My grandmother visiting for Christmas wanted to see Pride and Prejudice so I happily offered to take her, eager myself to double-check if my initial praise for the movie was actually sane or a passing fever. But after a second critical viewing, I emphatically endorse my original review and would add that it is in fact a flawless movie.
The only difference I noticed in the American cut of the film is the terribly cheesy final scene in which Darcy calls Lizzy “Mrs Darcy” a dozen times while kissing her. It is the only scene that feels out of place in a movie ripe with suggestion but never explicit. One of the things that struck me this second time was the movie’s achievement of sensuality without a hint of vulgarity.
For a movie without a single kiss (at least not until the last scene in the American version) it is sexually charged with a kind of latent eroticism found only in PG movies like Hitchcock’s Notorious. The tension, longing, even frustration experienced by Elisabeth and Darcy is so palpable that a tacked-on quasi-consumation was destined to be anticlimactic.
Deborah Moggach is my choice for Best Adapted Screenplay. Every line, whether humorous or not, adds to the plot or character development — the snippets of conversation overheard during the long party shots being ideal examples — and the acting is uniformly expert.
Unlike Narnia, with its inartful paraphrases of Lewis’ dialogue — would Aslan ever say something so prosaic as “There must be an explanation”? — P&P never feels like an adaptation. In fact the script feels invisible, a remarkable feat for a novel and screenplay with so many precisely worded and memorable passages.
And unlike Oscar Wilde scripts, whose incessant cleverness almost inevitably reduces actors to reciting their lines without being able to sustain the illusion of spontaneity, it is a credit to the actors of P&P that even the most clever lines and exchanges always seem unrehearsed.
And speaking of actors, everyone cites Colin Firth’s supposedly authoritative interpretation of Darcy ten years ago but, by becoming a professional Darcy in two Bridget Jones movies, Firth ended up identifying himself too closely with the character, retroactively making his original portrayal of the role in the BBC production now seem more Colin Firth than Darcy. Make mine MacFadyen.
The new version is also a masterpiece of editing. At nearly two hours there is not a single unnecessary or overlong scene. I loved King Kong but I distinctly remember a dozen shots that could have been cut with no harm to the movie. Peter Jackson is like the Ron Howard of action epics, and Kong shares with LOTR too much sentimentalism.
But P&P, in which moments of sentimentality might have been understandably excused, never approaches them because every facial expression shown actually contributes to character. Instead of Jennifer Ehle verbalizing (because that’s what Austen wrote!) the thought, “Of all this I might have been mistress,” while strolling through Pemberly, Moggach’s effecient script is silent, wisely deferring to Keira Knightley’s ability to show the thought all over her face as soon as she stands up in the carriage.
Though Dickens adaptations can be artistic — as Polanski’s Twist was this year — they always lack an ultimate level of realism because even when the sentimentality is removed from his stories, most of Dickens’ characters remain inherently comical. Joe Wright’s P&P, however, is both artistic and realistic in its vision of Austen’s England (even though Bingley’s hair is too perfectly mussed with Bryl Cream). His film is tightly plotted and perfectly executed, making it in my opinion the best Austen adaptation ever, if not one of the best-ever period pieces, period.