Reasons for watching it: I'd seen the media hype and I was interested to see how it was going to work. And generally curious about how there could ever be a followup to the seminal Colin-Firth-in-a-wet-shirt BBC version.
Circumstances of watching it: I'd planned to go with my mother to see it at the Cambridge arts cinema this afternoon. And our plans got muddled up by various things so I ended up seeing a later showing with my cousin H, and my Dad saw it at the original time, and my Mum didn't see it at all, and everybody got cross and stressed about logistics and argh. Anyway, I got to see it in the end!
Verdict: The 2005 Pride and Prejudice does novel things with the story but isn't much more than a standard Hollywood rom-com.
In some ways, this version of P&P is true to the spirit of the original, whereas the BBC version was a lot closer to the letter. Yes, Jane Austen wrote in the early nineteenth century, and she wrote fairly light comedies about middle class people's love lives. But she's often read as if she was writing escapist fantasies about some idyllic and mythical golden age, and I don't think that's fair. Conversely, where the new P&P really succeeds is in taking the parts seriously that ought to be taken seriously. It's serious about the very real consequences of being poor (ish) and female and unmarried. It's serious about the real nastiness of Lydia's seduction by Wickham. Actually, that whole arc is really rather sinister, to the extent of hinting at violence.
Oh, and it handles sex very well. The film has a U certificate, and there really is absolutely no onscreen sex, not even the standard Hollywood clinch to mark the happy ending. But there is a lot of hinted sexuality in the body language of the actors. It's really nice, actually; not the usual convention that sex was invented in the 1960s, but also not blatant in a way that would look anachronistic for a period film.
This P&P is also really interestingly sympathetic to Mr Darcy. Even in the book itself it's rather hard to see what Elizabeth sees in him, but MacFadyen's Darcy is clearly shy and socially inept, and comes across as arrogant because he's awkward, particularly around Elizabeth. And the film achieves this effect without completely rewriting the character; it's recognizable as an unusual interpretation on the original Mr Darcy.
Other things I liked: the fact that the characters seem genuninely young. Portraying Mary, Kitty and Lydia as actual children works really well. Some of the visuals are very nice, particularly the way the film conveys the Bennets' small-town existence. Pemberley and other posh country houses may be impeccably elegant, but the rest of the scenery isn't pretty-pretty, but noisy and dirty and solid-seeming. And having opted to include animals and dirt and so on, they are used effectively. I also enjoyed seeing a mixture of stately and energetic dancing.
What's bad about this version is a) the dialogue, and b) Keira Knightley. There are a few lines from the book, which none of the actors (other than Judi Dench, bless her) can deliver with any sort of naturalness. And the rest of the dialogue is bland Hollywood mush that nods to being period but doesn't really get there. I'm not objecting to the rewriting of the story as a modern film script per se (in fact, I think it would have been better to have replaced all Austen's original lines, frankly), but I do object to the fact that it's done badly. And Knightley simply can't act. She sighs too much, and recites her lines like lines, not as if she's actually speaking. She's trying to be Tautou and making a hash of it in every possible way. There's never going to be a really good P&P with a crap Elizabeth, so that flaw eclipses a lot of the other things that are good about the film.
The humour is a mixed bag. The film does capture some of the humour of Austen's comedy of manners, and the awfulness of Mrs Bennett and Mr Collins. I was impressed by the way this stuff works without (for the most part) relying on Austen's actual jokes. However, there's also rather a lot of cruder humour, such as silly Freudian slips and really obvious innuendo.
Oh, and what the film does with Mr Bennet is just odd. Connected with this, the final scene is pointlessly sentimental, and even if it had been done well it doesn't have much reason to be there at all.