Lovers of Jane Austen are marking July 18, 2017 as a very special date. Two hundred years ago, the beloved author passed away, leaving the world an inheritance of six perfect completed novels that fans read over and over again. As part of Austen 200, exhibitions, parties, and readings across Britain will honor the 19th century author whose enchanting novels continually remind us, as she wrote in Pride and Prejudice, “we are all fools in love.”
For Austen fans unable to make the pilgrimage to Hampshire, England, may we suggest another way to celebrate: Rewatch Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice. It perfectly captures what ardent fans love about Austen’s work. “I can't imagine a better introduction to this classic,” writes the San Francisco Chronicle. Starring Keira Knightley as the sparkling Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew Macfadyen as the reserved Mr. Darcy, the film only improves with age.
As part of our own 15th anniversary, we celebrate Joe Wright’s––and Jane Austen’s––masterpiece.
1) It makes the past feel modern.
Austen’s novels may be set in 19th-century British villages, but her vision connects emotionally with each generation, people who find their own friends and families mirrored back in her comedies of manners and marriage. In bringing the story to the screen, Wright tapped into that contemporary emotional energy, making “the past feel as swirling and alive as the present,” notes Entertainment Weekly.
2) Keira Knightley gives Lizzie brains and beauty.
No writer has rendered female protagonists with more verve and vitality than Jane Austen did. Wright stayed true to the novelist’s sensiblity when he cast Knightley as the indomitable Lizzie. Thinking at first the 19-year-old actress might be too pretty for the part, Wright soon “discovered she had incredible wit and intelligence and a very strong personality”––all the things that make Elizabeth Bennet so unforgettable.
3) Matthew Macfadyen's Mr. Darcy proves irresistible.
For much of Pride & Prejudice, Elizabeth finds Mr. Darcy anything but desirable. But what first appeared as haughty and distant becomes handsome and dashing when Elizabeth falls hard for her beau. For the film, Wright found an actor who could not only perform this transformation, but leave audience members as entranced as Lizzie. As USA Today’s Claudia Puig writes, “the movie belongs to dark-haired, blue-eyed Matthew Macfadyen.”
4) Not a drop of Austen’s comic wit is lost.
“In the comedy of folly, I know no novelist who has beaten her,” proclaimed Anthony Trollope of Austen’s comic sensibility. Her gentle barbs and witty banter are woven together into a masterful satire of social mores, a comedy that Wright’s actors express brilliantly. As the Los Angeles Times notes, “Knightley's vibrant performance eloquently expresses the ignominious, but often funny, position Lizzie and her four sisters have been placed in by fate, gender and circumstance.”
5) It doesn’t shy away from the period’s vivid realism.
Wright realized when he read Pride and Prejudice that Austen was “one of the first British realists”––an angle that Salon notes he “understands better than anyone who’s ever adapted” her great romantic novel. From the opening scenes where cows, ducks, and hanging laundry fill the screen to the hard-etched sketches of class society, Austen and Wright render British village life in vivid and realistic strokes.
6) From Dame Judy to Donald Sutherland, it’s packed with amazing talents.
All eyes may be on Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, but Austen fills out her novel with unforgettable characters. Wright brought the same focus to his casting, enticing legends like Dame Judi Dench and Brenda Blethyn, as well as brilliant younger talents, such as Carey Mulligan, Rosamund Pike, and Tom Hollander. For the loveable Mr. Bennet, Wright cast Donald Sutherland. As Elizabeth’s father, Sutherland brings a sense of gravity. As Slate notes, “his quiet presence shores her up; their conversations are a blessed balm.”
7) It reminds us all what falling in love really feels like.
Austen renders the magic of falling in love when she narrates how Elizabeth suddenly realizes her heart belongs to Darcy. Wright conjures up an equally enchanting chemistry by casting Knightley and Macfadyen. “When he was Darcy and she was Lizzie something happened.” Wright explains. “Keira and Matthew were just wicked together.”