Ten minutes into Pride and Prejudice, the juicy and lush British scenery epic that proves once again that after a couple hundred years Jane Austen is still money, baby, guaranteed money, I realized two things: modern theaters should come equipped with with those slick noise-cancelling headphones built into the chairs, and Keira Knightley is far too young and far too pretty to play Elizabeth Bennet. Now, the former was confirmed by the woman next to us, who dug deep in a loud, crinkly bag for her last salted pretzels before descending into snoring repose, and by the giggling girls behind us who descended into a far louder and more annoying state of teenage mirth from the first moment the hunky Matthew MacFadyen swaggered into the provincial ball.
Still, the movie held the interest and passed the two hour test with companionable ease - not in the least thanks to a cast of veterans that included Donald Sutherland as the suitably grimy minor gentry Mr. Bennet and Judy Dench as the snooty Lady Catherine; as well, the locations are sublime, particulary the Peak District and Derbyshire, where we spend a wonderful week two summers ago, including a day's visit to Chatsworth, the seat of the Duke of Devonshire and one of England's grandest homes, which stands in for Darcy's massive upper class spread in the movie. But you know, MacFadyen's Darcy was both too young and too handsome, and Knightley's Lizzie quite a shades more.
That said, I quite liked Knightley and the screen loves her: even in a crowd of attractive young actors, the eye finds her; but she's a bit too sharp-featured for the traditional role, and too clear-skinned. I've always pictured Elizabeth Bennet as tall, handsome and smart - with some of the weariness of the world about her; some knowledge of human nature. Tiny lines in the corners of her eyes - laugh lines in gentle mocking expression - comely to be sure, but today's equivalent of 32 or 33 for the unmarried set. Knightely has no hint of being on the shelf too long.
Over at Esprit de L'Escalier, the good keeper of the literary spirit there disagrees with my assessment: she liked MacFadyen (though prefers Olivier) and she fairly savages young Knightley:
There's a heaviness to the way she delivers her lines, like her jaws are locked tight or something. She can't be light with her words, which I think is necessary with the way Lizzie teases. She says everything as a dare or a threat. But again, I am prejudiced against her. I also thought she was somewhat plain in the film.
There we part ways: at the very least she looked good - too good. But the young Claire of Chicago does have one thing right. The last few minutes of the film, utterly devoid of Austin, had all the real human romance and writing of the latest Star Wars bilge, with none of the special effects. A word to the screenwriters: don't change Jane Austen, fellas, she's a lock in terms of domestic gross. And overseas? Gold, baby. Pure gold.