Pride and Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy

on December 05, 2003 by Wade Major
When director Amy Heckerling transferred Jane Austen's "Emma" from early 19th-century England to a present-day American high school in 1995's "Clueless," she confirmed not only the timelessness of Austen's writing but the enduring truths of romance and courtship of which Austen was such a uniquely talented chronicler. That others would inevitably follow Heckerling's example was never in doubt; it was only a question of whether they could manage the feat with equal dexterity.

Eight years later, "Pride and Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy" answers that question resoundingly in the affirmative. This spectacularly entertaining independent triumph not only equals Heckerling's effort, but transcends it in every conceivable way. Finding uncanny commonality between the Victorian romantic entanglements of Austen's day and those of a modern-day group of young Mormon singles in Provo, Utah, the film by Scottish-born first-time director Andrew Black is arguably one of the most richly rewarding comedies of 2003, setting a particularly high standard for next year's other "Pride and Prejudice" update, Miramax's "Bride and Prejudice: A Bollywood Musical," from the "Bend it Like Beckham" team.

By far the most commercial and accessible of the dozen or so films that have constituted the nascent Mormon independent film movement that began in 2000 with director Richard Dutcher's "God's Army," "Pride and Prejudice: A Latter-day Comedy" clearly has crossover appeal on its mind. Though the refreshingly self-deprecating cultural particulars will still be most warmly received in those Latter-Day Saint enclaves that have sustained such previous Mormon-themed comedies as "The Singles Ward" and "The R.M.," the combination of sharp writing, deft direction, a wonderfully talented cast and tame integration of religious themes manages to bring out the universal charms of Austen's story in a way that bodes extremely well for mainstream success.

In this sunny re-conceptualization, Austen's heroine, diligent debutante Elizabeth Bennet, has become a spirited young graduate student and aspiring novelist (fetchingly played by Kam Heskin) while her colorful quartet of sisters--Jane, Lydia, Kitty and Mary--are now an equally colorful group of roommates (Lucila Sola, Kelly Stables, Nicole Hamilton, Rainy Kerwin). On the other side of the gender fence is the object of Elizabeth's scorn and eventual affections, sensible and serious Will Darcy (English actor Orlando Seale), as well as the scandalous Jack Wickham (Henry Maguire), hopelessly cheerful Charles Bingley (Ben Gourley) and the hilariously oblivious and tactless Collins (scene-stealer Hubbel Palmer). Individually and collectively, it's a remarkable ensemble that becomes even more impressive in light of the fact that all are relative unknowns (at least for the time being). Starring Kam Heskin, Orlando Seale, Lucila Sola, Kelly Stables, Nicole Hamilton, Rainy Kerwin, Henry Maguire, Ben Gourley, Kara Holden, Hubbel Palmer, Honor Bliss and Carmen Rasmussen. Directed by Andrew Black. Written by Anne Black, Jason Faller & Katherine Swigert. Produced by Jason Faller. An Excel release. Comedy. Rated PG for mild thematic elements. Running time: 103 min

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