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.

Keira Knightley's giggly performance of Elizabeth Bennet in the 2005 film version didn't transfer Austen's acerbic social comedy (not entirely her fault, as that film generally fell victim to overly lush production, with atmospherics overpowering scenes of simple character interaction: heated arguments in the pouring rain; romantic reconciliation upon dewy sunrise-lit meadows; breathlessly whispered passions during thunderstorms; &c. until Jane goes a-spin in her box...). By contrast, the BBC's elder but stately, understated, solid production allows the direction to lift 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 done with nary an atmospheric thunderstorm in sight.

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