Tag: Matthew Macfadyen

Operation Mincemeat (2022)

Operation Mincemeat (2022)

Wartime heroics get bogged down in bland love-triangles and tedious inventions

Director: John Madden

Cast: Colin Firth (Ewen Montagu), Matthew Macfadyen (Charles Cholmondeley), Kelly Macdonald (Jean Leslie), Penelope Wilton (Hester Leggett), Johnny Flynn (Ian Fleming), Jason Isaacs (Admiral John Godfrey), Simon Russell Beale (Winston Churchill), Paul Ritter (Bentley Purchase), Mark Gatiss (Ivor Montagu), Nicholas Rowe (Captain David Ainsworth), Alex Jennings (John Masterman)

In April 1943 a body washed up on the shore of neutral Spain. It was a Major William Martin, carrying Allied plans to launch a massive invasion of Greece in July 1943. German agents intercepted these plans before they could be returned to the British and the Germans shifted their troops to counter this invasion. Problem for them was, Major Martin wasn’t real, the plans he carried were inventions and the Allies were planning to attack Sicily. Welcome to Operation Mincemeat.

Adapted from an entertainingly written and well researched book by Ben MacIntyre, Operation Mincemeat is about one of the most successful wartime deception plans ever launched. The film is a bit of a deception operation itself. Although it looks like a Boys-Own caper film, with eccentric boffins solving problems and running circles around the Nazis, it’s actually a dry, slow, sombre film that seems embarrassed at even the faintest idea of flag-waving Wartime heroism. Instead, everything is glum, depressing and bogged down in invented details that never convince.

Which is a real shame, because when the film focuses on the things that actually happened it’s both entertaining and informative. To create Major Martin, MI6 needed a body – specifically a military-age male who drowned. That was almost impossible to find in London at the time – and the final ‘candidate’ had to be kept as ’fresh’ as possible for months. The letters he carried included ‘private correspondence’ from one British General to another – a letter that went through almost twenty drafts as the British authorities squabbled about how blunt its ‘personal’ views could be. When the body washed up, a helpful Spanish officer tried to return the papers immediately. When the film is on this material it’s good.

But it feels embarrassed by the idea of enjoying this stuff. After all, war is hell and the idea that we could even for a moment think these eccentrics (nearly all of whom spend their time penning spy stories) might find part of this subterfuge fun is disgraceful to it. So, we are constantly reminded of the horrors of war: the moral quandaries of using a person’s body for an operation, the troubling “wilderness of mirrors” of espionage. All this means that lighter moments – or moments where we could enjoy the ingenuity of the characters – are rushed over as soon as possible.

The other thing the film is embarrassed about are the lack of female characters. As such Kelly MacDonald’s Jean Leslie – who contributed a vital photograph of herself as ‘Major Martin’s’ paramour and the background of this fictional relationship – is elevated to third wheel in the planning. But, in a move that feels bizarrely more sexist and conservative, she also becomes the apex of a love triangle between herself and Firth and MacFadyen’s characters. This tedious triangle takes up a huge amount of time in an overlong film and is fatally scuppered by the total lack of chemistry between any of the participants.

It also means our heroes are forced to spend a lot of time running around like love-sick, horny teenagers, following each other and passing notes in class. At one point Cholmondeley tells Jean about Montagu’s wife with all the subtlety of “I saw X kissing Y behind the bike sheds”. This also means that the matey “all in this together” feeling essential to these sort of caper films (which is what this story really is) is undermined. This ends up feeling rather like a group of people who learn to dislike each other but vaguely put personal feelings aside for the greater good.

The real exciting history clearly isn’t exciting enough. Instead, ludicrous, artificial “improvements” littered through the story. I get that Jason Isaacs’ Admiral Godfrey is turned into a moronic, obstructive bureaucrat for narrative reasons. But the ridiculous shoe-horning in of a link between the Operation and the Anti-Nazi resistance in Germany in the second half of the film feels blatantly untrue even while it’s happening. By the time one of our heroes is being confronted by a German agent in their own home, the film has checked out of reality.

Truth is, this is a bad film, over-long, overly dry and crammed with artificial flourishes. Partially narrated by Ian Fleming (a woefully flat performance by Johnny Flynn, sounding oddly like Alex Jennings), the film attempts to draw links between this and the formation of James Bond but these fall as flat as everything else. MacFadyen gives probably the best performance among some wasted Brit stars. The truth is, a one-hour straight-to-camera lecture from Ben MacIntyre would have been twice as entertaining and interesting and half as long. A chronic misfire.

