Keira Knightley is Elizabeth Bennet, an outspoken woman bent on creating her own destiny in patriarchal, early nineteenth century England. Donald Sutherland plays her doting father who usually lets here have her way; Brenda Blethyn is her mother, whose every waking breath is dedicated to marrying off the Bennet girls; and Matthew MacFadyen plays the scowling Darcy, the man Elizabeth can't stop running into.
The screenplay clips along with impressive economy and the direction is full of strong visual choices, but this movie would be nothing without the integrity of the performances. The supporting cast is amazing: Sutherland and Blethyn work beautifully together, and Tom Hollander (of Absolutely Fabulous and Bedrooms and Hallways) delivers Mr. Collins's bravado with relish.
But it all rests on the shoulders of Knightley and MacFadyen. Knightley makes wise choices for most of the film, though there are some self-conscious moments when she models rather than acts. MacFadyen, however, might just take Colin Firth's crown as the best Darcy of the last 30 years. You can't take your eyes off his suppressed anger and longing; when Darcy's façade finally cracks, the relief at my screening was palpable.
The dreaded phrase "chick flick" is a cheat to all that Pride and Prejudice has going for it, so don't let two little words keep you away. It's a surprisingly funny take on Austen's timeless story. (Universal)