Adapting one of the most beloved romantic novels of all time is strewn with dangerous pitfalls. Any misstep guarantees creative abyss. This adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice" not only sidesteps all those pitfalls but succeeds commendably in giving one of the best romantic comedies of the year.
The film launches the proceedings with great verve and energy, and zips past for the first 45 minutes. Traditional English society doesn't give itself to this type of energetic story-telling. Most of the actions, however passionately motivated they may be, are clothed in impeccable, stifling manners and seemingly innocuous utterances. Violence and action in such settings occurs not in the foreground. The movie breaks all these barriers and finds a way to unfold with breakneck pace and urgency. Watch the ballroom scene, where it zooms directly into the action conveying such immediacy and intimacy with the characters.
Another achievement is recreating the period settings. The film has a impeccable sense of space and time. The claustrophobic over decorated interiors of the Bennet's, the expansive country locales, farm houses- all aiding the story-telling, without any intrusion.
Recreating legendary characters is a high-risk, high-payoff endeavor. Kiera Knightley ("Pirates of the Caribbean"), contrary to her previous uninspired work, pulls-off playing Elizabeth Bennet with great aplomb. She has enough range and charisma to support her role. The rub is Matthew McFadyen, who plays Mr. Darcy. Instead of portraying a character who personifies emotional and class conflict, he looks like a moody puppy with under-developed social skills.
The real pleasure is watching the supporting characters in action. Judy Dench, with a hairdo resembling a raging ball of fire, has mastered the art of stealing the movie even if she has minimal screen time. Brenda Blethyn, Rosamund Pike (the bond girl from "Die Another Day"), and Jena Malone- all turn in worthy performances. The most interesting character in the film is Mr. Bennet. Donald Sutherland has the most fun playing this character. He is man who has learned to live with contradictions. He is not very pleased with his wife's actions, but still very much loves her. Watch him in the ballroom scene, in the background, where when his wife stands close to him, he slyly turns towards her and ruffles his nose in the feathers in his wife's hat. This action says volumes. This old man is practical enough to play along with the societal requirements, but has preserved enough of the child in him, to give in to such romantic impulses.
Unlike other romantic comedies, this film doesn't end with the lovers proclaiming their love for each other. It follows the emotional arc of the story to its completion by placing at the end, the scene where Mr. Bennet gives his consent to his daughter's wedding. This scene glows with such understanding, warmth and tenderness, it results in one of the most endearing father-daughter conversations in film.