Jane Austen's classic rendering of passion in polite society got a rude awakening in Bride & Prejudice, but this adaptation of her 19th-century novel Pride & Prejudice is a picture of decorum. Making his feature debut, director Joe Wright doesn't bring anything new to this oft-told tale, but then he doesn't need to. Likewise Keira Knightley adds a few frills to her usual tough cookie routine and gives her best performance yet as the hard-up debutante caught out by love.
Social mobility is the goal for Mrs Bennet (Brenda Blethyn) in marrying off her five daughters, but her second-eldest Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) stubbornly sticks to her romantic ideals. When they first meet, the aloof Mr Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen) grates against everything she believes in and he seems equally unimpressed with her. Of course their verbal sparring is just a smokescreen for deeply held emotions, which both are too proud to confess to.
"AN ENJOYABLY SLOW-BURNING CHEMISTRY"
MacFadyen is an inspired fit for Darcy with a countenance more hangdog than simply sullen, hinting at the vulnerability beneath his frosty exterior. He builds an enjoyably slow-burning chemistry with Knightley although Wright's coy direction doesn't take it to sizzling point. A few zoom-in close-ups emphasise the tale's highs and lows but jar with an otherwise traditional style. Thankfully a sterling cast of supporting players that includes Donald Sutherland (as Mr Bennet) and Judi Dench (as Darcy's fearsome aunt) provide a sturdy anchor whenever things go slightly adrift. Overall, this version of Pride & Prejudice makes an agreeably refined accompaniment to a bucket of popcorn.