The universal story — smart girl spurns, then pines for, haughty, repressed (yet still undeniably hot) man — makes Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice particularly ripe for adaptation to the screen. But with a 1940 MGM production and a beloved, epic BBC miniseries just 10 years old, do we really need a new version? We’re about to find out: Focus Features has just released the latest take, starring Keira Knightley. Here’s how it stacks up.
1940 BREEDING MGM superstar Greer Garson as Elizabeth Bennet, smoldering Laurence Olivier as Mr. Darcy; best-selling novelist Aldous Huxley penned the screenplay. SIGN OF THE TIMES Austen’s harsh social criticism out, fluffy romantic comedy in. DRAMATIC LICENSE The costumes look off by several decades, as if they were swiped from the set of 1939’s Gone With the Wind. GIRL POWER Not much. And Garson — though bold — is a little too matronly to pull off a 20-year-old. CHEMISTRY? Teasing.
1995 BREEDING Jennifer Ehle (daughter of theater royalty Rosemary Harris) as Elizabeth, the delectable Colin Firth as Darcy. SIGN OF THE TIMES Firth’s skinny sideburns look more Beverly Hills, 90210 than Derbyshire, 1813. DRAMATIC LICENSE An added scene of Darcy dripping wet as he emerges from a lake equals porn for the literary set. GIRL POWER The feisty female characters are smart and worldly, but they all appear to be wearing Wonderbras. CHEMISTRY? Sizzling!
2005 BREEDING Knightley, plus Dame Judi Dench as Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennet. Relative unknown Matthew MacFadyen is Darcy. SIGN OF THE TIMES Knightley is no plain Jane, and her drab-chic dresses are straight off the Marni runway. DRAMATIC LICENSE An ending that includes Darcy kissing his new wife will enrage Austen purists. GIRL POWER More 1940 than 1995, with much giggling and whispering of secrets under the covers. CHEMISTRY? Slow-burning.