Imbued with the trappings of early 19th century propriety and social politics, 'Pride and Prejudice' is about breaking free from a culture restrained by its own customs and manners. First time feature-length director Joe Wright, who later went on to helm 'Atonement' and 'The Soloist,' brings one of the most beloved and easily recognized classics to the silver screen. He instills Jane Austen's tale of love and courtship with the sort of regard and intelligence demanded by the narrative, and surrounds it with the beautiful, lush scenery of the English countryside. With good performances by the cast, the film comes fairly close to matching the always favored BBC version with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, the de facto standard by which all adaptations are compared. Nonetheless, this latest faithful rendition is a memorable and worthy interpretation.
Set in a time when love and romance were viewed as products of fiction and fantasy, we follow the trials and tribulations of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet (Donald Sutherland and Brenda Blethyn) and their five daughters - Jane (Rosamund Pike), Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), Mary (Talulah Riley), Lydia (Jena Malone), and Catherine (Cary Mulligan). Mrs. Bennet feels an urgency to find suitable husbands for her daughters before Mr. Bennet dies and the entire farm is inherited by his cousin, Mr. Collins (Tom Hollander). With news of the wealthy bachelor Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods) arriving in town, the Bennet family is poised to make their appearance known to him. While he strikes a liking with Jane, Elizabeth meets the cold and reserved Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen). They start off as enemies due to their pride and prejudices, but soon discover they have much more in common than they initially believed.
For fans of Jane Austen and those very familiar with her much-adored novel, this heavily condensed version comes with some faults. Most apparent is a lack of the author's famed wit and ironic commentary on high society. Much of the story's humor is overlooked in favor of a romantic costume drama and depends heavily on its two leads to make it all happen. With a name that is quickly becoming synonymous with period pieces, Keira Knightley is a real surprise as the tenacious and headstrong Elizabeth although her forthrightness, which is meant to be comically droll, is delivered a bit too crudely to be cheeky. Macfadyen is actually worst off and simply doesn't feel right as the inwardly complex Mr. Darcy. Not comparing the portrayal expertly done by Colin Firth, Macfadyen is more like a constipated walking brick than a man worth loving. But if we ignore his unique depiction of smugness, the rest of the film plays out well.
Joe Wright has the right eye and patience for this, allowing the romance between Lizzy and Darcy to blossom naturally and fortuitously rather than hurriedly due to time constraints. Keeping true to the novel as much as possible within a two-hour timeframe is an accomplishment in and of itself, and the production team shows a good deal of respect for the source by not drastically altering its major points. Wright even brings in some interesting visual approaches to the script, which don't seem to intrude on the plot or become an important focal point, but they add a pleasant overall aesthetic to the narrative. One particularly favorite element involves the camerawork during one of the balls, something similar to that done for 'Russian Ark'. Also, Roman Osin's photography is warm and flourishing, providing the film with a lasting impression, and the art direction complements Wright's style nicely to create an air of believability.
Jane Austen's novel has been adapted so many times for theatre, film, and television that it's very difficult to keep count sometimes. Even in modern literature, Austen's universal plot has influenced and spawned numerous other revisionary books and films in various genres, most notably 'Bridget Jones's Diary'. (For zombie/horror fans, there is also Pride and Prejudice and Zombies from Quirk Books. Be sure to check the classics section of your local bookstore.) But in spite of being an abbreviated rendition of a literary classic, Joe Wright's 'Pride & Prejudice' will rank as one of the better adaptations in recent memory. It may not be as good as the BBC version, but at least it's slightly superior to the 1940 film with Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. Whatever the justification, this is an entertaining and enchanting period romance.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings 'Pride & Prejudice' to Blu-ray on a Region Free BD50 disc and packaged in the standard blue keepcase. The cardboard slipcover is a shiny gold color with a picture of the film's poster in the center and promotes the fact it was nominated for four academy awards. As soon as the disc is inserted into the player, the Universal News Ticker is automatically initiated and a couple of previews greet viewers before the normal menu options.
Originally released on HD DVD, Universal brings 'Pride & Prejudice' to Blu-ray with an identical 1080p/VC-1 transfer (2.35:1) that is simply gorgeous and boasts a near-reference picture quality that's sure to surprise fans and first-time viewers alike.
The highly-detailed image comes with a consistently thin veil of grain, giving it an appreciable film-like appeal. Every nuance and texture in the costuming and architecture is razor-sharp and revealing, exposing every detail in the far distance as well as the foreground. Flesh tones appear natural and lifelike, with close-ups revealing every wrinkle and facial feature in the cast. The warm color palette is opulent and vividly saturated, while all other hues are robust and accurate. Contrast and brightness levels are perfectly balanced and precisely rendered with inky blacks and crisp whites, allowing for every minute detail to be clearly visible, and providing the picture with wonderful dimension. Low-lit interiors, too, hold up excellently well with various objects in the shadows nicely delineated. In the end, 'Pride & Prejudice' looks spectacular and stunning on Blu-ray.
Accompanying the beautiful video presentation is this surprisingly impressive DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. For a dialogue-driven period piece, the film's sound design does a remarkable job at generating a realistic soundscape to engage audiences. It may not be the sort of knockout performance that will push sound systems to their limits, but with an abundance of ambient effects throughout, the lossless mix is very active and enjoyable.
In nearly every exterior sequence, the sounds of nature envelop the viewer with wonderful transparency, creating an exceptional and pleasing atmosphere. Even during interior interactions, acoustics and fidelity are extraordinary, room-penetrating, and spaciously wide. The random chatter of conversations and music while in the middle of a ball is distinct and immersive. The front soundstage delivers fantastic warmth and richness, exhibiting excellent clarity and definition. The clanging of silverware and voices echo subtly into the background, allowing for any given room to feel vast and empty. Vocals are superbly rendered and precise so that listeners can make out every emotive inflection by the actors. The LFE channel doesn't make much of presence, which would be expected of a period drama, but low bass is put to use during the appropriate moments and adds some depth to those scenes. For a film primarily focused on character interaction, 'Pride & Prejudice' makes for an enthralling and engrossing audio experience.
For this Blu-ray edition of 'Pride & Prejudice', Universal ports over the same bonus features found on its HD DVD counterpart and ups the ante with one small exclusive.
'Pride & Prejudice' is one of the better adaptations of a Jane Austen novel, one that's made even more impressive by the fact that it was directed by a first time feature-length director, Joe Wright. It's a gorgeous-looking period romance, and fans of the much beloved novel will not be disappointed. The Blu-ray edition of the film comes with an excellent A/V presentation and a healthy package of supplements. Fans of the film are sure to buy this quality BD disc while everyone else is urged to give a rent.