We know what to expect from costume dramas, right? Stately homes, statelier acting and more heaving bodices than a fetish ball. So you could be forgiven for approaching Working Title’s new P&P with a weary shrug – especially with the BBC version still so fresh in our minds.
Well, think again, Bucko. It’s been 10 years since Colin Firth came dripping out of that pond. What’s more, it’s been a whopping 65 since the last film version with Laurence Olivier. Okay, we’ve had a slew of other Austen adaps since, not to mention Bride & Prejudice and the P&P referencing Bridget Jones’s Diary. But that’s no reason not to embrace another one – especially as first-time director Joe Wright seems determined to tear up the heritage cinema playbook. For this is a younger, feistier Pride than we’ve ever seen before. By casting actresses the same age as Austen’s inexperienced heroines, Wright brings a new heat and energy to their romantic entanglements. By keeping the camera on the move he never allows himself or us to be seduced by the architecture and fancy frocks. And by letting images do much of the talking – notably during a wordless tour round a naked sculpture gallery that carries a palpable erotic charge – he refuses to let the author’s polished prose steal his thunder.
Sure, there’s the occasional misstep. Matthew MacFadyen has Darcy’s frosty hauteur down pat but he never thaws enough to make his reversal credible. And Brenda Blethyn overdoes it as Mrs Bennet, her frantic hamming all the more apparent next to Donald Sutherland’s impeccable underplaying as her longsuffering, wearied hubby.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that P&P is only as good as its Lizzie, though, and here our Keira plays a blinder, giving a spunky, sprightly, thoroughly captivating performance. Too beautiful? Perhaps. Too merry? Maybe. But can you think of any other British actress right now who fits the bill better?