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PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (article first published : 2006-02-19)

A well-deserved Oscar nomination has gone to English rose Keira Knightley for her career-best performance as heroine Eizabeth Bennett in director Joe Wright's elegant and accessible new screen version of Jane Austen's classic novel, Pride and Prejudice.

Opening countrywide today and running just over two hours, Wright's sprawling and handsome film, set at the turn of the 18th century, takes deft satirical swipes at manners, matchmaking and marriage.

It traces the story of the quest for rich husbands by the five Bennett sisters (Knightley, Jena Malone, Talulah Riley, Rosamund Pike and Carey Mulligan), mainly due to the force of their pushy and embarrasing, flustery mother (Brenda Blethyn) and, less so, their weary father (Donald Sutherland).

The central character is spunky, quick-witted Elizabeth, pretty and romantic but slightly tomboyish, fiercely intelligent and surprisingly forward thinking in her views, ahead of her time. It's when she crosses paths with the po-faced, arrogant and increasingly mysterious, but hunky, very wealthy and single Mr Darcy (Matthew MacFayden), that her life changes course.

They meet at a ball - where the constantly vibrant camerawork bewitchingly glides and snakes, endlessly and effortlessly, from one character to another - and initially clash. However, both are secretly smitten and it isn't long before an ember of affection is blown into a flame of love, causing consternation for some, as Elizabeth pockets her pride and Mr Darcy his prejudice to, inevitably, follow their hearts.

The film is ravishing to look, with much attention to detail and some sweeping landscape footage.

Added glitter comes from a low-fuss and engaging score by Dario Marianelli and stellar supporting performances that include Tom Hollander, as the awkward and not-so-handsome Mr Collins, who stands to inherit the Bennett estate and tries in vain to court Elizabeth.

Also a standout is Dame Judi Dench, as no-nonsense benefactress Lady Catherine de Bourg.

Fun, romantic and refreshing, this Pride and Prejudice rates among the very best screen adaptations of the Austen novel and gets a rating of 9/10. - Billy Suter




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