Pride & Prejudice | Starring Keira Knightley & Matthew Macfadyen | 2005
This review is full of spoilers.
Gloriously, hopelessly romantic.
Pride and Prejudice is the novel that cemented my love for romance. It’s my initiation into romantic literature, the etchings of a lifelong silhouette of Mr. Darcy behind all contours of romantic aspirations henceforth, and the story that told my childhood self that there is someone out there who will respect and admire my mind for its worth.
Reading Austen and entering her world through film is akin to intoxication. It’s the giddy effect of a good love story told with incredible flair and finesse—the logic is impeccable, the witticisms offer both levity and plot-progression, and the motivations are ground in such human concerns and practicalities that they still reverberate in contemporary consciousness. Women are still trying to find a Mr. Darcy—why? After shifting structures, broken ceilings, and epochal milestones, something still rings true: bound to varying degrees by societal norms and the expectations of those around, is there not a voice within all that genuinely, forlornly, ardently yearns for someone who can simply see us as who we are—different and independent we may be—and love us? Two centuries later, the yearning endures: that is, to find a partner equal in mind. How ahead of her time Austen was.
This movie captures that evolution from affronted pride and conditioned prejudice to the amorous reconciliation of two souls underneath the cloak of first impressions (interestingly, Austen’s original title for the novel was “First Impressions”). A few scenes in particular stick out to me for constant revisiting:
At the ball, in the background of this frame, Darcy pronounces to Bingley: “Perfectly tolerable, I daresay, but not handsome enough to tempt me.” In the foreground, half of Elizabeth’s face is in the shadows of the alcove; the slight dimming of her bright eyes and the lingering remnants of a now-gone smile are evidence of a wounded pride.
This really does set the stage for the rest of the story to unfold. As Elizabeth says,
I could more easily forgive his vanity had he not wounded mine.
Not long later in the movie, Darcy’s hand appears to help Elizabeth get onto her carriage and the camera zooms into that hand as he walks away, capturing its tense trembling and a flexing that is laden with inklings of a growing attraction. It was breathtaking to catch such a glimpse past the seemingly impenetrable, unflappable exterior of Darcy. In the 1995 BBC adaptation, Colin Firth’s Darcy while wearing hauteur like a second skin, never really does shed that facade to show the emotional ferment and vulnerabilities within. In contrast, Matthew Macfadyen’s sensitive portrayal has an immense tautness of character. The internal struggle that Darcy undergoes comes out movingly in such tiny moments of things unsaid that make his later articulated declaration in the rain, “I have struggled in vain and I can bear it no longer”, so much more poignant for the audience.
The consummate scene of mutual romantic confession is one of pure cinematic magic. As the piano soundtrack suffuses the shot to dissipate the early morning mist (Your Hands Are Cold), Darcy emerges from blue landscape towards Elizabeth. He is without a cravat and she without a corset. He is walking, neither on carriage nor horseback, just as she did to Netherfield Park. As the warm golden sunlight shines through the silhouette of their touching foreheads, I felt something altogether wonderful. I felt almost incandescently happy.
While there are some minor deviations from the novel, it was easy to surrender myself to their love as the Elizabeth and Darcy surrender to it themselves. The Austen concoction is absolutely there in generous doses. To embrace yourself and your ideals—especially when they transcend the conventions of your time—takes courage; to find someone who can appreciate and love you for that takes luck. That is what’s so moving about this Austen adaptation. Elizabeth and Darcy. Darcy and Elizabeth. What a lucky pair. Whilst Mr. Bennett lovingly tells Elizabeth towards the end of the movie, I cannot believe that anyone can deserve you, another softer, yet perennial message resounds, There is some person in this vast world who will deserve you as you are. So I offer this kernel to you, dear reader.
Lots of love,