At an unspecified point during the Napoleonic Wars, the small Hertfordshire town of Meryton is thrown into excitement when Mr Charles Bingley, a wealthy and charming young bachelor, moves into the local estate of Netherfield. The news is particularly welcomed by Mrs Bennet of the smaller nearby estate of Longbourn. As Longbourn is entailed, it will be passed on to the nearest male relation on the death of Mr Bennet. Since the Bennet family has only five daughters beautiful but shy Jane; quick-witted but cynical Elizabeth; sanctimonious and plain Mary; easily-led Kitty; and self-absorbed, irresponsible Lydia Mrs Bennet is determined that Mr Bingley should marry one of them in order to secure the familys future livelihood.
Mr Bingley is welcomed into Meryton society at a dance which he attends along with a group that includes his sister Caroline and his old friend Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy. While the friendly and good-natured Bingley is eagerly welcomed, Mr Darcy fails to make a good impression. A reserved and overly-formal man, he is disdainful of the country folk he is surrounded by and refuses to dance. Darcy further fails to endear himself to Elizabeth Bennet when she overhears him rudely snub her, which only fuels her initial disliking of him.
It soon becomes apparent that Mr Bingley is deeply taken with Jane Bennet. While Jane privately confesses to Elizabeth that she shares his affections, in public she gives little indication of her true feelings. Mrs Bennet, who is delighted with the prospect of Bingley marrying Jane, begins a campaign of ill-advised meddling to ensure the two are united as often as possible. On one such occasion, after Jane is invited to dine at Netherfield by Caroline Bingley, Mrs Bennet forces Jane to ride on horseback in order to increase her chances of being invited to stay the night in case of rain. The plan works too well, however; Jane is caught in the rain and falls ill, requiring her to remain bedridden at Netherfield. Elizabeth insists on keeping Jane company and is welcomed by Bingley, but the snobbish Bingley sisters treat her with barely-concealed disdain. Mr Darcy, however, finds himself almost unwillingly intrigued by Elizabeths confident manner and refusal to be daunted by the rudeness of her supposed social betters. Although Elizabeth fails to notice Darcys increasing attraction, it does not go unnoticed by Caroline Bingley, who jealously begins to treat Elizabeth with increasing spite.
Soon after Jane and Elizabeth return from Netherfield, the Bennets are visited by Mr Collins, a cousin of Mr Bennets who will inherit Longbourn on Mr Bennets death. Collins is a pompous, sycophantic and insufferable clergyman who is constantly singing the praises of his patron, Lady Catherine de Burgh. He is seeking a wife, and in light of his future inheritance of Longbourn has decided to choose one of the Bennet sisters. Much to Elizabeths discomfort, he eventually sets his sights on her. Simultaneously, Elizabeth befriends Mr George Wickham, a charming member of the local militia, and begins to develop a slight attraction to him. After Elizabeth witnesses a chance encounter between Darcy and Wickham, it becomes clear from Darcys hostile reaction that the two men have a history. With little prompting, Wickham informs Elizabeth that he was the son of the steward of Darcys father, and he and Darcy were childhood friends. However, on the death of his father Darcy cheated Wickham out of his rightful inheritance, a prosperous living in the church. This further cements Elizabeths poor opinion of Darcy, and as Wickhams story spreads many of the other locals of Meryton also accept it without question.
Mr Bingley throws a grand ball at Netherfield, which the Bennet sisters attend. Bingley shows particular attention to Jane, increasing the rumours that a marriage proposal is imminent. With the exception of Jane and Elizabeth, however, the Bennets fail to distinguish themselves Lydia and Kitty act in a wild fashion which Mr Bennet fails to adequately check, Mary embarrasses herself by foolishly launching into a poor musical performance in public, and Mrs Bennet indulges in ill-mannered and over-presumptive gloating about the presumed marriage between Bingley and Jane, with Darcy in earshot. Elizabeth, already deeply mortified by her familys embarrassing conduct, is further disheartened by the absence of Wickham. When Mr Darcy asks her to dance, she takes the opportunity to confront him in a veiled fashion about Wickhams allegations. Darcy refuses to discuss the matter, which merely confirms Elizabeths prejudices.
The next morning, Mr Collins proposes marriage to Elizabeth. Although Elizabeth attempts to refuse him gently, his overconfidence and refusal to accept no for an answer make the situation increasingly awkward. Angered at Elizabeth rejecting such a convenient proposal for the family, Mrs Bennet attempts to force Elizabeth to accept, but Mr Bennet sides with Elizabeth on the matter. Elizabeth is soon shocked to learn that Collins has soon after proposed marriage to her close friend Charlotte Lucas, who accepts. Although as aware of Collinss faults as Elizabeth, Charlotte who is in her late twenties and has few other prospects takes a more practical view on the situation. The romantic woes of the Bennet sisters are compounded when Bingley and his party unexpectedly leave Netherfield for London. Hopes that they will soon return diminish and, heartbroken, Jane falls into a depression. Meanwhile, Elizabeth learns that Wickham has suddenly proposed to Miss King, a wealthy acquaintance, for little apparent reason than her money. Elizabeth, realising that she does not love Wickham, accepts the matter with good grace.
Elizabeth is invited to visit Charlotte, now Mrs Collins. Mr and Mrs Collins are dominated by the heavy handed and imperious interference of Lady Catherine de Burgh, who takes an interest in Elizabeth. Lady Catherine is also Mr Darcys aunt and, much to Elizabeths displeasure, Darcy and his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam coincidentally pay Lady Catherine a visit at the same time. Elizabeth soon becomes good friends with Colonel Fitzwilliam, but is shocked when Colonel Fitzwilliam reveals that Darcy has recently prevented one of his close friends from marrying a woman Darcy views as unacceptable. Elizabeth realises that the close friend is Bingley and that Darcy has actively interfered to keep Bingley and Jane apart.
