Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet
Matthew MacFadyen as Mr. Darcy
Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennet
Tom Hollander as Mr. Collins
Brenda Blethyn as Mrs. Bennet
Talulah Riley as Mary Bennet
Rosamund Pike as Jane Bennet
Jena Malone as Lydia Bennet
Carey Mulligan as Kitty Bennet
Claudie Blakley as Charlotte Lucas
Sylvester Morand as Sir William Lucas
Simon Woods as Mr. Bingley
Kelly Reilly as Caroline Bingley
Pip Torrens as Netherfield Butler
Janet Whiteside as Mrs. Hill
Sinead Matthews as Betsy
This latest film version of Austen’s most famous book, “Pride & Prejudice,” exploits its charms to the fullest. The heart of the story is the romance between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, and Keira Knightly and Matthew MacFadyen are riveting together. Keira Knightly is far prettier than Lizzie has any right to be (Lizzie is meant to be the brains of the family; elder sister Jane is the beauty), but she so perfectly captures Lizzie’s self-deprecating humor and wry observations that she can be forgiven for her exquisite looks. MacFayden’s Darcy is not an easy man to love. He is at first wonderfully graceless and stiff, making Lizzie’s initial prejudice against him is much more understandable than it is in many other adaptations. The developing attraction between the two is intensified accordingly, beginning with Darcy’s first rude refusal to dance, and including a wonderfully wet, rainy scene for Lizzie’s passionate refusal of his first proposal.
Lizzie and Mr. Darcy are only two of the memorable characters the uniformly strong acting in “Pride & Prejudice” brings to life. Brenda Blethyn, in particular, infuses the flighty Mrs. Bennet with warmth and depth. Oddly, in this story dominated by women, two of the most powerful performances are by men. Tom Hollander is the odious, sycophantic Mr. Collins and the commanding Donald Sutherland plays an unusually strong Mr. Bennet, bringing an added intensity to these often-overlooked Austen men. Hollander’s performance is especially compelling, as the audience gradually realizes that the six Bennet women will be completely at the mercy of this vain, obnoxious man who stands to inherit the entire estate, and we begin to understand Mrs. Bennet’s genuine desperation to see her five daughters safely married.
Screenwriter Deborah Moggach skillfully interprets both Austen’s clever dialogue and her clear insight into society. The movie begins in the Bennet’s cramped house, filled with women, livestock, and laundry; Mr. Bingley’s more spacious, airy halls are a distinct contrast. By the time we come to Mr. Darcy’s magnificent estate (played by Chatsworth House, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and the largest private house in Britain), the strict class hierarchy of Austen’s England has been neatly laid out before us.
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