What must actors do to provide the goods for a period piece? Pride & Prejudice has three essential mechanics that make it work so well. An adaptably strong piece of literature, a keen eye for costume and drama, and Keira Knightley. The claxon of the period piece rings out once more, and, honour-bound by some ancient writing or law, Knightley is once more part of the Georgian era. Like jury service, but permanently. Mandated by law to appear in Joe Wright’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel. Still, she has served the genre exceptionally well, and her strenuous efforts to bring this immense credibility to Pride & Prejudice has worked incredibly well.
There is a modern sensibility to the attitudes these characters are then presented. Pride & Prejudice creates a lighter tone for its opening and a route for these characters to represent the core details and delights of Austen’s literary classic. Donald Sutherland’s inclusion here is tremendous and works exceptionally well in steering the narrative strengths of the story. It frees up Knightley and Rosamund Pike to work on their superb performances. Knightley and period pieces are frequent collaborators, and her comfort within the genre is inevitable. It is a strong asset that Wright deploys frequently throughout his adaptation, for he knows that Knightley can ease herself into the role of Elizabeth Bennett with natural style and inevitable quality.
That much is present throughout the scale of Pride & Prejudice. Its costumes and style are remarkable and really add to the layers of quality found within this Wright piece. Strong dialogue is delivered by engaged performers, most of whom present themselves as decent adaptations of the text. Matthew Macfadyen’s initial entrance to the stage is an oddly tense scene, but it has the desired effect on the audience. It is the formality of these characters that strikes so eerily. Conversation soon flows, but the icy introduction between Darcy and Elizabeth, and their subsequent flirtations with one another, are adapted well. Sutherland plays that glum father figure well, protective and tired, and with that, he is surrounded by the gossip of girls and the talk of the town as his daughters dance the days away. It is captured charmingly well.
What we can realise with Pride & Prejudice is that, deep down in Wright, there is talent. It has been lost on The Woman in the Window and Darkest Hour, but we can return to this Knightley-led period piece as a reminder that the man has an artistic core. He presents it immensely well throughout Pride & Prejudice, and it is a tad aggravating to see that he has come nowhere close to replicating these talents in his recent works. He can surely do it again. Beautiful scenery, engaging characters and a setlist of stars that bring the Austen novel to life with a relative understanding of what a period piece should do. It should clutter its sets with iconographic pointers, revel in the muddy terrain and egalitarian proficiency of life on the farms and in the fields of Hertfordshire.