Pride and Prejudice (U)

This new film adaptation sensibly avoids duplicating the moment, though in so many other particulars it challenges one's own fondly held ideas of how a scene should be played, and how a part should be cast. I was alarmed on first seeing Matthew Macfadyen make his entrance as Mr Darcy, projecting an air not so much lofty as queasy, as though he'd just swallowed a bad oyster. Gradually his saturnine character imposes itself on the screen, yet he occasionally struggles to make haughtiness look something other than dull bad manners. I also kept changing my mind about Keira Knightley's Elizabeth Bennet; there's something too modern in her manner, and she plays Lizzie's pertness a touch broadly. Yet in Darcy's first, disastrous proposal scene Knightley finds the right mixture of wounded pride and blazing indignation as she goes toe-to-toe with her startled suitor, and by the end her charm may win you round.

It's important that the film gets the two leads right, because the book has been whittled down so thinly that amiability too often has to cover for plausibility. Screenwriter Deborah Moggach, obliged to pack the story inside a shade over two hours, hacks and hews at the expense of Austen's psychological subtlety, her tremendous set-pieces and waspish characterisation. Instead of those elegant sentences we are offered elegant interiors, costumes and props, not an unpleasant substitute but not an adequate one, either. The main pivot of the plot - Lizzie's discovery that she has got bounder and hero the wrong way round - will only make sense if we believe she has invested some feeling in the caddish Wickham (Rupert Friend), but the latter is on screen for no more than five minutes. As for Darcy's letter that apprises Lizzie of this, it is so chopped up that we barely register the information as a corrective at all.

Director Joe Wright initially seems to be aiming at the casual realism of Dutch domestic painting, the early glimpse of family life seen through a doorway a wink to Vermeer or de Hooch. Later, he switches to the posed formalities of Gainsborough, and pulls off one good visual joke when the Bennet family, lazing about in their drawing room, are panicked by a surprise call from Bingley and Darcy; before their visitors enter the room the sisters, belying the two-minute flurry of neatening skirts and plumping cushions, have marshalled themselves into a serene composition of gentility. Elsewhere deportment is an index of social confidence, or lack of it: when Lizzie arrives at Netherfield to visit her ill sister, she is received by Darcy, Bingley and his sister stiffly ranged around a table as though they are magistrates about to hear a case. As the toadying Mr Collins, Tom Hollander has a glorious moment of confusion adapting his posture before his patroness Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Judi Dench): he somehow contrives to bow while remaining upright at the same time.

Yet there is also a gathering suspicion that this Pride and Prejudice has had its edges softened, most notably in the portrayal of Mr Bennet. As played by Donald Sutherland he's become a vague and doddery old cove, lacking the twinkly sarcasm that Austen caught so brilliantly, while his accent is anything but that of an English country gent. He delivers the famous put-down to his daughter Mary as she plonks away at the piano ("You have delighted us long enough") but later apologises to her. Why this liberty, when so much that's actually in the novel has been sacrificed? This misrepresentation is felt the more keenly when news of Wickham's elopement with Lydia reaches the Bennets, and the consequences of Mr Bennet's dereliction as a father are finally exposed. But the scandal is registered only as a mild inconvenience. The one character who benefits from cutting is Mrs Bennet, whose shrill twitter is perhaps more annoying than even her creator intended - Brenda Blethyn ably impersonates "a woman of mean understanding, little information and uncertain temper", though happily keeps the pantomime-dame act to a minimum.

There is nothing much to dislike about this adaptation, and equally nothing much to get excited about. The makers have rebuffed the assumption that Pride and Prejudice has been overdone on the grounds that, while TV has revisited the book, it has only once been turned into a film, MGM's 1940 version starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. Nonetheless, you may be puzzled by the cautiousness of their approach, and feel disappointed at a production that seems more in awe of the grand houses to which it gained access than the timeless glories of Austen's prose. First impressions can be misleading, as the novel argues, but I don't imagine the film will improve on a second look.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas