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'Pride & Prejudice' takes earthier view of romance

November 07, 2005|Susan King

Joe Wright, the director of the new film version of "Pride & Prejudice," said he wept into his pint of lager at his local pub one Sunday while reading the screenplay for the adaptation of Jane Austen's classic 19th-century romantic novel.

"I had never read the book before, so I came [to the script] quite fresh," said the 33-year-old Wright. "I was quite moved by it. Then I read the novel. I was ashamed I hadn't read it before. I had a strong reaction to the novel and had some ideas of how it would work on the screen. Once those ideas had taken root, it was very difficult to shake them off."

"Pride & Prejudice," which opens Friday, marks the TV director's feature debut. In Wright's version, the story's emphasis is on the poor, headstrong Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley), and not on the object of her affection (and, sometimes, disdain), the proud, handsome and rich Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen).

In previous incarnations, especially the 1940 feature with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier, and the 1995 miniseries starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, it was Darcy who took center stage.

"It is the story of a young woman," Wright said. "It is a rite-of-passage story, so I wanted to make it the Lizzie Bennet or the Keira Knightley version. To me, I think the point of that romance brings her to a deeper understanding of herself."

He also wanted a much earthier "Pride & Prejudice." This film doesn't sugarcoat the Bennets' meager existence -- pigs and chickens run freely in the unkempt, mud-soaked yard. (The movie, written by Deborah Moggach, was shot in a variety of locations in England.)

"I did a lot of research and discovered that people did live -- especially with the income the Bennets would have -- in a close proximately to their rural environment," Wright said. "I felt it was important [to show that]. Aesthetically, I like mess. I don't like tidiness."

He added, "On an emotional level, I kind of felt that Elizabeth Bennet was a very earthbound character. If she has her feet in the mud and she's reaching for the stars, it would help dramatize the heroism of what she was doing."


-- Susan King

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