About a week ago I was informed by my love that we’d be watching Pride and Prejudice on Friday. Not the BBC six-hour extravaganza – that’s still on the menu for later – but the recent film version with Keira Knightley and Matthew “I’m an MI5 agent – get me out of here!” MacFadyen. Since I’d heard good things about the film, I resigned myself to my fate with rather less grumbling than might be expected. After all, I’m secure enough in my sexuality to watch a Jane Austen film without fearing to catch “the gay”.
No, no, no… It’s not what you may be thinking now. I wasn’t secretly thrilled at the thought of 2+ hours of Keira Knightley being all witty and sarcastic and sexy. Thing is, I don’t find her very sexy at all. She’s not ugly, but a) she’s too girlish and b) she’s too thin. Back when I saw Bend It Like Beckham, I thought that there’s a very attractive woman in this film, and her name is Parminder Nagra. Keira? I wouldn’t mind cooking a proper dinner for her, but that’s about as far as my feelings towards her go.
Also, I never thought that she was a great actress. All the films I’d seen her in, she was basically the same character: feisty heroine/modern grrrl who can hold her own with the boys. I mean, like, hello! Boring! (Or something to that effect.) However, I must say after watching Pride and Prejudice that there’s more to her, provided that the director and cinematographer and make-up artists and producers don’t keep telling me, “You must desire this woman! If you don’t, there’s something wrong with you!” Her Elizabeth Bennet was far more interesting than any of the other characters I’d seen her as.
In general, the film was surprisingly good. Now that I’m no longer teaching at an English Department, I can perhaps confess that I’m not too keen on Jane Austen. Sure, she’s witty, but I wish she’d written only one novel or perhaps short stories. Admittedly, I’ve only read Emma, but with the Austen film adaptations I’ve seen I always felt déjà vu. The 2005 P&P film has its faults: the pacing is off, with the beginning feeling rather rushed and the middle too leisurely; some of the more modern camera moves and edits fail because the film tries too hard to be “contemporary”; and there’s entirely too much giggling! But at least in the European version, there was something nicely understated about the romance: as a matter of fact, many of the romantic couplings are less about brainless passion than about a mutual liking combined with a sense of pragmatism. Or, in one case, about stupidity. And the film doesn’t try to gloss this over.
Finally, talking of gloss, or lack thereof: while the film looks lovely much of the time, it doesn’t go for the Heritage look where even dirt is disconcertingly clean. There’s mud, there’s geese and pigs (with big dangly man-bits – what a strange scene!), and things aren’t antiseptic. The film didn’t have the picture postcard look, the “Wish you were here in the 19th century with us!” feel that so many costume dramas insist on, and it was all the better for this.