What has happened is perfectly clear: Jane Austen has been Brontëfied. In the book, Lady Catherine appears in daylight, “too early in the morning for visitors.” The film has rightly kept the hint of social insolence but switched the hour, so that the dramatic may be shaded and inked into melodrama. The question is not whether the director was justified in that transmutation but whether he had the choice; whether any of us, as moviemakers, viewers, or readers, retain the ability--not so much the scholarly equipment as the imaginative clairvoyance--to see Austen clearly. Maybe we are doomed to view her through the smoked glass of the intervening centuries, during which the spirit of romance, and the role of the body within it, have evolved out of all recognition. Why, when Lizzie accompanies her aunt and uncle to the Peak District of England, should the film take care to set her silent upon a peak, her dress and tresses stirring in the wind, if not to drop the clanging hint that Mr. Darcy is less an icy gentleman of means than a britches-busting Heathcliff in the making?
The hint becomes a yodel toward the end, as Matthew Macfadyen strides grimly through a wet meadow, at some ungodly hour, with Keira Knightley squarely in his sights. He has donned a long coat, which sways fetchingly in the mist; obviously it was copied from a Human League video of the nineteen-eighties, but I’m damned if I can remember which one. For her part, Knightley has been crisp and quick throughout--more girl than woman than seems fit, perhaps, and a boyish girl to boot, but ready and able to hold her own in any rally of wits. Now, like the queen in “Aliens,” she extends her famous underbite and gets down to business. Widening her eyes to maximum chocolaty hue, she stares into his, which are of that sea-cold, grayish blue favored by Gestapo officers in war movies. Hero and heroine bare their feelings to each other; every misunderstanding dissolves in the dawn. In a last, despairing gesture to Georgian England, they do not kiss. Oddly, however, they do rub noses, like well-bred Eskimos, while the rising sun gleams between the tips. Elsewhere in the meadow, the world’s leading Richard Clayderman impersonator is pounding away at the keys. All in all, a heavenly moment, and only hard-asses like Lady Catherine and me will fail to be affected. Any resemblance to scenes and characters created by Miss Austen is, of course, entirely coincidental.
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