When writer Jane Austen revised her novel First Impressions and published it under the new title Pride and Prejudice in 1813, little did she know her story would become the template for the modern chick flick. Re-emerging now as a 2005 award-seeking film, how does the story measure up after nearly two centuries?
Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) is one of five daughters living in a lower-class household in 1813 England. While her sisters aspire to a marriage to a wealthy consort (as does their mother), Elizabeth aspires to being clever and keeping suitors at arm’s length with her wit and quick assumptions. Enter Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen), a handsome man like any other, a quick target for Elizabeth’s ego, and a nasty habit of turning up where he’s least expected. While the initial impressions they have of one another aren’t well, that they retain an impression at all becomes an obsession for them both, leaving only the obstacles of everyday family politics to be cleared away for their inevitable reconciliation and happily ever after.
To paraphrase #98 of the “Top 100 Things I’d Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord” list, “If an attractive young couple enters my realm, I will carefully monitor their activities… if circumstance have forced them together against their will and they spend all their time bickering and criticizing each other except during the intermittent occasions… there are hints of sexual tension, I will immediately order their execution.” There is a reason for this: the aforementioned attractive couple is always destined to get together. Pride & Prejudice is the classic chick flick story long before any flick found the word chick. The only difference from story to story is what obstacles stand in the way and what must be done to remove them, and watching those obstacles being overcome is the point of any chick flick (heterosexual males should be taking notes at this time).
All right, enough of that. There are really only two questions of concern here and in no particular order: is the film entertaining to watch and is it Oscar-worthy? Good news for moviegoers, because the film is entertaining and lavish to look at. The players are cast well, the locations are stunning, and story doesn’t linger too long on any particular point. The first half of the film is filled with complications, but as the two main characters Elizabeth and Darcy finally connect, everything works. Also being set in 1813, this is also a period piece in which rich men dress like dandies and poorer women dress properly in their hand-me-down frock. It also means (being a film) that the director can combine any locations that fit the bill, including atmospheric English countryside castles, mansions, and cliff sides.
As for the awards, well, the words “paying your dues” comes up repeatedly where Knightly is concerned. While she has credits from Star Wars: Episode I all the way to Domino, it is only her Indie role in Bend It Like Beckham and of course Pirates of the Caribbean that anyone seems to recall. Still, the “world’s sexiest tomboy beanpole” has plenty of years ahead of her to earn golden statuettes; in the meantime, she’s getting roles that actresses twice her age would kill for.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)