How Donald Sutherland Enhances ‘Pride and Prejudice’ With His Stellar Performance

With the recent passing of Donald Sutherland, film fans worldwide are revisiting his most iconic roles, solidifying his place in cinematic history. Audiences are likely reliving his comedic brilliance in ‘M*A*S*H’, his dramatic prowess in ‘Ordinary People’ and his knack for unconventional roles in ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ and the ‘Hunger Games’ franchise. However, one of his most understated yet remarkable performances is in the 2005 adaptation of Jane Austen’s ‘Pride & Prejudice’, directed by Joe Wright. 

The film follows the Bennet family, focusing on the five Bennet daughters and their mother’s quest to find successful marriages in early 19th-century England. Sutherland portrays Mr. Bennet, the family patriarch and a member of the landed gentry. Despite limited screen time compared to the Bennet sisters and their suitors, Sutherland brings immense warmth and love to his character. His portrayal of Mr Bennet is deeply affectionate, especially towards Elizabeth, the main character. Sutherland’s performance diverges from his usual roles of villains or anti-heroes, showcasing his versatility as an actor.

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Donald Sutherland Pride and Prejudice
Image Courtesy: Collider

The film takes some liberties with Austen’s novel, which can be risky given the book’s cherished status. Screenwriter Deborah Moggach and director Joe Wright set the film in a slightly earlier period, adding a rugged and naturalistic feel to the Bennet family’s home. Significant character changes include Matthew MacFayden’s portrayal of Mr Darcy as more awkward and vulnerable and Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Bennet as more spirited and forthright.

Sutherland’s Mr. Bennet is different from the novel’s version, who is more sarcastic and detached. In the film, Mr. Bennet is warmer, more affectionate, and deeply supportive of his daughters, particularly Elizabeth. His relationship with Elizabeth is highlighted in scenes where he supports her decision to reject Mr Collins’ proposal and later when he tearfully acknowledges her love for Mr Darcy. 

Donald Sutherland Pride and Prejudice
Image Courtesy: IMDb

Donald Sutherland’s performance as Mr Bennet is a masterclass in warmth and affection, making ‘Pride & Prejudice’ a comforting and emotionally rich film. His portrayal leaves a lasting impression, emphasizing familial love and the importance of happiness over societal expectations. Sutherland’s Mr Bennet stands out as one of the most loving and supportive fathers in cinema, a role that new audiences and fans of the book will continue to cherish.

–Farheen Ali

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