Pride & Prejudice Blu-ray Review
“We fully expect a most advantageous marriage!”
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater
After watching the film on Blu-ray last night—a sumptuous visual experience that I’ll get to later —I felt the same way as I did five years ago in the theater, almost shocked by how uncharacteristically involved I was in the romance of Lizzy Bennet and the brooding Mr. Darcy. Make fun of me if you’d like, challenge my masculinity or taste in film, but I’ll readily admit that while watching Pride & Prejudice I might as well have been tittering like a schoolgirl in the throes of her first real crush. Near the conclusion, where everyone gets exactly what and who they deserve, I was smiling so much that my jaw ached and I began to feel self-conscious, even though there was nobody else in the room. There’s a mysterious alchemy to it, I’m sure—a formula that’s unique to each viewer—but how many movies can make you feel like you’re newly in love, like your head is filled with warm milk and your chest burning with bourbon? (I’m not sure how good of a love metaphor that it, but warm milk and bourbon would make a horrible cocktail.) Somehow, all of my objections to Jane Austen evaporated and I was completely engrossed, which leads me to wonder: what is it about this particular version of Pride & Prejudice that makes my eyes well up while I’m simultaneously grinning like an over-the-moon idiot?Also...
Let’s start with the beautiful Keira Knightley—and this will probably sound pretentious, but I can’t think of any other way to put it—who brings a joie de vivre that buoys the entire production. There’s nothing particularly unusual about how she chooses to portray Lizzie, but she somehow achieves the perfect mix of self-reliance and vulnerability. You want her to be in love; she flashes her Cheshire grin and all is suddenly right with the world. Conversely, the pained exchange she has with Darcy after his botched proposal will send your heart plummeting down an elevator shaft. While Knightley’s performance easily outdoes that of Jennifer Ehle in the mini-series, Matthew Macfadyen is up against the inimitable Colin Firth, who most Austen fans agree is the Mr. Darcy for the ages. Still, I like what he does here, playing up the character’s insecurity and social anxiety to make him much more sympathetic when his inner goodness is finally revealed. And the chemistry between Ms. Knightley and Mr. Macfadyen is undeniable; this is no bodice-ripper, but the embers of passion are nevertheless stoked. The surrounding players are equally adept, especially Donald Sutherland, who lends tender fatherly council, and the brilliant Tom Hollander (In the Loop), whose socially constipated parson is the film’s comic relief. In her brief role as Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Darcy’s vain aunt, Dame Judi Dench is frighteningly good, shooting stares that could kill a man cold at 700 yards.
And the actors are all in good hands on the production side of things. Deborah Moggach’s script is stuffed with witty banter, and director Joe Wright (Atonement) has a style that’s impressive but never showy, using long Steadicam shots that take us through the Bennet house with graceful fluidity. All of the usual romantic conventions are in place, the lighting is sublime, the cinematography is luscious, the costumes and set design are perfect—everything is just as it should be—but I still can’t quite put my finger on why the film strikes me in a way that other Austen adaptations don’t. Like Mr. Darcy, I’ve simply been bewitched, body and soul.
Pride & Prejudice comes the debutante ball on Blu-ray with a beautifully warm and cinematic 1080p/VC-1 transfer in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. If you’ve seen the film before, you’ll know the color palette is both subtle and extremely rich, with utmost attention paid to harmony in both costumes and set design. Thankfully, this carefulness caries over into the Blu-ray release. See the frilly pastel dresses of the Bennet daughters, the primary red of British infantry coats, gathering storm clouds of ominous blues, soft yellow candlelit conversations, verdant forest tableaus, and the creamy whites inside Mr. Darcy’s hall of marble sculptures. There are two or three darker indoor shots that do seem a bit wishy-washy—mostly because light is so low that brightness has to be pushed up a bit—but black levels are suitably deep, and contrast, especially during the daytime scenes, is perfectly attuned. Likewise, there are a handful of soft shots, but the image is predominately crisp, with lots of detail in, say, Donald Sutherland’s whiskers, stems of wild wheat, and the cloth of an expertly tied cravat. Grain-haters beware though: there has been no digital scrubbing here, so the structure of the image is inherently natural, filmic, and exactly as intended. I was initially concerned about some possible telecine wobble, as the opening shot of a morning field looks somewhat shaky, but it quickly becomes apparent that the jitteriness is due to small camera movements during the time-lapse sunrise shot—for which nothing can be done—and not some transfer oversight. The sumptuous cinematography has definitely been done justice here, so husbands, if you’re looking for a film to sway your wife on the upgrade in color and clarity that Blu-ray affords, Pride & Prejudice could very well be the one to win her over.
Husbands/boyfriends/lovers take note: Pride & Prejudice would make an excellent Valentine’s Day gift. Even if you don’t go all weak in the knees like I do, you can at least see the two hours that you spend watching it together as one small step in getting your significant other to support your frankly out-of-control Blu-ray habit. Highly recommended.
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Commentary by Director Joe Wright
Owners of the Pride Prejudice DVD will be familiar with all of the features included here, starting with this rather unenthusiastic commentary track by director Joe Wright, who spends an inordinate amount of time talking about shots he wished he had gotten, lighting he wished he had had, and weather that simply didn’t cooperate. Not exactly essential listening.
Conversations with the Cast (SD, 6:17)
This is one of those features where each cast member says something kind about everyone else, and while I usually roll my overly cynical eyes at stuff like this, the actors are all so genuine about having such a great experience on the film that these conversations are difficult not to enjoy.
Jane Austen: Ahead of Her Time (SD, 8:03)
A brief featurette that looks at the universality of Austen's legacy and examines some of the progressive social themes in her work.
A Bennet Family Portrait (SD, 6:02)
Similarly, here we look at the importance of family and marriage in Austen's novel and dissect the Bennet's family dynamic.
HBO First Look: Pride & Prejudice (SD, 13:08)
"Three months skipping around the English countryside with a load of girls? It was heaven," says director Joe Wright. This is a typical HBO promo, with EPK interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and an overview of the story, but it's definitely worth watching if you're a fan of the film.
The Politics of 18th Century Dating (SD, 4:24)
A brief look at the codes of conduct of relationships in Victorian England. We also get to see some on-set footage of the dance rehearsals.
The Stately Homes of Pride & Prejudice (SD, 15:58 total)
Here we get histories and tours for all of the houses featured in the film, including Chatsworth House, Burghley, Wilton House, Basildon Park, and Groomsbridge Place.
The menu also includes a BD-Live powered feature called What’s New! This is a kind of news ticker at the top of the menu that gives you up to date information on Universal releases. I found that it actually slowed down the performance of the menu, but thankfully you can turn it off if you’d like.
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