The Famous Five

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Review of 'Pride and Prejudice', director Joe Wright

Pride and Prejudice is the story of Mrs Bennet's mission to get her five daughters married. Their 'estate', a large house and a farm, will go to a male cousin when Mr Bennet dies. It is therefore a business that Mrs Bennet takes seriously.

When Mr Bingley rents one of the grand local houses, Mrs Bennet determines that he must need a wife, and that he must marry one of her girls. Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) takes an instant dislike to Bingley's friend Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen), who slights her at the local dance. It is his pride and her prejudice that fuel the engine of the story. However, there is much more to this than bonnets, gossip and misunderstandings. This is a romantic cautionary tale finely balanced between those who marry badly and are stuck for life and young women for whom being unable to marry may mean a future of loneliness and poverty.

Mr Bennet is a gentleman farmer, with the emphasis on farmer. Their house is large, but the plain wooden interiors give it a ramshackle feel. Their clothes are not expensive, but they are obviously privileged as they eat well and have lots of free time for their music, reading and walks.

At the local ball the Bennets join the rest of their class in the neighbourhood for lively music and energetic dancing, and into this sweaty, noisy crowd step the rich newcomers Bingley, his sister Caroline and Darcy. It's clear that only Bingley's lack of snobbery and wish to be friendly to his neighbours brings them there at all. The Bingleys' home exposes the social gulf between them and the Bennets. The house is so grand, with so many servants, and Caroline's clothes are both beautiful and the latest fashion.

One of the best aspects of this film is its emphasis on the narrowness of the young women's opportunities. Elizabeth and her friend Charlotte (Claudie Blakely) fall out when Charlotte agrees to marry a man that Elizabeth says Charlotte cannot possibly respect. Charlotte angrily defends herself. Many young women reading Austen in her own lifetime would have become governesses, teaching the children of the rich. It was well known that the job was often badly paid, with appalling conditions of loneliness and physical neglect. Just because you worked for a rich family did not guarantee enough to eat, like domestic servants isolated in the houses of Knightsbridge today. The opportunity to marry even a pompous, foolish man could still provide the comforts of a modest home and children.

The cinematography and the music are atmospheric of Austen's love of 'natural beauties'. The acting is not always good, but there is real passion between Elizabeth and Darcy. Donald Sutherland as Mr Bennet has the charming, lazy air that allows at least one daughter to ruin herself and possibly her sisters by association. Brenda Blethyn is superb as Mrs Bennet in all her comic vulgarity. Judi Dench as Lady de Burgh is beautiful, and as autocratic and ambitious as royalty at Versailles. She is also a living proof that capitalism was progress over feudalism. A factory job with all its miseries would be better than being at the mercy of this woman's power over your job and cottage.

Despite being two and a half hours long, the film speeds by and can only cram in the highlights of the story. Some viewers may like to turn to the book. Once past unfamiliar 19th century English, they will find a story by a fiercely intelligent woman who perfectly understood the limitations imposed on her characters by their class and the lack of social mobility in rural life. They will also find an inimitable guide for 'those of us still hoping to marry well'.

Release date: 16 September