Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh

English director Joe Wright's fresh, vivid adaptation of Jane Austen's much-filmed Pride and Prejudice is an eloquent reminder that times change but people don't. The shabby and precarious gentility of the Bennet family is built on shaky ground: By the terms of his own inheritance, aging Mr. Bennet's (Donald Sutherland) house and property can only pass to a male heir, and he has five daughters. Mrs. Bennet (Brenda Blethyn), dismissed by all — herself included — as a silly, fluttering, high-strung woman, is absolutely right on one count: Her daughters face bleak futures unless at least one marries a financially stable man with the decency to extend his aid to her family. Mrs. Bennet is thrilled when Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods), who's just moved into the stateliest manor in the area, takes an evident shine to her eldest, the sweet-natured Jane (Rosamund Pike). Bingley is accompanied by a handsome and even wealthier friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen), but his haughtiness and vocal disdain for country living and the rubes who like it make an instant enemy of Jane's younger sister, Lizzie (Keira Knightley), who isn't quite beautiful enough to be so free with her opinions but shares them anyway. After a series of barbed exchanges with Darcy, Lizzie is drawn to handsome Lieutenant Wickham (Rupert Friend), who confides that his family were loyal Darcy-family retainers, but that young Mr. Darcy turned him out without a cent at the first opportunity. Mrs. Bennet meanwhile finds a prospect for her prickly second daughter in clergyman William Collins (Tom Hollander), the distant cousin who will inherit the Bennet estate. Though pompous and a bit of a bore, he's decent, coming up in the world with the help of a generous patron, Lady Catherine de Bourg (Judi Dench) — who happens to be Darcy's aunt — and anxious to wed. The proud and spirited Lizzie could do worse and knows her actions will have consequences for her mother and sisters, but she's not quite ready to shelve all hope of romance for practicality, and fate persists in making her path cross Darcy's. The appealing Knightley goes in a promising young actress and comes out a star, but the faultless cast of veterans and fresh-faced newcomers imbues every character with flawed and immensely appealing humanity, from the Bennets' self-destructively flighty youngest (Jena Malone) to Lizzie's plain best friend, Charlotte (Claudie Blakley), who swallows her pride and marries the rejected Mr. Collins rather than face life as a spinster. The film's last scene, a bit of flirty banter between the newly married Lizzie and Darcy that ends with a Harlequin romance-style kiss, was trimmed from the UK version when it tested badly but left in for US release; director Joe Wright observed that Americans "just like a little more sugar in [their] champagne."