Pride and Prejudice video

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Now that filmmakers have left the Arch Age of Jane Austen for the Awkward Age of Henry James, it's safe to pronounce the winner of the 1995-96 Austen adaptation sweepstakes. Persuasion was suitably desperate, and the effervescent Clueless a high kicker compared to the pinched Emma. But the gilt-engraved Altar has to go to the BBC's sprawling, six-hour, Colin Firth career-making Pride and Prejudice. Critics called it obese, tedious, and in need of ruthless edits, to which I say, "Exactly!" The genius of this saga is that it does not hurry love.

In Austen's novels, people who fall in love on sight fall out just as quickly. Her "fated" lovers spar and joke and willfully misunderstand and survive to talk again. This completist's Pride and Prejudice makes Elizabeth's and Darcy's journey visceral. It takes the long way, and in doing so subverts the elegant--and very misleading--efficiency of most cinema romance. Not that this epic isn't elegant. It is, and rather hot as well (a movie directed toward straight women that exposes men's bodies? whattayaknow). But Pride and Prejudice's deepest pleasures arise from one's slow-baked familiarity with this cast of characters, in all their shifting frenzies of conviction, doubt, and regret. Between Firth's crumbling Darcy, Jennifer Ehle's dancing-eyed Elizabeth, and all the fabulously irritating relatives, there's more humor and narrative tension here than in all the other adaptations combined. And loads of time to appreciate it all fully.

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