Elizabeth Bennet, a possibly too-pretty Keira Knightley, is the second eldest of five sisters, a spirited, sensible young woman who knows all too well the economic and social importance of a good marriage. But a marriage without love is not to be borne. So when the amiable and monied Mr Bingley arrives in Meryton with his friend the wealthy and haughty Mr Darcy, the Bennet girls and their matchmaker mother are thrown in turmoil. Mr Bingley is attracted to Jane (Rosamund Pike) while Mr Darcy is too proud and Elizabeth too prejudiced to recognize their own attraction and affection. But cutting a long story short is no easy thing and in doing so writer Deborah Moggach and first-time director Wright have inevitably lost much of Austen's sparkle and spirit.
Macfadyen (TV's Spooks , In My Father's Den ), more hang-dog than aloof, does surprisingly well as Darcy, and is never less than very watchable. Knightley ( Pirates of the Caribbean ) is too apt to grin and giggle at first, but settles down into an effective Elizabeth. But neither are as proud or prejudiced as they're supposed to be. The chemistry between them warms up but doesn't fizz and never crackles. Worse, Moggach thinks her lines are better than Austen's so most key scenes lack the zip and zing that they should have. And Wright lets his eye dwell too much on some arty shots while rushing through the standout scenes.
Pride and Prejudice aims for a realism not seen in previous Austen movies. The photography, however, is ravishing, with some impressive tracking shots taking you to the heart of dances, crowds and the Bennets' tumultuous house. The film ups the vulnerability of unmarried girls and the bite of status and patronage but there's comedy in the oily cleric Mr Collins (an excellent Tom Hollander) and a gaffe-prone Mr Bingley (an amusing Simon Woods). And there's good support from a talented cast, including Judi Dench, Donald Sutherland and Brenda Blethyn.
Pride and Prejudice is a distinctive addition to the canon of Austen movies. It's unlikely to be the best loved and it certainly won't set pulses racing. But taken on its own terms, it's a handsome, watchable and well-made film.