Every year we're bound to see some familiar faces. Summers produce sequels, updates of TV shows, there are always a few biopics, and the inevitable remake. Remakes have the toughest mountain to climb, because they have to answer the tricky question of "why do it again?" Most often this results in bad choices and some films that no one likes, only causing nostalgia for a previous version. This particular 4th quarter we have two high profile remakes, both of which have been made more than once already. King Kong already cost a fortune, and if it can be pulled off, then Peter Jackson might wind up being Hollywood's most powerful filmmaker, if not then you may very well see him back to basics and perhaps writing about drug dealing, pornographic puppets.
The other, earlier remake is of Jane Austen's much filmed Pride and Prejudice. Most people would have figured that the 300 minute 1995 miniseries would have done it enough justice, but well who wants to sit through 5 hours? So we get another version, that this filmgoer for one was not excited about in the least. It got some good reviews, but that's to be expected, it has a great source material, and how hard is it to make the film at least partially enjoyable?
Based on circumstances the film had to be seen, because it was the only convenient show remotely worth seeing. As it began I heard the familiar light opening music of so many faceless films, and of course the obligatory long tracking shot. That's how this film will be remembered in history, linking it with other 2005 films like Serenity, History of Violence, and the World, among probably many others. Interesting company this film keeps, but just as those films are all among the best pictures of the year, so is Pride and Prejudice. Within minutes I stop worrying about why another remake was made and gave into it.
The cast is delightfully inspired. Mrs. Bennet (Brenda Blethyn) is horribly irritating, but so was the mother in the 1940 version, and Blethyn wasn't quite as bad. The character is irritating though. The casting on one count wasn't particularly wise. Kiera Knightley, arguably the most beautiful woman in the world is supposed to be the 2nd prettiest sister? Hard to believe, and although Rosamund Pyke is very easy to look at, well Miss Knightley has got her beat.
The rest of the sisters work well, Mary Bennet doesn't get a lot of screen time, and the actress cast for her, is a lot less attractive than Marsha Hunt who played her in 1940. Mary was always my favorite of the sisters, the one most in tune with art, and least interested in dancing and making an ass of herself, shame they couldn't have given her a little more light in this adaptation.
Aside from that and Judi Dench's ridiculously "Bride of Frankenstein" hair, I can't say there was a fault in the film. It flowed with a remarkably light pace, and I could honestly believe the chemistry of Knightley and Mathew MacFayden. They easily come across as two people who don't want to admit to being in love with each other. There is a smoldering tension in their later scenes together, particularly during Mr. Darcy's first proposal. The whole film you just see that anticipation for them to kiss, that would make sex just seem insignificant. The film really remarkably has the feel of a classic MGM style costumed production. Something that Sense and Sensibility tried and failed to do in 1995.
Above all else the film is funny. I was amazed at how many times I was able to laugh at it. The cast worked like siblings, particularly Jena Malone (Lydia) and Carey Mulligan (Kitty), those two seemed like a perfect two halves of the same whole. Likewise there was similar bonding felt between Knightley and Pyke, poor Mary again seems the outsider, hence the reason I personally prefer her.
Donald Sutherland is dignified when he could have easily been baffoonish here. Had he been, the film would have taken on a too silly tone, and Blethyn was silly enough for everyone. He somehow brings a dignity and degree of respectability to the picture, even if he's way too damn old to be the father of these young women.
The other thing I'd like to point out/praise is the script. It is written in the dialogue used in the original novel, but it is insanely easy to follow. Even the quick random comebacks spouted by Elizabeth are easily picked up despite being much too clever for normal people to expect. I only saw the film with 3 other people in the whole theater, but we all seemed to get it. Somehow it was like watching a foreign film but being able to follow everything without subtitles, as if Shakespeare suddenly became Stephen King. This deserves a great deal of accomodation, and I honestly am pulling for this picture to get a best adapted screenplay award, or at the very least a nomination, because they made this classic story work in a modern context without modernizing it in any way.
I can't seem to stop going on, but unlike numerous other films beginning with long tracking shots, Pride and Prejudice continues with them. Some of the shots are extremely well laid out and enacted, particularly the Bingley's ball, and what tremendously fantastic sets!