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Film review: Austen would be proud of new 'Prejudice' film

Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen star in big-screen version of Jane Austen's "Pride \& Prejudice."
Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen star in big-screen version of Jane Austen's "Pride \& Prejudice."
Alex Bailey, Focus Features

PRIDE & PREJUDICE — *** — Keira Knightley, Matthew MacFadyen, Donald Sutherland; rated PG (mild profanity, vulgarity, nude artwork).

Put in terms that Jane Austen might have used, the latest big-screen version of "Pride & Prejudice" is perfectly serviceable.

This period drama is also handsome-looking, even pleasant at times. And the fact that director Joe Wright and screenwriter Deborah Moggach have managed to get so much of Austen's novel into a film that runs just a little longer than two hours is nothing short of miraculous.

Austen's book has been filmed so many times — including an updated LDS version and a BBC miniseries that many consider definitive — that it almost feels as if you're watching a repeat.

Still, this is a worthy platform for actress Keira Knightley, who gives one of her better performances here as Austen's heroine Elizabeth Bennet, whose strong-minded ways and sometimes tart tongue provide a real challenge for potential suitors. Elizabeth's mother (Brenda Blethyn), who is clearly hoping to be pampered in her old age, is desperate to marry off her five daughters to rich men.

She has cause to celebrate when the wealthy Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods) begins courting Elizabeth's older sister, Jane (Rosamund Pike) — only to have those hopes dashed when he abruptly breaks off their relationship.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth has a few concerns of her own, not the least of which is a marriage proposal from Parson Collins (Tom Hollander). She quickly turns him down — and then receives another proposal from Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen), Bingley's seemingly arrogant friend.

She's not sure how to feel about him. And it doesn't help that fate itself seems to be doing everything it can to keep these two should-be lovers apart.

Much of this film's appeal has to do with the cast. Knightley is the right combination of spunk and spite as Elizabeth (though at times she wears a weird facial expression that appears to be more of a leer than it is an actual smile). And she has chemistry with MacFadyen, who seems conflicted in his role as the reserved Darcy. Donald Sutherland begs for more time in a memorable supporting turn as the Bennet family patriarch.

Veteran British television director Wright smartly plays up a few moments of light comedy, though he is undercut a little by composer Dario Marianelli's too-strident musical score.

"Pride & Prejudice" is rated PG for scattered use of mild profanity (mostly religiously based), and some mildly suggestive talk, and some glimpses of nude artwork and statues. Running time: 128 minutes.