Pride & Prejudice

UK release date: 16 September 2005

cast list

Keira Knightley
Matthew MacFadyen
Donald Sutherland
Brenda Blethyn
Judi Dench
Rosamund Pike

directed by
Hie Wright

Period dramas are chick flick heaven. Just the idea of handsome, brooding men wooing and a-courting is enough to make many women wish time machines could be bought at Comet.

Pride & Prejudice is the latest “bonnet and britches” movie to hit the big screen. Adapted from Jane Austen’s well-loved classic novel, Pride & Prejudice last saw a cinema release in 1940, starring Sir Larry Olivier as Mr Darcy and Greer Garson as Elizabeth Bennet. More recently it’s been a successful BBC TV series (Colin Firth – sideburns and wet shirt, say no more), a Bollywood musical (2004’s Bride and Prejudice) and the basis for Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary.

A great observation of life and women (plus inheritance laws) in the late 18th / early 19th century, Pride & Prejudice centres on the Bennet family. Graced with five daughters the family will lose everything to the nearest male relative – Mr Collins (Tom Hollander) – when Mr Bennet (Donald Sutherland) dies. It is therefore essential one of the girls marries well.

Fortunately, Mr Bingley (Simon Woods), a wealthy, bachelor, has bought the local large estate, Netherfield. Accompanying him is Mr Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen of Spooks fame), an affluent, eligible, proud man whom our heroine, Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) is determined to hate, due to terrible first impressions…

Obviously, when adapting a 300-odd-page book into a two-hour film, there”s going to be some hardcore story editing. (Ye Austenites beware!) In this case, the Wickham storyline suffers. But, if you take it for what it is – a film (not a novel, not a TV series) – you won’t be disappointed. Many of the best-loved scenes are still there. (Though sadly no Matthew MacFadyen chest clinging to a wet shirt… sigh.)

Without a doubt, the BBC mini-series is still the definitive Pride & Prejudice adaptation. But this version has qualities aplenty: stunning, windswept locations, earthy-coloured costumes and a brilliant cast.

Matthew MacFadyen’s Darcy is superb. His delivery of “You have bewitched me body and soul,” (insert swoon here), will no doubt succeed in making another generation of women fall head over petticoats hems (sorry, heels) in love with Mr Darcy.

Similarly, veteran actor Donald Sutherland is wonderful as the passive Mr Bennet, as is Brenda Blethyn (Saving Grace) as the vulgar, but comic Mrs Bennet. (And, as no British film is complete without her, Judi Dench is truly scary as the superior Lady Catherine de Bourgh.)

However, it’s Keira Knightley who steals the show. Already a dab hand at the romantic lead (see Pirates of the Caribbean, King Arthur and Love Actually), she is enchanting and perfect as the headstrong, witty and intelligent Elizabeth Bennet, thus cementing her star status.

With Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park and now Pride & Prejudice having had the cinema treatment, one question begs an answer: when will we see Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Persuasion?

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