Pride and Prejudice: PICK


The Magnificent Seven: PICK


The Seven Samurai: PICK


Content advisory:

Pride and Prejudice: Romantic complications, including a subplot involving a scoundrel leading a young girl astray. The Seven Samurai: Much harsh but restrained combat violence; sexual references and an off-screen sexual encounter. The Magnificent Seven: Much frontier violence; mild sexual references.

Jane Austen fans rejoice! This week, the classic 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice, five hours of Janeite bliss, is released in a belated 10th-anniversary limited-edition collector’s set including A&E’s “Biography” on Austen, a new documentary, and a companion book on the making of the miniseries.

Much as I enjoy last year’s feature-film version, directed by Joe Wright and starring Keira Knightley, the BBC miniseries remains the definitive version, as faithful and literate as any adaptation could hope to be. Michael Medved’s rave, “One of the best things ever done on film anywhere,” might be a bit hyperbolic, but it’s unquestionably great television. Director Simon Langton does ample justice to Austen’s various plotlines and character arcs, and his five-hour telling is far truer to the letter and the spirit of Austen than the two-hour 2005 version.

Colin Firth owns the role of Darcy. His performance is indelible; reading the book, I picture him. Jennifer Ehle is winsome as Elizabeth, with her pixie smile and thoughtful eyes. Having watched the two versions back to back, I wouldn’t want to choose between them.

What is the greatest Western of all time? Would you think I was joking if I nominated The Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa’s hugely influential 1954 classic, recently re-released from Criterion in a new DVD edition? Kurosawa has been called the most Western of Japanese directors, and images and motifs suggestive of American Westerns suffuse the film. “Although … set in the 16th century in a village in Japan,” wrote New York Times critic Bosley Crowther in 1956, “it could be transposed without surrendering a basic element to the 19th century and a town on our own frontier.”

To prove the point, in 1960 John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven — also recently released on DVD — did transpose the premise to the American West. And countless later Westerns were also influenced by the Japanese film. Yet Sturges’ remake, though an enjoyable bit of American hokum, doesn’t compare to Kurosawa’s sweeping, elegiac masterpiece.

The premise of both films is simple: A village of rural farmers, routinely menaced by a band of outlaws 40 strong, hires a small force of warriors to protect them. In Kurosawa’s film, these are seven ronin or samurai for hire, led by the impassive, authoritative Takashi Shimura. Sturges’ film features seven gunslingers led by stoic Yul Brynner, perhaps cast as much for his bald head (his samurai counterpart Takashi shaves his hair in his first appearance in Seven Samurai, then spends the rest of the film rubbing his stubbled scalp) as his authoritative presence.

Yet Brynner has neither the world-weariness nor the compassion of Takashi. The Magnificent Seven likewise lacks the subtlety, ambivalence and humanistic wisdom of Kurosawa’s film, a rare war film that at once acknowledges the necessity of killing while finding even in victory the sorrow and bitterness of defeat. Still, The Magnificent Seven has strengths of its own. In particular, a pair of brief speeches emphasize the isolation and pathos of the gunslinger life, cut off from home, family and community.