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For anyone who is not familiar with the story of Jane Austen’s most celebrated novel, there are far better synopses on-line than I can provide here. In essence though, the story concerns the five Bennet sisters, who are searching for love and marriage in Regency England. When second oldest sister Elizabeth (Lizzie) (played by Keira Knightley in this adaptation) meets rich and single Fitzwilliam Darcy (Matthew McFayden), there is disdain on both sides. She thinks he is aloof and rude, and he considers her to be beneath him socially. Can they overcome their pride – and prejudices – when they realise that they do care for each other?

In 1995, the BBC did an excellent six-part adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. It was a huge success, and helped to propel Colin Firth, as Darcy, to stardom. Firth’s portrayal of Darcy also unwittingly became the standard by which all future Darcy’s in various adaptations, would be measured (sadly McFayden fell short here, for reasons I will come to later). I mention this because when the adaptation subject of this review came out 10 years later, it was often compared unfavourably with the 1995 version.

To be fair, it’s a lot easier to tell a story when you have six hours to do it (as in the mini-series), than when you have two hours (as in the film). Unfortunately, in the film, a lot of plot points were glossed over; Wickham for instance, was an important, and much larger character in the book – in the film he appears only a couple of times, and the relevance of his character is skipped over.

Anyway, I do not intend this review to be a comparison between two versions of the same story, but I can’t deny that while this film had some enjoyable moments, and it wasn’t exactly a chore to watch, there were several things that didn’t work for me.

The main problem for me was that there was absolutely NO chemistry between Keira Knightley and Matthew McFayden. I never felt the attraction between them, or even the initial resentment. There were some great actors among the cast (Judi Dench for example, was superb as the snobbish Catherine De Bourg, and Brenda Blethyn did well as Mrs Bennet). However, there were also some instances of woeful miscasting – with the two main actors leading the way. I feel bad for saying it, because I’m sure that Keira Knightley is a lovely girl, but honestly I don’t think she’s a very good actress, and certainly was not right for Elizabeth Bennet. And Matthew McFayden was just not a believeable Darcy. Simon Woods seemed a bit unsure how to play Bingley, and the character came across as a bit of a schoolboy (and nowhere near good enough for Jane Bennet). Most puzzling of all was Donald Sutherland, as Mr Bennet. Why? Why?? Sutherland is a fine actor, who has played many excellent roles, but I couldn’t help wondering how he had ended up in this part!

Despite my problems with this adaptation, I still took some pleasure in watching it. When you are familiar with a story, it’s always interesting to see different interpretations of it. I don’t think the time constraints helped, but overall, while I wouldn’t bother watching this film again, I’m happy that I did see it.

Year of release: 2005

Director: Joe Wright

Producers: Tim Bevan, Liza Chasin, Eric Fellner, Jane Frazer, Debra Hayward, Paul Webster

Writers: Jane Austen (novel), Deborah Moggach, Emma Thompson

Main cast: Keira Knightley, Matthew McFayden, Rosamund Pike, Brenda Blethyn, Donald Sutherland, Simon Woods

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Click here for my review of the novel.

Click here for my review of the 1996 mini series adaptation.

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