White, Jim, The Independent (London, England)
So that's it, then: Sunday nights in for the foreseeable future. Pride And Prejudice (BBC1, Sunday) was, as they say, as agreeable a manner in which to pass 55 minutes as can be imagined, at least in polite society.
The joy began from the opening shot, Mr Bingley galloping across the countryside with Darcy in tow and spotting Netherfield peeping through the woodland. "It is nothing to Pembury," he says as the pair of them take in the imposing vastness of the house before them. "But one must settle somewhere." In the past you may not have remembered anyone galloping around in Jane Austen television adaptations. Generally (Nick Dear's brilliant recent Persuasion apart) they were static, dull, crusty affairs, more interested in the costume than the drama. If you'd never read one of her books, you'd think it was no wonder Jane took sick: it must have been a lot more interesting being in bed than hanging around in that environment.
Andrew Davies's take on Pride and Prejudice has changed all that, injecting into the proceedings a pace and energy which at last provides a visual setting to do justice to the wit of the book. With everyone slinging themselves about at high speed (the dances, in a first for the genre, actually involve a bit of sweat), it looks like people are doing something you would never have suspected they did in Austen's time: having fun.
And, since they are having fun, you can see how funny it all was. When Mr Bennet, for instance, announces at the lunch-table, "Our lives hold few distinctions, Mrs Bennet, but I think we can safely assert here sit two of the silliest girls in the country," you laugh out loud - because his two daughters, instead of sitting there like porcelain figures, have already established their silly credentials by endless horsing around.
Everywhere you looked in this production there were such pleasures: Alison Steadman on Abigail's Party levels of insufferability as Mrs Bennet; Benjamin Withrow with a fist of Oscar Wilde put-downs as her husband; Anna Chancellor sneering at everyone as Miss Bingley. …