Detailed Synopsis (Spoiler Alert)
England, 1815: Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth (Lizzy) Darcy prepare their country estate, Pemberley, to host family and friends for Christmas. Darcy tells his wife that, in addition to their expected visitors, they will be joined by Arthur de Bourgh, a young, unmarried Oxford student who has recently inherited a large estate, Rosings. The first guests to arrive, however, are Lizzie’s pregnant older sister, Jane Bingley, and her unmarried younger sister, Mary Bennet, together with Jane’s husband, Charles Bingley. Jane and Lizzy are very close. Both regard Mary as somewhat awkward—exceptionally bright but too bookish and cerebral, tendencies that have prevented her from finding a husband. Later that evening, as the others socialize, Mary retreats to Darcy’s library to examine atlases mapping out exotic regions of the world. Early the next morning, Arthur arrives and, finding no one to greet him, heads for the library and begins examining one of the atlases that Mary left out. She enters, and they chat about exotic locales and Lamarck’s work on biology, a mutually beloved book they’ve both brought along with them. It is clear at once that they are kindred spirits. Their conversation is interrupted by Lydia Wickham, another, younger Bennet sister, married but lonely because her husband is constantly away and pays her little attention. She is mischievous and flirtatious, eager for excitement. Later that afternoon, Mary and Arthur find an opportunity to continue their discussion while she plays the piano and he searches for a book as an excuse to be in her company. He tells her that he feels anxious about having to be the master of a large estate, as he is so accustomed to the life of a scholar. She tells him that she envies his freedom as a man of means to choose his destiny. He is discernibly smitten with her, and her with him. Meanwhile, Lydia slips a suggestive, romantic note in what she believes is Arthur’s copy of the Lamarck book. But it’s Mary’s book, and Mary reads the note, believing that Arthur has written it to her.
Arthur tells Darcy and Bingley that he is developing strong feelings for Mary.
Darcy suggests that he write her a letter stating his feelings. After this,
Arthur and Mary simultaneously write letters to one another (hers in response
to Lydia’s note, which she mistakenly believes was from Arthur), both
struggling to articulate their emotions, clearly unaccustomed to the rituals of
romantic courtship. When Lydia intrudes on Arthur in the library, he quickly
tucks his letter inside a book. Incidentally, Lydia, trying to impress Arthur,
asks to borrow that book and takes it with her before he can remove the letter.
Lydia reads his flowery, effusive letter, and assumes that he wrote it in
response to her letter. Arthur runs after her to retrieve the letter. As a
flattered Lydia responds to Arthur’s letter, Mary overhears. Arthur insists
that his letter was not meant for Lydia, and Mary realizes that the letter she
found had been penned by her younger sister. Arthur boldly declares that his
own letter was meant for Mary. Disappointed, Lydia exits. Arthur is about to
tell Mary how he feels, when suddenly, his cousin, Anne de Bourgh, enters and
interrupts. She announces that she is Arthur’s fiancée. Everyone is
shocked—most of all, Arthur!
Arthur tries to speak to Mary, but she does not want to hear his explanation, believing that he deceived her by not admitting that he was already engaged. A deflated Arthur speaks to Anne, who was once engaged to Darcy before he broke off the engagement to marry Lizzy. Anne is intent on continuing to live at Rosings, her family’s longtime estate, where she was raised. She claims it was established in her mother’s will that Arthur should marry her and that they should live together at Rosings. Speaking later to Darcy and Bingley, Arthur laments his circumstance. Darcy tells him that he does not have to marry Anne, as it cannot be a legal condition for his inheritance of Rosings. The married men insist that love must be at the “root” of a marriage, and they urge Arthur to tell Mary that he loves her. Lydia tells Mary that Arthur was not hiding his engagement from her, but was totally unaware of any such commitment. Arthur tells Mary that he must leave with Anne, but she reminds him that he has “a rare thing in this world: a choice, the most liberating possession of all.” Persuaded by Mary’s words, Arthur tells Anne that he cannot marry her, and does not love her, but that she is welcome to continue living at Rosings for as long as she wishes. She protests that “the kind of love” he’s speaking of is “fiction,” but Arthur says that it is “very real.” After Anne, offended and upset, exits, Arthur presents Mary with a present—a map of the world that becomes larger and larger as she unfolds it. He says that he hopes she will share it—the world—with him. She tells him that she loves him, and he replies that he will need to discuss this with her father. The following day, Christmas, news spreads to the others that Arthur plans to ask for Mary’s hand in marriage. They warmly congratulate him, all agreeing that it is an excellent match. As Mary’s father and mother arrive outside, Arthur and Mary happily prepare to speak to them. They kiss passionately—a long-awaited moment!