Soon after she learns this, Darcy pays a visit to Elizabeth while she is alone, and astonishes her by revealing that he is passionately in love with her. He proposes marriage, but in doing so he condescendingly focusses more on his reservations over Elizabeths inferiority and her embarrassing relations than his supposed feelings. Insulted and furious, Elizabeth rejects Darcy, angrily confronting him with Wickhams allegations of his betrayal, his efforts to undermine Bingley and Janes relationship, and his overall arrogant, ungentlemanly conduct. Darcy is shocked by the depth of Elizabeths dislike towards him and leaves.
The next day, Darcy intercepts Elizabeth as she is out for a walk and gives her a letter in which he defends himself. In the letter, Darcy claims that he interfered between Bingley and Jane because he had seen no evidence that Jane felt anything for Bingley and was concerned for his friend. He also points out that his reservations about either Bingley or himself marrying into Elizabeths family were justified by the frequently inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour of the other members of the Bennet family. Elizabeth is reluctantly forced to concede his points. The letter also presents Darcy's side in his feud with Wickham. Darcy claims that Wickham, far from being cheated out of his inheritance, in fact refused it, requesting a large sum of money instead. Darcy refused to give Wickham the original inheritance after Wickham foolishly squandered the money, at which point Wickham spitefully plotted to seduce Darcy's younger sister Georgiana and steal her fortune. Darcy supports his case against Wickham by offering the trustworthy and dependable Colonel Fitzwilliam as a supporting witness.
Shocked, Elizabeth realises that Wickham has used her cynicism about other people to mislead her. She begins to regret having misjudged Darcy so hastily and with such little evidence against him. On returning to Meryton, Elizabeth is more wary of Wickham, and her newfound suspicions about his character are confirmed when she learns that Wickhams engagement to Miss King has suddenly been cancelled. Elizabeth is relieved to hear that the militia regiment will soon be decamping to Brighton for the summer, but is alarmed when she learns that Lydia has been invited to Brighton as the guest of the wife of one of the senior officers. Despite Elizabeths pleas, Mr Bennet decides to allow Lydia to go rather than cope with her sulking if she is refused. After confiding the events to Jane, Elizabeth decides not to reveal publicly reveal Darcys account of his history with Wickham.
Elizabeth accompanies the Gardiners on a tour of Derbyshire, eventually arriving at Lambton, a small village close to Darcy's grand estate of Pemberley. Although terrified of encountering Darcy again, Elizabeth reluctantly agrees to a tour of Pemberley, and finds herself charmed by the grand but unpretentious estate. She learns from the estates housekeeper that Darcy is genuinely liked and well respected by his servants and tenants. Having believed that Darcy was away on business, Elizabeth is horrified to encounter suddenly encounter him after he arrives home early. While Elizabeth is deeply ashamed of her earlier behaviour towards him, Darcy avoids discussing it or his earlier proposal. Instead, to Elizabeths astonishment, Darcy makes every effort to be a polite, friendly and welcoming host. He also introduces Elizabeth to his sister Georgiana, a shy and modest young woman whom Elizabeth takes an instant liking towards. Elizabeth realises there is a more likeable side to Darcy, and begins to regret turning down his proposal.
Elizabeth and Darcys developing friendship is rocked when Elizabeth receives news that Lydia Bennet has eloped with Mr Wickham. Such an elopement risks irreparable damage to the reputation of all the Bennet sisters and their chances of future marriage and stability. Darcy learns of the situation after chancing upon Elizabeth moments after she has learned this news. While he makes every effort to comfort her Elizabeth becomes convinced that he wants nothing more to do with her, which she finds upsetting. Elizabeth returns to Longbourn while the Gardiners and Mr Bennet travel to London to search for Lydia and Wickham, only for Mr Bennet to shortly return without any success. Just when all seems lost, Mr Gardiner sends word that Lydia and Wickham have been found, and that he has persuaded Wickham to marry Lydia by setting his debts. After they are married, Lydia and Wickham visit Longbourn, where Elizabeth is disgusted with both Wickhams true character and Lydias immature, self-absorbed attitude to the situation. When Lydia accidentally reveals that Darcy was at their wedding, Elizabeth is stunned and, after writing to Mrs Gardiner for an explanation, learns that it was in fact Darcy who found Lydia and Wickham, arranged the marriage, and settled Wickhams debts at great expense.
Before Elizabeth can do anything with this information, Bingley returns to Netherfield and proposes marriage to Jane. Soon after, Elizabeth receives an unexpected visit from Lady Catherine de Burgh, who has heard a rumour that Elizabeth is engaged to Mr Darcy. Appalled, Lady Catherine attempts to bully Elizabeth into promising that she will never marry Darcy but Elizabeth angrily refuses. A few days later, Darcy pays a visit to Bingley and accompanies him on a visit to the Bennet sisters. After managing to find some privacy, Elizabeth thanks Darcy for what he has done for her family. Darcy reveals that his main objective was Elizabeths happiness and admits that his feelings for her are unchanged. Acknowledging that her earlier rejection of him was justified, Darcy had believed that he didnt stand a chance with her but realised that her feelings had changed after Lady Catherine confronted him with Elizabeths rejection of her demands. He renews his marriage proposal, and this time Elizabeth accepts. The two are married, and live Happily Ever After.