The umpteenth retelling of Pride & Prejudice remains faithful to the plot, if not entirely to the spirit, of Jane Austen's late 18th century social satire. The noble yet provincial Bennets, beset with five daughters and no male heir, teeter on the brink of financial ruin. The voluble, vapid Mrs. Bennet (Brenda Blethyn) feverishly frets over suitors, while the sage Mr. Bennet (Donald Sutherland) willfully turns a blind eye to his family's peril. Much to his wife's chagrin, he allows his daughters—especially his literary, sharp-tongued favorite, Elizabeth (Keira Knightley)—to have control of their own matrimonial destiny.
While Austen was content to let the romantic passions of her characters remain concealed beneath a veneer of detached parlor wit and innuendo, director Joe Wright brings the love story between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen) to the fore, as would be expected of a contemporary romance.
Sure, objections can be made to Wright's disinclination to explore the broader social world in which Austen's characters existed, but his film succeeds in capturing one of the novel's most important (and oft-neglected) characters—the gorgeous English countryside. The Bennets are products of the land, whether it's the natural beauty of the eldest daughter, Jane (Rosamund Pike) or Elizabeth's bold independence that intrigues and appalls visitors from London. The film's scenes of the Bennets surrounded by all the trappings of rural life illuminate the important union between their characters and their environment.
But, of course, the real star here isn't the land but Elizabeth—a woman so uncorrupted by her contemporaries' restrictive ideas of what a woman should be that she seems utterly familiar and modern. Yet this spirited, independent, and intelligent woman, like the author who penned her, is 200 years our senior. Wright's greatest accomplishment may have been in showing why this old lady—or both of them, actually—are well worth a respectful visit.