The movie gets foolishly carried away only once, when it suggests that a clueless macho boor, pressured to read Austen by his neglected wife, is magically transformed into a cuddly enlightened tomcat purring with empathy. I didn’t believe it for a minute. But I like the idea of a great British author from another century casting such a spell. If Shakespeare can do it, why not Austen?
The movie glamorizes Ms. Fowler’s characters in ways large and small. Several are a decade younger in the film than in the book, and all are attractive. Grigg (Hugh Dancy), the lone man, has been transformed from a temp in a university linguistics department in his 40s into a cute-as-a-button Silicon Valley techie and possible genius in his early 30s. Having grown up with three older sisters, this puppyish man-child and science-fiction fanatic who compares an Austen novel to “The Empire Strikes Back” is charmingly feminized without being effeminate.
The rest of the lineup is as follows: Bernadette (Kathy Baker), the group’s founder, is a six-times-married dynamo in her mid-50s who is both free-spirited and maternal. Her close friend Jocelyn (Maria Bello), a control freak and dog fancier who breeds Rhodesian Ridgebacks, fancies herself above the human mating game.
Sylvia (Amy Brenneman), happily married for 25 years, imagines she has it all, then falls apart when her husband, Daniel (Jimmy Smits), breaks the news that he is having an affair with a woman in his law firm and wants to end their marriage. The couple’s lesbian 20-ish daughter, Allegra (Maggie Grace), who has an active love life and a secret addiction to extreme sports like skydiving, moves back home to keep Sylvia company.
Prudie (Emily Blunt), drawn into the group after meeting Bernadette in line at an Austen film festival, is a beautiful, prim, married high school French teacher. To her recently acquired husband, Dean (Marc Blucas), an uncommunicative sports nut, the author’s name only conjures the capital of Texas. As their marriage falters, she is pursued by Trey (Kevin Zegers), a handsome senior. One of the movie’s few surreal touches is a traffic sign that flashes “What would Jane do?” as Prudie contemplates meeting him in a motel.
The main plot involves Grigg’s unrequited passion for Jocelyn, who invites him into the group as a potential boyfriend for Sylvia and keeps trying to throw them together, never realizing that she herself is the one he wants. Her unlikely naïveté and his unlikely shyness gives the movie an Austen-like narrative gloss.
“The Jane Austen Book Club” isn’t any better or worse than the recent “Becoming Jane,” a fantasy of Austen’s youthful love life. Like the other movies and television projects in a Jane Austen boom that continues to gather momentum, it is an entertaining, carefully assembled piece of clockwork that imposes order on ever more complicated gender warfare.
“The Jane Austen Book Club” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It contains some strong language and sexual situations.
THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB
Opens today in Manhattan.
Written and directed by Robin Swicord; based on the novel by Karen Joy Fowler; director of photography, John Toon; edited by Maryann Brandon; music by Aaron Zigman; production designer, Rusty Smith; produced by John Calley, Julie Lynn and Diana Napper; released by Sony Pictures Classics. Running time: 105 minutes.
WITH: Kathy Baker (Bernadette), Maria Bello (Jocelyn), Emily Blunt (Prudie), Amy Brenneman (Sylvia), Hugh Dancy (Grigg), Maggie Grace (Allegra), Lynn Redgrave (Mama Sky), Jimmy Smits (Daniel), Marc Blucas (Dean), Kevin Zegers (Trey), Parisa Fitz-Henley (Corinne), Gwendolyn Yeo (Dr. Samantha Yep) and Nancy Travis (Cat).
The Jane Austen Book Club
WritersRobin Swicord, Karen Joy Fowler (Book)
StarsKathy Baker, Hugh Dancy, Amy Brenneman
Running Time1h 46m
GenresComedy, Drama, Romance
- Movie data powered by IMDb.com
Last updated: Nov 2, 2017
A movie for the age, and a keeper for the ages, “Pride & Prejudice” brings Jane Austen’s best-loved novel to vivid, widescreen life, as well as making an undisputed star of 20-year-old Keira Knightley. Making positive use of thesps closer to the characters’ real ages, but also benefiting from a visual approach by young Brit director Joe Wright that melds realism with romance in a canny balance, film looks set to appeal to more than just Janeites and upscale distaffers. Following its world preem at Toronto, pic goes wide in Blighty Sept. 16 and goes Stateside Nov. 18.
Aficionados of the 1995 five-hour BBC miniseries, with Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, won’t necessarily be convinced by this bigscreen version. But anyone coming to the movie fresh and not demanding a chapter-by-chapter adaptation will respond to the pic’s emotional sweep, sumptuous lensing and marvelous sense of ensemble.
Wright, 33, who comes from a realist tradition in Brit miniseries (“Charles II: The Power & the Passion”), and scripter Deborah Moggach, a novelist and miniseries adaptor in her own right, extract the youthful essence of Austen’s novel, as well as providing a richly detailed setting. Scenes barely sketched in Austen’s dialogue-heavy, description-light prose leap fully detailed onto the screen, thanks to Sarah Greenwood’s terrific production design and Jacqueline Durran’s textured costumes.
Taking their cue from when the novel was first written rather than published, both designers go for a softer, late 18th-century look rather than a stiffer early 19th-century one. More relaxed vibe fits better with an adaptation that gives a slightly modern twist to the characters. As an evocation of period English life in the shires, “P&P,” though set around a century earlier, is the most flavorsome since Phil Agland’s under-rated version of Thomas Hardy’s “The Woodlanders.”