The Assistant (2020)

Julia Garner is a silent witness to monstrous goings-on in a Hollywood studio in The Assistant

Director: Kitty Green

Cast: Julia Garner (Jane), Matthew Macfadyen (Wilcock), Makenzie Leigh (Ruby), Kristine Froseth (Sienna), Alexander Chaplin (Max), Juliana Canfield (Sasha), Dagmara Domińczyk (Ellen), Bregje Heinen (Tatiana), Jon Orsini (Assistant), Noah Robbins (Assistant)

Jane (Julia Garner) is a low-level assistant in a Hollywood production company, run by an unseen movie mogul (but there’s no doubt that it’s Miramax and Harvey Weinstein). First in and last out every night, Jane is silent, downtrodden and treated as little more than a piece of furniture by the rest of the staff. Following her over one working day, from scrubbing semen stains out of her boss’ sofa and ending with her leaving the office as he takes advantage of another aspiring actress, The Assistant doesn’t have a plot as such. Instead it’s an experience film – a glimpse into an industry where abuse of your position is so common-place that it permeates every inch of a company, that is set-up to completely service the greed of its president.

Kitty Green’s film is very good at getting across the grinding, depressing, overbearing misery of entry level jobs. Jane slaves for hours at thankless, menial tasks. Coats are thrown at her, cups dunked down in front of her to clean, she is never addressed by name and barely has eye contact with another member of staff. Her contact with her boss is enraged phone calls after non-existent errors (for which she has to write grovelling email apologies) or tiny moments of praise communicated by third parties. Jane is still clinging to the dream of one day becoming a producer herself – but her day-to-day life is a never-ending stream of insults, misery and exploitation.

The film is also very good at showing how someone like Weinstein got away with it for so long. It’s because everyone knows – so much so that it’s become normalised, a part of everyday life, something that no longer seems outrageous or disgusting but just a part of how the business operates. People joke about not sitting on his sofa. Everyone knows what “private screening” is code for. People book late night flights so their boss can have time for his evening exploitation of young actresses. His erectile dysfunction medicine is delivered to the office. Headshots of actresses are printed off and piled on his desk, like a hardcopy of Tinder. The HR department goes out of its way to cover up his crimes.

Jane’s encounter with Matthew MacFadyen’s slimey HR manager is the film’s highlight. Concerned about a naïve young waitress who has clearly been plucked out of a country diner for the bosses perverse entertainment, Jane tries to raise her concerns with HR. She is promptly told complaints will destroy her career, be seen as her own envy – and that she doesn’t need to worry as she is not “his type”. MacFadyen oozes corrupt indifference.

It’s the film’s highlight, as it’s the closest it gets to a giving Jane a character arc. It’s the only time we see her pushing against her working environment – and then making a conscious decision to do nothing about it. While the film’s idea to cover a single day in Jane’s career, after she has spent weeks at the company, is successful in getting across the grinding monotony and everyday sexism and culture of abuse, it does mean the film effectively makes its point in the first fifteen minutes and then repeats it endlessly for the next 70. It also means that, while Julia Garner is very good her character largely hits the same note of downtrodden concealed pain and anger continually.

A more interesting film – if more conventional – could have charted several weeks, allowing us to see how the optimism and excitement Jane seemed to start with in her career was beaten out of her by her appalling abusive workplace. It would still have allowed us to grasp all the monstrous normality of the boss’ abuse, but we could have had a richer exploration of the impact on her.

As it is, The Assistant instead gives a brilliant sense of how horrible an industry can be when the greedy, destructive, vileness of its head permeates every inch of it. But that’s kind of all it says or tells us. It gives us a wonderful sense of what this workplace might be like – but its lack of event, plot or character dynamics means it doesn’t always make for rewarding drama.

Frost/Nixon (2008)

Frost Nixon header
Frank Langella and Michael Sheen face-off in famous interviews in Frost/Nixon

Director: Ron Howard

Cast: Frank Langella (Richard M Nixon), Michael Sheen (David Frost), Kevin Bacon (Jack Brennan), Rebecca Hall (Caroline Cushing), Toby Jones (Irving “Swifty” Lazar), Matthew MacFadyen (John Birt), Oliver Platt (Bob Zelnick), Sam Rockwell (James Reston Jnr), Clint Howard (Lloyd Davis)

If there is a bogeyman in American politics, it will always be disgraced President Richard Nixon. Because, however divisive Donald Trump is, Nixon will always be the king who was toppled, the man some consider a crook and a war criminal, others a gifted politician and negotiator. The truth is somewhere, as always, in the middle – but what seems inarguable is that Nixon was a man of deep personal flaws, which contributed considerably to his fall. Peter Morgan’s play explored the complexities of Nixon’s character through his famous TV interviews with British talk show host David Frost, a man with a few chips of his own. Ron Howard takes what was already a fairly cinematic script by Morgan, and produces a smoothly professional, entertaining and very well acted film.

After Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) has been forced into resigning, he is in the political wilderness. Watergate engrossed the world, with hundreds of millions of people tuning in to follow every detail. Who in television could resist those numbers? Certainly not David Frost (Michael Sheen), who believes if he can secure an exclusive interview with Nixon he could have a television package that could pull in millions of viewers, make Frost a fortune, and catapult him into the front ranks of TV interviewers. Slowly the project comes together. But both participants have a lot to prove: for Nixon this could be a chance of redemption; for Frost to prove he is more than a chat show host better suited to grilling the Bee Gees than the President. With both men underestimating each other, who will emerge on top in the interviews?

One of Ron Howard’s greatest strengths as a director is his ability to elicit fine performances from good actors. This is the real bonus he brings to this faithful adaptation of Morgan’s award-winning play. He presents it with a highly skilled professionalism and a refreshing lack of distraction that allows the audience to focus on the acting and the dialogue, its real strengths. Frost/Nixon is sharply written – with Peter Morgan’s expected mix of careful research and dramatic licence (most especially in a late-night phone call between the two men before the final day’s filming) – crammed with fine lines, well drawn characters and fascinating insights into both politics and television.

Perhaps Howard’s finest decision was to ensure the two stars of the play (in both the West End and Broadway) were retained for the film. Langella and Sheen’s performances – already brilliant in the stage version, which I was lucky enough to see – are outstanding here, both of them completely inhabiting their characters. The comfort and familiarity between the two performers are crucial – and ensure that the vital scenes between the two characters carry an electric charge.

Langella brilliantly captures the physicality and voice of Nixon, but also finds deep insights into the President’s tortured soul. He communicates Nixon’s sense of inadequacy and bitterness, his resentment at having to fight all his life for things others have been gifted. He balances this with Nixon’s pride and paranoia that constantly leads him to cheat others first. Langella’s Nixon, lost and bored in retirement, is desperate to regain his statue, but also tortured by a guilt and regret he can hardly bring himself to name. Under his robustness and confidence, lies deep shame and sorrow. It’s a brilliant capturing of perhaps the most psychologically complex leader America ever had.

Sheen is just as superb as Frost. As you would expect from an accomplished mimic, the voice is almost alarmingly accurate (he makes a better Frost than Frost did!). But just as insightful is his understanding of Frost’s psychology. Just like Nixon, Frost is a hard-working lad from a poorer background who has had to fight for everything he has. Sheen’s Frost is a phenomenal hard worker – producer, financier and star of his own career – who works hardest of all to appear an effortlessly confident dilettante. Sheen’s Frost balances immense pressures – facing personal and financial ruin – with an assured smile, keeping every plate spinning by never allowing a moment of doubt.

It leads into fascinatingly different attitudes to the interviews themselves. Nixon prepares in detail – and determines his best strategy is long winded answers that present his case and prevent attack. Frost is so focused on delivering the interviews that he sacrifices his actual interview preparation (certainly more so than he did in real life). Morgan uses the conventions of boxing dramas – corners, breaks between ‘rounds’, advice from their trainers – to capture a sense of gladiatorial combat.

However, the play is more complex than this. The reason why Frost struggles to land a glove on Nixon in earlier interviews on his domestic and foreign policies is that Nixon genuinely believes he is in the right – but (perhaps as Frost understood) the final interviews based on Watergate will see a more vulnerable Nixon as on that subject he knows he’s in the wrong. I suspect the real Frost knew that to get to Nixon on that final topic, he needed to be ‘softened up’ first to feel comfortable and produce a revelation.

Because the film is refreshingly positive in its view of television. A medium that films often attack for being trivial and boiling things down to soundbites and snippets, here acknowledges the strengths that can bring. A single snippet of an apologetic and crushed Nixon is worth thousands of words – and small moments can turn a TV programme from a failure to an event. Howard uses the power of the close-up at these moments to demonstrate how TV can zero in with a merciless gaze on a single moment. It’s a defence of the power of TV and its ability to reduce things down to moments.

