I assume most people who watch this movie have previously either read the book or watched the BBC version or atleast the horrible 'Bride and Prejudice'. (If you have not, you may not fully understand the movie. And this review.) I am sure there are other versions, perhaps in other languages (I know that a Hindi soap opera based on this story used to appear in DD many moons ago). So here we have one more movie and when you step into the hall, you wonder what does it have to offer?
The one stark difference from other versions I have seen is the scenes. The picturisation is absolutely enchanting to say the least. The green English countryside, the constant downpours, the stone buildings, the noise and colour in the parties, the houses in which the girls live...the list can go on. Everything is vivid and alive. Unlike the BBC series (a very good one, I would like to add) where you somehow have the impression of watching the proceedings as a third party, the camera in this version makes you feel like you are actually over there watching the story unfold. Some of the characterizations are also good. Mr. Bennett in this movie is kinder and more in sync with the family than he was in the original book. Charlotte Lucas is perfect as an aging spinster; aware of the compromises she has to make. Miss Bingley in the few scenes she has comes across as she ought to – a clever, perhaps slightly cynical woman who is probably in love with Mr. Darcy, but wants him more for the advantages that come with such a marriage. The casting is also appropriate in most cases. Keira Knightley’s liveliness has now been admired at almost all quarters. The gaggle of sisters looks just the way you would have imagined them to be.
The challenge in taking a fairly complicated book like this and making it into a three-hour movie is in figuring out which scenes to leave out and which scenes to retain. What characters are to be developed, and what side stories are to be forgotten. The central tale is that of Lizzie Bennet, the Gentleman’s daughter with no fortune and four sisters, falling in love with the rich and proud Mr. Darcy. Unfortunately the book has way too many characters that contribute to the tale of love between Lizzie and Darcy. Minor characters like Mr. and Mrs. Hurst are sacrificed. But the director still needs to retain Colonel Fitzwilliam and Anne De Bourgh. So at the end of the movie, the one overwhelming feeling you have is of having read a summary of the book. You can get what the movie is about, but you have not really had the time to cry and laugh with Lizzie. Lizzie and Darcy patching up makes you happy but does not make you wipe a tear, nod your head and say ‘these kids!’
There are some minor points to quibble on. Why does Mr. Bingley, instead of being a genial friend, come across as an ex-inmate of a mental asylum on rehabilitation in the countryside? He smiles like an imbecile every time he is on screen. Just when you are glad that he has stopped smiling, he opens his mouth and says some silly dialogues. Even his hair sticks out all over the place like he has had one too many electric shock treatments in the loony bin. Mr. Collins looks more sensible than he does. Also, did any woman say ‘Don’t judge me’ to her friends before Sex and the City? Why is Wickham barely there? And that’s not just because an eye-candy plays the role. As a fairly key character, the character should have been given atleast as much importance as Mr. Collins.
On the whole, if you can, read the book. If you must watch this movie, reserve it for a rainy afternoon when the scenes in the movie matches the weather outside and you just may discover the spark of romance that makes the book one of the best romantic books ever written.