Moggach’s solution to paring down the novel is to concentrate on Elizabeth (Knightley), the second of five daughters belonging to a couple (Donald Sutherland, Brenda Blethyn) of reasonable but by no way lavish means. When news comes that a wealthy young bachelor, Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods), has moved into a nearby stately manor, Elizabeth’s mother smells a convenient match in the making.
Film’s knockout first reel, composed of two long sequences, scoops the viewer up into late 18th-century market-town life and the main characters’ lives. Opening sequence, with the first of many long steadicam takes, follows Elizabeth as she walks up to and inside the family home. Pic then cuts straight to a local ball, where Elizabeth’s elder sister, Jane (Rosamund Pike), comes under Bingley’s eye but Elizabeth herself gets off on quite the wrong foot with Bingley’s handsome but standoffish friend, Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen).
As Elizabeth and Darcy start their convoluted, sour-sweet courtship, events swiftly etch the novel’s main developments. Elizabeth becomes interested in a dashing soldier, Lt. Wickham (Rupert Friend), who has an awkward history with Darcy; meanwhile, she’s pursued by a boring reverend, William Collins (Tom Hollander).
Initial set of romantic entanglements comes memorably together at the 35-minute mark in another, much more upscale ball, this time at Bingley’s residence. Helmer Wright’s use of long steadicam sequences and Moggach’s ability to keep a large number of characters on the boil come into their own here. Elaborately but not showily choreographed, and giving the viewer a precise sense of social geography within the interlinked rooms, it’s the movie’s set piece, as Elizabeth negotiates advances from both Collins and Darcy.
Pic starts to tighten the emotional screws just prior to the hour mark, with the first entry of romantic piano-and-strings scoring. Darcy’s passionate proposal, and Elizabeth’s equally passionate rejection, show both thesps at the top of their game, emotionally fueling the long final act and coda.
Looking every bit a star, Knightley, who’s shown more spirit than acting smarts so far in her career, really steps up to the plate here, holding her own against the more classically trained Macfadyen (as well as vets like Blethyn, Sutherland and Judi Dench) with a luminous strength that recalls a young Audrey Hepburn. More than the older Ehle in the TV series, she catches Elizabeth’s essential skittishness and youthful braggadocio, making her final conversion all the more moving. Thesp’s only weakness is her over-clipped delivery, more Kensington than rural Hertfordshire.
Macfadyen makes Darcy a more conflicted, softer figure than Firth’s indelibly etched performance, but one that fits the movie’s more realistic mood.
Other casting is aces down the line, with Blethyn reining back her Mrs. Bennet into a believable mother hen, Sutherland overcoming a sometimes wobbly English accent in a perf that pays dividends at the end (in a beautiful scene with Knightley), and Dench perking up the picture at key moments as a waspishly commanding Lady Catherine.
Mass of smaller roles add texture to every scene, increasing the sense of ensemble and keeping the screen busy. Pike’s well-meaning Jane is a touching study in selflessness, while Kelly Reilly’s Caroline Bingley brings a tart sexual jealousy to her early scenes with Macfadyen and Knightley.
Film’s most controversial changes are in the characters of Collins and Bingley, both of whom are used for comic relief. But despite being completely different from the novel’s Collins, both physically and emotionally — as well as being considerably older — Hollander does make the role work dramatically in Moggach’s condensation, allowing modern auds a way into the social rituals without direct satire.
Amazingly, given the book’s enduring popularity, this is only the second bigscreen version of the novel, 65 years after MGM’s Greer Garson-Laurence Olivier B&W starrer, typical of studio-bound English literature productions of the period. Current production was entirely filmed on location, using a variety of period structures all around England.
Pride & Prejudice
Production: A correction was made to these credits on Sept. 12, 2005.
A UIP (in U.K.)/Focus Features (in U.S.) release of a Focus Features presentation, in association with StudioCanal, of a Working Title production. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Paul Webster. Executive producers, Debra Hayward, Liza Chasin. Co-producer, Jane Frazer. Directed by Joe Wright. Screenplay, Deborah Moggach, based on the novel "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen.
Crew: Camera (Deluxe color, widescreen), Roman Osin; editor, Paul Tothill; music, Dario Marianelli; piano solos, Jean-Yves Thibaudet; music supervisor, Nick Angel; production designer, Sarah Greenwood; supervising art director, Ian Bailie; art directors, Mark Swain, Nick Gottschalk; set decorator, Katie Spencer; costume designer, Jacqueline Durran; hair/make-up designer, Fae Hammond; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital), Danny Hambrook, Catherine Hodgson, Paul Hamblin; choreographer, Jane Gibson; assistant director, Guy Heeley; casting, Jina Jay. Reviewed at UIP screening room, London, Aug. 17, 2005. (In Toronto Film Festival -- Gala Presentation.) MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 126 MIN.
With: Elizabeth Bennet - Keira Knightley Darcy - Matthew Macfadyen Mrs. Bennet - Brenda Blethyn Mr. Bennet - Donald Sutherland William Collins - Tom Hollander Lady Catherine de Bourg - Judi Dench Jane Bennet - Rosamund Pike Lydia Bennet - Jena Malone Caroline Bingley - Kelly Reilly Charlotte Lucas - Claudie Blakley Mr. Gardiner - Peter Wight Mrs. Gardiner - Penelope Wilton Charles Bingley - Simon Woods Lt. Wickham - Rupert Friend Kitty Bennet - Carey Mulligan Mary Bennet - Talulah Riley Georgiana Darcy - Tamzin MerchantWith: Cornelius Booth, Sylvester Morand, Rosamund Stephen, Janet Whiteside, Sinead Matthews, Roy Holder, Meg Wynn Owen, Samantha Bloom, Moya Brady, Pip Torrens, Jay Simpson.
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