Saturday, May 27, 2006

Pride & Prejudice (1995)

Elizabeth meets Darcy at the Netherfield Ball; noses are upturned and we're off to the races. While Darcy nixes the burgeoning romance of Lizzie's sister Jane with his own pal Bingley, Lizzie stokes Darcy's jealousy (and sates her own arch-but-curious heart) by courting fop-in-disguise Wickham, who has his eye set on anything with a dowry. Sinuous subplots and intrigues work to keep our star-crossed lovers from recognizing that they are, in fact, star-crossed lovers. You know the rest.

The 2005 film version didn't effectively transfer Austen's acerbic social comedy, falling victim to unnecessarily lush production and overwhelming atmospherics: heated arguments during unseasonal downpours; romantic reconciliations upon dewy sunrise-lit meadows; breathlessly whispered passions vs. hurricanes; &c.). By contrast, in the BBC's classic version, calm and stately direction lifts Austen's story right off the page. The actors make the most of their roles, particularly David Bamber as the beguilingly smarmy Mr. Collins, and Alison Steadman as Mrs. Bennet, at times so gratingly comic you could swear she's channeling Terry Jones in Python drag. Colin Firth's career-making turn as Darcy is pitch perfect; the critical moment when he pivots to declare himself to Lizzie is a delirious relief -- and nary a melodramatic thunderstorm in sight.

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