Andrew Davies’ 1995 adaptation for television was a trail blazer, a popular and critical hit whose influence was reflected in Bridget Jones’ Chardonnay fueled Colin Firth appreciation evenings. It was also pretty good (albeit slightly marred by very off-key performances from Alison Steadman and David Bamber as Mrs Bennett and Mr Collins). Spread across six hours, this version managed to be far more faithful to the book than the 1940 big screen adaptation which had to cram it all into a single feature.
Consequently I assumed the 2005 adaptation for the big screen, just out on DVD, would suffer from this same “two hour traffic” restriction. To my surprise this film equals and exceeds the television version. The casting is superb: Brenda Blethyn does a far more convincing job as Mrs Bennett and having Donald Sutherland as Mr Bennett is inspired. Keira Knightly brings an animated adventurousness to the centered and justice seeking Lizzie. The production is also stuffed full of spies: besides ex-Spook Matthew McFadden as Darcy, there’s Bond ice queen Rosamand Pike as Jane Bennett, Bond spymaster Judi Dench as Lady Catherine, and Cambridge Spy Tom Hollander as Mr Collins (dispelling the memory of David Bamber’s caricatured portrayal).
The pace inevitably means some elements are condensed: the development of Lizzie’s friendship with Mr Wickham for example. But the remarkably economical script manages to preserve all the important characters, scenes and plot strands (or at least all my favourites!) and the film is beautifully shot too, elegantly bookeneded by dazzling sunrises.