Howard’s understanding of the strengths that lie at the heart of the play – and to tell the story simply – is what makes an already cinematic play translate wonderfully to the screen. With Langella and Sheen outstanding (with the supporting cast all equally excellent), the film entertainingly demonstrates the preparation and delivery of the interviews, while offering shrewd psychological insights into two men who had a lot more at a stake – and in common – than at first appeared. Professional, handsome and captivating, this is Hollywood movie making at its best.

Robin Hood (2010)

Russell Crowe takes aim as Robin Hood

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Russell Crowe (Robin Longstride), Cate Blanchett (Marian Locksley), William Hurt (William Marshal), Mark Strong (Sir Godfrey), Mark Addy (Friar Tuck), Oscar Isaac (Prince John), Danny Huston (King Richard), Eileen Atkins (Eleanor of Aquitaine), Max von Sydow (Sir Walter Locksley), Kevin Durand (Little John), Scott Grimes (Will Scarlet), Alan Doyle (Allan A’Dale), Matthew Macfadyen (Sheriff of Nottingham), Lea Seydoux (Isabella), Douglas Hodge (Sir Robert Locksley)

When this film was developed, it was a CSI style medieval romp called Nottingham. Russell Crowe was cast as the film’s hero – an ahead-of-his-time Sheriff of Nottingham, busting crimes in Olde England and dealing with rogue thief (with good press) Robin Hood. Yes that really was the original idea. Mind you, it would at least have been more original than what we ended up with after Scott and Crowe had a bit of a rethink.

So here we are: Robin Hood: Origins (as it might as well have been called). Russell Crowe is Robin Longstride, on his way back from the crusades as an archer in the army of King Richard (Danny Huston) army. When Richard is killed at a siege in France (it was one last siege before home – what are the odds!), the messengers carrying the news back to France are ambushed and killed by wicked Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong). Robin finds the bodies and assumes the identity of Sir Robert Locksley, travelling to England to tell Prince John (Oscar Isaac) the news of his succession – then returning to Nottingham with his friends, where Robert’s father Sir Walter (Max von Sydow) asks him to continue pretending to be Robin for dull tax reasons – and soon feelings develop between Robin and Sir Robert’s widow Marian (Cate Blanchett). But John is intent on farming the land for taxes, and Sir Godfrey is in cahoots with the French to conquer England.

Robin Hood is a semi-decent, watchable enough retread of a story so totally and utterly familiar that even the things it rejigs end up feeling familiar. In fact, to be honest you sit watching it and wondering why on earth anyone really wanted to make it. Scott brings nothing original and different to it, and the film looks like a less visually interesting retread of Kingdom of Heaven. Plot wise it’s empty. What’s the point of it all? It slowly shows us all the pieces of the Robin Hood myth coming together, so best guess is that it was intended to be the first of a series (there seems to have been no interest or demand for a sequel of any sort). 

And then we’ve got Russell Crowe. Leaving aside everything else, Crowe looks about 10 years too old for the part. He delivers some sort of regional accent that meanders from Ireland to Yorkshire in its broadness, a laughable stumble around the country. Crowe does his slightly intense, sub-Gladiator mumbles and stares at the camera and attempts to suggest a deep rooted nobility, but actually comes across a bit more like a snoozing actor awaiting a pay-cheque.

Cate Blanchett does her best, lending her prestige to the whole thing in an attempt to make it land with some dignity (she of course does the opening and closing narration, which struggles to add some sort of grandeur to the whole flimsy thing). She’s saddled with a Maid Marian who is granted various “action” moments, but still has to be saved by Robin and face possible rape from a leering Frenchman (at least she saves herself from that one). 

It also doesn’t help either actor that their romance plays out in the dull middle third of the film, where the plot grinds to a halt as we deal with Sir Walter (Max von Sydow almost literally acting blindfolded) using Robin as some sort of tax dodge scheme. The film is overloaded with characters, all of whom are separated at this point and struggling manfully to make their disconnected plotlines interesting: so we get John dealing with the pressures of office, Sir Godfrey scheming and looting, William Marshal trying to find a middle ground, Robin and Marian falling in love – it’s a mess. On top of this a get a ludicrous reworking of the Magna Carta as some Medieval version of the Communist Manifesto (it’s written by Robin’s executed dad no less, giving him a bizarre “painful backstory” to overcome). None of these plots really come together, and so little time is spent with each of them that they all end up getting quite boring.

