Pride & Prejudice

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(2005) ★★★★

Channel 4: Saturday 30 May, 4.15pm

Keira Christina Knightley must wonder what she has to do to wow the doubters. Dismissed as a scrawny clotheshorse by some, she’s already played a wide range of roles since her childhood TV appearances: Frankie in The Hole, Jules in Bend it Like Beckham, Lara in Doctor Zhivago and Guinevere in King Arthur. Dull in The Duchess and Anna Karenina, sweet in Begin Again and The Imitation Game. Not to mention Elizabeth Swann, the only significant female role in cinema’s most successful franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean, an Oscar nod for Pride & Prejudice and a Bafta nomination for Atonement. Pride & Prejudice had to win over the doubters, too, coming ten years after the BBC’s adaptation, famous for Colin Firth’s dripping-wet Darcy. Brenda Blethyn’s the one in a tizzy as Mrs Bennet, dizzy at the prospect of marrying off her five daughters. And rarely has the course of true love run less smooth than when prickly, wilful Lizzie Bennet bumps into pompous eligible bachelor Mr Darcy at a stately home ball. Matthew Macfadyen is now the man rankling Miss Bennet in Jane Austen’s 18th century comedy of ill-manners. Miss Knightley may be a mere slip of a thing but, crucially, she’s the right age for the part – her Lizzie is prickly, wilful and splendidly spirited. All the acting is exemplary, though the contributions of Donald Sutherland (sardonic and soulful as Mr Bennet) and Tom Hollander (a cringeworthy Reverend Collins) deserve special mention. Like Brenda Blethyn, Judi Dench plays it scarily straight – she’s Darcy’s horrible aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh. The Americans saw a different ending, extended to include an embrace for the stubborn couple. Even unadorned Jane Austen, it seems, is too tough for sentimental US audiences. So I guess Pride and Prejudice and Zombies really is out of the question.

Certificate: U
Duration: 121min