Like many loyalists to the BBC series of P&P, when I heard they were making a movie I couldn't help thinking, "Why?"
This movie adaptation of Jane Austen's classic was always doomed to suffer by comparison, and I had my reservations before seeing it. Having read the book, seen the old old BBC adaptation (where Mr Darcy walked around like he had a stick up his bum) and sat through many marathons with friends of the 1995 version, I didn't think there was anything more you could possibly do to improve on the latter (despite the fact I've always been a little annoyed the actors were way too old for the parts).
The opening scenes may lead a viewer to think the movie was structured around the most famous lines, with filler in-between. This notion is soon disabused, however. To fit the story into two hours of film time, it's true some finer details were left out, and some side characters are dealt with briefly - I think that, perhaps ironically considering the number of toes the movie has stepped on so far, this is a movie best enjoyed by people who have already read the book and seen the 1995 version and can fill in the gaps themselves, without having to sit through over 5 hours of it. There is no fluff in this movie, and yes, as other reviewers have noted, it focuses on Lizzy and Darcy almost at the expense of other characters. But when you are making a movie adaptation of a book, you should never fall into the trap of wanting EVERYTHING a la Harry Potter 1 and 2: you must decide what the focus will be, and what can be cut.
So, comparisons aside, what makes this movie worth 5 stars?
Perhaps it is a sad side-effect of our rush-rush society, but I loved not having to sit through all the "boring parts"; I enjoyed the fact that the movie slipped seamlessly through all the crucial plot points to deliver a tightly woven story with more sexual tension than the series did. There are lots of subtle (or not so subtle, since the camera catches them) glances and movements etc that really show how captivated Elizabeth and Darcy are with each other, when it starts and how it develops. For the pivotal proposal scene in the middle to be believable, Darcy's attraction has to be believable, which is successfully achieved here.
As to that scene, I loved it. It was very satisfying, I find I can't look away, I'm entranced, and this has a lot to do with Matthew Macfadyen, a relatively unknown actor (I've seen Maybe Baby, with Hugh Laurie and joely Richardson, but don't remember him in it) who delivers just the right amount of reserve, shyness, pride, sensitivity and sexiness to the role. (Don't get me wrong, Collin Firth will always be remembered as Mr Darcy, though he may be wishing differently by now.) Macfadyen, and the setting, that beautiful landscape with the rain coming down...
Which is my next point, and other reviewers have mentioned it too. The cinemetography is gorgeous. The period is captured well, though I wished for more effort in the costumes and hair designs like in the 1995 series. Check out the extra-long tracking shot at Bingley's ball - after Lizzy and Darcy dance, where their conversation gets intense and suddenly the room is empty except for them, emphasising how isolated they are, how caught up they are in each other, the camera follows different characters moving through the rooms, with other characters glimpsed in the background, their own issues captured in fine detail (Tom Hollander, for example, perfectly captures Mr Collins in some understated movements and mannerisms without the oiliness of David Bamber in the series), coming full circle back to Lizzy again. So many stories are told in this single shot, so much detail that there is more to see each time you watch the movie.
Another improved casting choice is Rupert Friend as Mr Wickham (played by Adrian Lukis in the BBC series) - it is much easier to understand why young girls, including Lizzy, are attracted to this Mr Wickham. Brenda Blethyn and Donald Sutherland do a fine job of the parents, with Mrs Bennett almost odious in her gossipy, blathering, snobby social-climbing way.
I think of this movie as a great companion to the book and BBC series, or an introduction to it even, for those of us whose attention-spans are a little short. The series is a great visualisation of the book with some great ad-libs (admiring Mr Darcy's wonderful grounds, anyone?), but for the pure pleasure of indulging in the sweet, aching romance between Lizzy and Darcy, this is the one to watch.