The film culminates in a totally ridiculous battle scene on a beach, as Sir Godfrey’s French allies arrive on the shores of medieval England in some sort Saving Private Ryan landing craft. The tactics of this landing and the battle that ensues are complete nonsense. Every single character rocks up at this battle, which should feel like all the plot threads coming together but instead feels like poor script-writing. When Marian turns up, disguised as a man (how very Eowyn), leading a group of warrior children (I’m not joking) who feel yanked from the pages of Lord of the Flies, it’s just the crowning turd on this nonsense.

And all this fuss to defeat Sir Godfrey? Why cast Mark Strong and give him such a nothing part? Sir Godfrey is a deeply unintimidating villain. Everything he does goes wrong. He is bested in combat no less than three times in the film (once by a flipping blind man!). His motivations are never even slightly touched upon. He has less than one scene with John, the man who he is supposed to be manipulating. He runs away at the drop of a hat and Robin gets the drop on him twice on the film. He’s neither interesting, scary or feels like a challenging adversary or worthy opponent.

But then nothing in this film is particularly interesting. The set-up of the merry men around Robin (they seem more like an ageing band of mates on tour by the way than folk looking to rob from the rich and give to the poor) is painfully similar to dozens of other film, particularly in the Little-John-and-Robin-fight-then-become-brothers routine. Crikey even Prince of Thieves shook up the formula by making Will Scarlet Robin’s brother. Scott is going through the motions, like it was one he was committed to so needed to see through to the end despite having long-since lost interest. It’s not a terrible movie really, just a really, really, really average one with a completely miscast lead and nothing you haven’t seen before.

Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen are drowned in the shadow of the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice

Director: Joe Wright

Cast: Keira Knightley (Elizabeth Bennet), Matthew Macfadyen (Mr Darcy), Brenda Blethyn (Mrs Bennet), Donald Sutherland (Mr Bennet), Tom Hollander (Mr Collins), Rosamund Pike (Jane Bennet), Carey Mulligan (Kitty Bennet), Jena Malone (Lydia Bennet), Talulah Riley (Mary Bennet), Judi Dench (Lady Catherine de Bourgh), Simon Woods (Mr Bingley), Tamzin Merchant (Georgiana Darcy), Claudie Blakely (Charlotte Lucas), Kelly Reilly (Caroline Bingley), Rupert Friend (Mr Wickham), Penelope Wilton (Mrs Gardner), Peter Wight (Mr Gardiner)

I’ve written before about certain books having been adapted so successfully there feels very little point rolling out another. If ever an adaptation set this principle, it’s the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Not only did it perfectly capture the spirit and style of the book, with perfect scripting and direction, but the two lead actors – Jennifer Ehle and especially Colin Firth – were simply perfect (for all his achievements, the first line of Firth’s obituary will forever be “Darcy Dies”.)

So Joe Wright and his team were already climbing a mountain when they announced plans to make a new adaptation of Jane Austen’s most beloved novel. What they’ve produced in the end is a well-made, handsomely mounted film full of visual invention – that has been pretty much rejected by nearly everyone I know who loves Austen. It’s a film that, in attempting to plough its own furlough, has ended up not really pleasing anyone: for the casual viewer it’s an entertaining but forgettable watch. For the Austen fan it’s just plain not right.

Structurally the film places Elizabeth’s relationship with Darcy slap bang at the centre, and has little to no interest in anything else. This leads to major themes and relationships being neglected or outright abandoned in some bizarre cut choices. The film wants to front-and-centre Lizzy’s increasing isolation – so Jane is dispatched from the film for almost over an hour. Even more oddly, Wickham is cut down to a few spare scenes – which makes her passionate sympathy for him and anger against Darcy make very little sense. All this isolation also means we never really understand the social implications and importance of marriage – in fact the whole thing is basically turned into a Cinderella romance: Rich Man Meets Poor Girl (And No One Else Matters). 

Which means a lot of the focus for the film lands on Keira Knightley. Is there a more controversial actor in film than Knightley? Oscar-nominated for the role, among my Austen-loving friends I have found only revulsion against her performance. She plays it with spirit but too much of a modern sensibility. She’s fine, but she’s just not convincing: she doesn’t look like her, she doesn’t have her warmth and wit and seems more like she’s wandered in from some sort of “flirty girls” comedy. Nothing really communicates the character’s intelligence and wit – and Knightley probably looks a little too modern for the whole thing to work. 

