DURHAM, UK — There’s got to be something wrong with a film version of Pride and Prejudice when Mr. Bennett turns out to be my favorite character. And that’s the way it is with the new Keira Knightley-Matthew McFadyen version of Jane Austen’s classic novel, which I caught today with an audience of nice, silver-haired Brit ladies at a matinee in this university/cathedral town. Ah, Donald Sutherland as the dotty papa of five unmarried and possibly unmarriageable daughters. Aren’t we supposed to be riveted by feisty, intelligent daughter Elizabeth Bennett (Keira Knightley) and Mr. Darcy, the very wealthy and handsome young man she ought to marry, except that she can’t stand him and he can’t stand her?
Sigh. No. As readers of this blog know, “Pride and Prejudice” is one of my favorite novels and one that I recommend to every young woman of Elizabeth Bennett-age, because it’s not only a ripping good story but an object lesson in the qualities to look for in finding a man.
Not only is there little electricity between the two leads, even when McFadyen makes like Heathcliffe with Knightley out on the moors (I kept waiting for the return of Sutherland and the gloriously wicked Judi Dench as Lady Catherine) but the filmmakers have done it again: They cannot make a historical movie with a female heroine without turning said heroine into a proto-Third Wave feminist. Knightley never looks or acts period for a single second, although she bravely mouths many of Jane Austen’s lovely and graceful sentences. One clue to what’s wrong: A la Reese Witherspoon in the recent Vanity Fair, Knightley hardly ever dons a bonnet, although head-coverings were de rigeur back then for young ladies venturing out of their own parlors.
“I liked the television version better,” sighed one of the silver-haired matinee ladies, referring to the Colin Firth version of a decade ago.
So did I.