Of timeless themes
Revived once again, Jane Austen's genteel romance, `Pride and Prejudice,' is a contender in the Oscar race.
CLASSIC REVISITED: Pride and Prejudice captured with a contemporary flavour.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that no one can transform a good piece of English literature into a film, which does it justice, quite like the British. Americans may have the money, but they rarely get it right. And even if they do on rare occasions from "My Fair Lady" to "Bridget Jones's Diary" the Brits will either never acknowledge it, or attribute the success to the presence of British talent in the cast.
The Hollywood financiers who produced the new, big screen version of that well loved Jane Austen classic, "Pride and Prejudice" took no such risk.
They bank-rolled the project then stepped aside, to let a British company (Focus Features) and an almost wholly English cast and crew do the rest, filming on its home ground at real locations.
They also took a risk in entrusting the filmmaking to debut director Joe Wright, who says rather ingenuously that he had never read the book or seen any of the five major television versions of recent years including the splendid BBC TV mini series made 10 years ago.
The relatively unknown Matthew Macfadyen who plays the central role of Darcy also confesses to not having seen the TV versions or even the only screen version till now the classic 1940 Hollywood production where Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson play the lead roles of Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet.
Fiercely loyal readers of Jane Austen who might find all this palpable ignorance strange, can rest assured: the result is a robust, lively, screen rendering of ``Pride and Prejudice" that will not disappoint even the most fastidious fan of the printed text, even while a lively cast brings out nuances of the book that most stage and screen versions have tended to drown with `chocolate box' period glitter.
The Bennet family is large Mrs Bennet (played by English film and television character actress Brenda Blethyn) has to find eligible mates for five daughters, a task that Indians can empathise with. Their property will go to a distant male relative again something that Indians are familiar with. The film brings back to the screen Donald Sutherland who has matured into a reliable character actor, usually villainous. Here as Mr Bennet, he exudes an air of sardonic humour that the novel breathes.
The first film version of `Pride and Prejudice' was the 1940 Hollywood production, with Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson
Jane Austen's "fiercely wonderful dialogue" as screen-writer Deborah Moggach calls it, can rarely be improved upon.
However, delivering some of the well-known ripostes is another matter and in Keira Knightley, the film has an Elizabeth who is spunky, as no Austen heroine has ever been before in Cinema or TV. She is, after all, the girl who swung from the mast in "Pirates of the Caribbean" and kicked a mean football in Gurinder Chadha's "Bend it like Beckham."
The strong-willed Lizzie Bennet who can give as good as she gets for every put-down that Darcy delivers has never been bettered. Her performance has earned Keira a nomination for the best actress Oscar. The other nominations are for art direction, costume design and original music score.
The elder Bennet girl Jane is generally reckoned by most readers to be a goody-goody character; but it is played by Rosamund Pike, who takes a difficult role beyond its obvious pretty face potential.
Judi Dench is the formidable Lady Catherine de Bourg and other than a directorial quirk that takes the scene of her dramatic confrontation with Elizabeth indoors rather than in the grounds of Longbourn, she is still the insufferable grand dame as she enquires "if the shades of Pemberly are to be thus polluted," by the union of her nephew Darcy and Elizabeth.
There were five major television versions in recent years - including the splendid BBC TV six-part mini series made 10 years ago.
For Indian viewers who might like to make their comparative judgments, the latest BBC TV version is currently available in most metros, in two VCD albums of three disks at Rs. 299 each. Jennifer Ehle who plays Elizabeth might be unknown here, but Colin Firth (Darcy) has appeared in both the Bridget Jones films. With a running time of four and a half hours, the serial can lavish much more detail than a two-hour film and does so to perfection.
The `desi' take on Jane Austen, "Bride and Prejudice" that Gurinder Chadha made in 2004, will also provide an interesting counterpoint to the new film. Lizzie Bennet becomes Lalita Bakshi and in the person of Aishwarya Rai, the character acquires a very Indian, yet a very modern nuance.
TV viewers during the 1980s might also recall the Amol Palekar Indianisation of the book in his serial "Kacchi Dhoop."
Clearly, the travails of a mother with five daughters to be married; the inner conflicts of a woman of strong will and prejudices and a man with misplaced pride... . These are timeless themes that transcend cultural and national boundaries. And its latest rendition on the screen brings fresh delights for a new generation of Jane Austen fans everywhere.
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