Friday, July 02, 2004

Review: "Pride and Prejudice" (TV miniseries) (1995)

I think I've discovered a facet of the "chick flick" phenomenon that I hadn't before. It's not the theme of the film so much as the quality. The true definition of a "chick flick" is a film of mediocre quality (plot holes, bad dialogue, convenient meetings, etc.) that nevertheless has the redeemable qualities of romance and attractive leads. The same is true for guy flicks/action films where the hero has unlimited ammunition, the bad guy's henchmen can't hit the broadside of a barn, and big bad guy himself has no motivation other than being evil. However, if a film is very well made, then people of both genders can like and appreciate it.

I can think of no higher quality film that surpasses the concept of "chick flick" in my experience than "Pride and Prejudice". Created for the BBC, the miniseries has developed a justifiable reputation as one of the best adaptations of classic literature in recent memory. The story, set in early 19th century England, centers on the Bennett family and the constant activity of finding the right husband for the five daughters. The youngest three are really too young to be thinking of such things, so their main activity is to flirt and giggle at dances. But for the elder two, Jane (Susannah Harker) and Elizabeth (Jennifer Ehle), their clock is ticking and their mother is eager to find them a match. Suffice to say, these two daughters yearn for romance over wealth in their prospective mates, and they are often at odds with their mother and others in their intentions.

Which leads us to the actor and character that has become one of THE icons of romance in film: Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. For much of the film, he comes off as superior, aloof and stuck-up. This is Elizabeth's first impression and rightly so. We soon learn, though, that Darcy's attitude is only partly through his wealthy upbringing. The other part is his frustration with women who's only ambition is to marry well. He finds in Elizabeth a fierce intelligence and stubborn quality with which he is quickly enamored, despite parts of him who are averse at engaging with a lower class. There are many complications during the five hour running time but, as Geoffrey Rush says in "Shakespeare in Love", it all turns out well.

The script and performances are all perfect. The story flows smoothly with subplots weaving in and out of the main storyline until they all come together perfectly at the end. The actors are very well cast, particularly Firth and Ehle who have a wonderful chemistry together. Benjamin Whitrow and Alison Steadman are almost a movie into themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Bennett. They play their parts of hysterical wife and sensible husband like they've been doing it forever. Also, for fans of BBC comedy, it's hilarious to see Julia Sawalha as the immature Lydia Bennett. After several years of playing the intelligent straight woman to the two flighty stars in "Absolutely Fabulous", she gets to do some flightiness of her own here.

Do yourself a favor and see this soon. Take a whole rainy Saturday afternoon and watch it. This is truly a romance for everyone.

Ten out of Ten

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