On top of that the film doesn’t want her to be too unsympathetic at any point, so dials down her judgemental nature, and also reduces any possibility of us judging her partiality for Wickham by mostly removing him from the film. However, this also removes many of the obstacles from the plot that stand in the way of romance.

Matthew MacFadyen does a decent job as “Nice Guy In A Period Drama”, but the character is just wrong for Darcy. Like Lizzy’s tendency to rush to judgement, Darcy’s apparent coldness and snobbery have been watered down to almost invisibility. His first announcement of love is so genuine, so gentle, so loving that you are amazed that Elizabeth dismisses him out of hand. It’s no surprise this Darcy turns out to be a decent bloke, the edges of the character have been completely shaved off. This puts a big old dent in the plot, reduces his character development, and ruins the impact of sweet later moments like Darcy’s uncertainty when the two meet at Pemberley. 

There are some good performances though. Tom Hollander is very funny as a social-climbing Mr Collins. Donald Sutherland gets so much warmth and twinkly good humour out of Mr Bennet that Wright even ends the film on him (another odd choice, but never mind). Judi Dench could play Lady Catherine standing on her head. Rosamund Pike is rather good as Jane – she totally feels right for the period. Brenda Blethyn largely manages to avoid turning Mrs Bennet into a complete stereotype. Saying that, Simon Woods portrays a version of Bingley so bumbling, tittering and awkward you are amazed either Jane or Darcy could be interested in him, let alone bear to spend time with him.

But then large chunks of the film feel odd. The screenplay works overtime to turn the film into a straight-forward star-crossed lovers story: so it’s Darcy and Elizabeth all the way, and the film is desperate to make them both likeable from the off. And if that means that, in a film called Pride and Prejudice, both the pride and the prejudice have to be junked to make sure even the stupidest audience member will like the hero and heroine, well that’s apparently a price worth paying. Lowering the Bennets’ social status as far as the film does, also turns the story into a full-on Cinderella territory. Darcy and Bingley are so posh an entire room falls silent when they walk in – in comparison the Bennets are so poor they share their house with pigs.

Ah yes the pigs. Why? The Bennets aren’t paupers. If they were, why would Collins want the place? Why would they be invited to the ball? Why would Bingley and Darcy even consider them as partners? Why would a family so aware of impressions have a home that is literallyfull of shit all the time? Why is Mr Bennet scruffy and unshaven – and why doesn’t anyone care? Who designed this? If the Bennets are so fixated on getting good marriages why do they literally live in a pig sty? It’s a visual idea that undermines the whole story.

I’m not joking. Here is a pig walking through the Bennet house.

It’s full of things like this that don’t feel right. The film junks most of the language of the original book, which makes it sound jarring (it even re-works Darcy’s first proposal: “in vain I have struggled, it will not do…” – large numbers of Austen lovers I know can recite those lines verbatim. This film apparently thought it could create a better version. It couldn’t). Large chunks of the film happen in the rain like some sort of version of Wuthering Heights. Why is that? Is it because professions of love in the rain are romantic in a Mills and Boonish sort of way? Or is it an echo back to Firth’s wet shirt?

Emma Thompson’s sublime adaptation of Sense and Sensibility demonstrated that it is completely possible to adapt an Austen novel into a two-hour film and still preserve the characters, relationships, major events and themes of the book, while also making a story that stands on its own two feet for non-Austen-ites. This film bungles its attempt to do the same. 

But there are things Wright gets right. The camera work and transitions are lovely. A long tracking shot that weaves in and around the ball early in the film, taking in every single character is not only a technical marvel but really gets across a feeling of what these hectic and bustling social events are like. There is a beautiful time transition at Longbourn, as Elizabeth rotates on a screen and the camera takes on a POV shot, showing the seasons changing each time the camera revolves around through 180 degrees. The cinematography is luscious and Wright – his first film – shows he was more than ready for the step-up from TV.

It’s just a shame that the film they made doesn’t quite work. It doesn’t capture the sense of the book. It doesn’t capture the sense of the characters. It makes bizarre and just plain wrong choices. It’s a decent film, but it is not a good adaptation of the novel. And that’s a major problem, because if you are going to adapt something as widely loved and revered as this, you better bloody well understand the novel – and I don’t think enough people here did. It’s told with a sweeping romantic style – but they are adapting the perception of Pride and Prejudice rather than the actual story. The chemistry and romance aren’t there: the film even ends with an odd sequence of Sutherland and Knightley, probably because there was better chemistry between these two than the two leads. It’s a film that basically doesn’t work at all.