys this with her eyes as much as her voice.

A co-worker said she found Knightley's bad wig to be a distraction, but that was her biggest beef about the movie, so she liked it almost as much as I did.

As Mr. Darcy, MacFadyen is nearly perfect, as snotty and insolent as he can be. I can only think of one big-screen Austen hero I've liked more, Ciaran Hinds as Captain Frederick Wentworth in 1995's "Persuasion." Check it out.

In smaller roles, Donald Sutherland works well as the pater familias of the Bennet clan, though his charm tends to make you overlook Mr. Bennet's many faults, and Dame Judi Dench shows up about halfway in as a perfectly brusque Lady Catherine de Bourg.

But the real star here is Wright, who as far as I can tell had never directed anything beyond TV miniseries before this. His large ensemble scenes in particular, the balls, have a kinetic energy that make them hard to keep up with but well worth the effort.

Oscar talk

Is it ever really too early to talk about the Oscars? I think not, and "Pride & Prejudice" has me primed for it.

If I were a betting man, which I no longer am, I would lay odds on "Good Night and Good Luck," "Memoirs of a Geisha," "The Constant Gardener," "Walk the Line" and "Pride & Prejudice." My own list would be "Broken Flowers," "A History of Violence," "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" and "Pride & Prejudice," with the the last spot reserved for the upcoming "Munich," "King Kong" or "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

As for actresses, it will definitely be a youth movement, with Knightley leading the way along with Reese Witherspoon from "Walk the Line" and Ziyi Zhang from "Memoirs of a Geisha." I'd also love to see Rachel Weisz from "The Constant Gardener" on this list, but I rarely get exactly what I want.

Look here for a Wednesday night (well, 'round midnight anyway) review of "Narnia," courtesy of a pre-theaters screening at Macon's Riverside United Methodist Church.

1 comment:

True Fanatic said...

From one fanatic to another, I tend to agree with most of your opinions and observations. I would like to elaborate a little about Pride and Prejudice, I thought the director did a great job. My favorite transistion had to be the transition of time while Knightley was on the swing. I found Pride and Prejudice to be overall a excellent example of film making from the cast to the director. I am a huge fan of british movies, I tend to love the dry humor, another great example of this humor is Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant, I recommend it if you haven't seen it already.

True Fanatic