Directed by: Joe Wright. Ohhhh yeahhhh Jane Austen. Full disclosure: I have never read a Jane Austen book. I tried this one, wasn’t in the mood, and frankly, when I am in the mood for this kind of unabashed, full-on, high art soap opera, I think it lends itself to a movie or TV miniseries better than a novel anyway. I mean, how much detail do I really need? I’m sure there are a few hundred confused, passive-aggressive love letters between Liz and Darcy that had to be cut for the movie, and I’m sure the fans of the book are furious about it, but I’m just fine with that. (All of this may read as heresy to people who have read the book, including myself in the future perhaps, but let’s be honest here, you know I’m right.) Anyway, I was drawn to this firstly because I’m a sucker for Ms. Austen’s brand of “high art soap opera”, by which I mean a piece of pure escapism steeped in gossip about the love lives of fictional characters, more or less entirely disinterested in any concerns of history, politics, or socioeconomics that don’t pertain directly to the subject of finding true love within the compulsory institution of marriage (although, I just stumbled across this article as I was writing this), but one made long enough ago that the level of basic storytelling and characterization isn’t compromised by the dumbing-down effect of two centuries of advanced capitalism squeezing the life out of every breath of humanity left in the culture. This story was written at a time when people actually fucking read stories. These books filled the same role in the lives of the women (and men) who read them that modern day soap operas do, but they were more than half decent. And now that I reflect for a second, that’s actually a huge conversation that I kind of swept under the rug, referring to this as “high art” when, at the time, it would have definitely been considered among the lowest of art. But that’s exactly what I mean: the lazy, mindless escapism of yesterday is one of the most exalted, fancy, and genuinely well written stories that a modern consumer can dig into.
Anyway anyway, I was drawn into this not just because I’m a closet Austen fan, and because I’ve seen some other adaptations (Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson, and the big P+P miniseries with my man Colin Firth) and I love comparing adaptations of the same source material (Infernal Affairs, anyone?), but also because this film itself looked pretty damn appealing. It’s directed by Joe Wright, whose Hanna was one of my favourite things I saw that year, and it’s got Keira front and center, which is good in my book any time. I won’t derail this into an exhaustive defense of Keira Knightley’s acting ability—I think that’s self evident in her work (pirate movies aside, she’s done some pretty great stuff, same as Johnny Depp)—but that, combined with my mild crush on her, means that when I see that she’s the lead in a Joe Wright movie of Pride and Prejudice, there’s no fucking way I won’t see it. I don’t really know anything about Matthew MacFadyen (he was in Incendiary, but the less said about that the better), but he really does a great job here. And I think now that I’ve seen this movie, I can say that, with a relatively small data set (2 movies), I am a Joe Wright “fan.” Here, he has taken source material that is always subject to soft-focus close ups and clichéd, sweeping orchestral scores underpinning every moment, and instead delivered a visually smart, relatively stripped down, adaptation that strikes a near-perfect balance between fly-on-the-wall “realism” and completely gorgeous framing and cinematography. Basically, for me, this film is all about the lens flares. It’s there in the movie poster above, it’s in just about every major scene, and to me it’s the one thing that visually underpins the whole movie: it’s spontaneous, it makes everything seem really lifelike, gives this lofty soap opera some real-life grit that it so sorely needs to keep it from flying off into the clouds, but it’s also completely artificial, completely cinematic, and it points to itself as being a completely constructed moment that’s meant to look nice. The restraint the movie has comes across most clearly in that huge rain scene where Darcy proposes to Liz and she rejects him, they have their big blow up, voices raised to hear each other over the downpour, both of them sopping in water, vaguely erotic, horribly emotional, very teenaged and emo, but not one note of music to ruin it all. Perfect! In addition the glowing praise, I’ll just point out that the weird, fake, “dream” sequence where Lizzy is standing on a cliff (they have cliffs in England?) with her arms outstretched and the wind majestically sweeping her hair around amid an unbearably unnatural and gross-looking sunshine, all of that stuff is a pretty big negative point to the film. I’m ready to hear an argument that Joe Wright put that in there to deliberately wink the eye at the overdone productions of Austen material in the past, but I’d really rather not see it. And, as a side note, I love seeing good old Donald Sutherland pop up here and there and everywhere, and his presence here is evidence of a fucking amazing eye for casting. I don’t even know where to end this, I’ll just reiterate how damn satisfying this is. Next on the list is that Jane Eyre adaptation with Fassybendy.