Granted that screen and tv adaptations of Jane Austen’s most popular novel are nothing new, the last being the 2004 Bollywood musical Bride and Prejudice. And granted that the peak is still the five-hour 1995 BBC miniseries ring Jennifer Ehle and a never-better Colin Firth. But even the most rabid Janeites must allow that director Joe Wright, 33, has given Austen’s novel a beguilingly youthful spin without compromising the novel’s late-eighteenth-century manners.
Beneath his formal puffy shirts and snobbish demeanor, Mr. Darcy, as played by the persuasively impassioned Matthew Macfadyen, burns for Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) , the second of five daughters of a mother (Brenda Blethyn) who is desperate to marry them all off and a father (a wryly funny Donald Sutherland) who makes his influence felt more quietly.
Wright and screenwriter Deborah Moggach deftly keep the convoluted plot buzzing — the early ball scene is a marvel of swirling amorous intrigue. But it’s the erotic battle of wits between Darcy and Elizabeth that really kicks in. Knightley, 20, is possessed of the longest swanlike neck since Audrey Hepburn. But since her lively 2002 breakthrough in Bend It Like Beckham, she’s been told to posture (Domino) or just look pretty (Pirates of the Caribbean). As the strong-willed Elizabeth, Knightley is a lippy, tantalizing ball of fire. Just watch her reject an unsuitable suitor (a wonderfully comic Tom Hollander) or take on Darcy’s formidable aunt Lady Catherine (Dame Judi Dench in ham heaven). Better yet, watch her frosty rejection of Darcy thaw when he confesses his ardor for her on a misty moor. Romantic yearning hasn’t looked this sexy onscreen in years.