Pride & Prejudice
Dir. Joe Wright. 2005. PG. 127mins. Keira Knightley, Matthew MacFadyen, Donald Sutherland, Brenda Blethyn.
For those who have somehow avoided the beloved Austen novel and its film adaptations, Pride & Prejudice follows a young woman as she navigates the perilous waters of romance. In what seems to be the model for all affairs of the heart, Elizabeth Bennet (Knightley) is at first annoyed by the dour Mr. Darcy (MacFadyen), who refuses to play by the social rules at a local ball: He won't smile, he doesn't flirt and he doesn't even dance (gasp!). After extended romantic misunderstandings, the two eventually work out that they are, in fact, perfect for each other.
To counteract all that wordy Austen dialogue, Wright sells the story as a whirlwind, with lots of moving cameras and a brisk sense of pace. He's at his best when capturing the hustle and bustle and giggles of the Bennet household (Sutherland and Blethyn are exquisite as the parents).
What is missing, perhaps, is Austen's emphasis on social rules as both crucial and restrictive. Knightley's Elizabeth is a bit too sure of herself for us to see the peril she faces; she could marry badly or be an "old maid," and so every encounter with men is fraught with dangers. Wright goes for a lusher, more modern mood and a more feminism-inflected Elizabeth. That's fair enough, and will satisfy most viewers. For the purists, there's always the book.—Hank Sartin