Written by Cassidy Krygger
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that everybody swoons over Mr Darcy.
He is the dashing romantic hero of Jane Austen’s most famous novel Pride and Prejudice, first published in 1813. The story has stood the test of time and has had a seemingly even more successful transition into the modern world of film and television. Handsome and arrogant Fitzwilliam Darcy, his leading lady Elizabeth Bennet and their slow-burning romance have inspired countless stories and romantic heroes since they were introduced to the world over 200 years ago.
There have been 12 film and television adaptations of Pride and Prejudice since it’s 1940 cinematic debut when Sir Laurence Olivier brought Mr Darcy to life.
Each has a different view on Jane Austen’s world, responding to popular culture at the time of release and also the latest filming trends. But who donned Mr Darcy’s breeches best? I have narrowed the list down to the three most famous (and perhaps my three favourites).
Laurence Olivier: Legendary British actor Laurence Olivier, who had brought another famous literary hero Heathcliff to life in the first-ever adaptation of Wuthering Heights the previous year, signed on to bring Mr Darcy into the moving picture world in 1940.
The film is perhaps the loosest of all the adaptations with the hope of capitalizing on the success of Gone With The Wind which had swept the world the year before, by changing the period of the story from the 1810s to the 1830s.
The chemistry between this Darcy and Elizabeth, played by Hollywood legend Greer Garson, can leave you wanting.
Even Olivier agreed, “It was difficult to make Darcy into anything more than an unattractive-looking prig, and darling Greer seemed all wrong as Elizabeth.” The film came at a $241,000 loss to the studios, but Olivier’s portrayal of Darcy has seemingly influenced every other Darcy portrayal that has come after it. And perhaps this is its enduring legacy.
Colin Firth: When Colin Firth emerged from the lake as Mr Darcy in his wet shirt in the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice mini-series, hearts raced all over the world, and British critics called the moment “the most memorable moment in British television history.” He and the series became a phenomenon, with over 10 million UK viewers glued to the weekly 6 part series.
The legacy Firth and Jennifer Ehle as his Elizabeth Bennet left behind is best described by Professor Deborah Cartmell of DeMontford University “It’s almost usurped the original novel in the minds of the public.” Firth and his wet shirt changed the way the viewing public related to Jane Austen and her novels, inspiring most period dramas that have emerged out of England since.
Matthew MacFadyen: Only ten years after the 1995 mini-series, a young and relatively unknown actor by the name of Matthew Macfadyen filled the big shoes left by Colin Firth when he was cast in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie.
This is a significant declaration for me to make, but Macfadyen’s portrayal of Mr Darcy is my favourite. He nails the aloofness of the character but injects a vulnerability that seems to have been missing from earlier performances (sorry!). The chemistry between this Darcy and his Miss Bennet played by Keira Knightley is electric. The film was a smash hit with Knightley earning her first Academy Award nomination.
Austen scholars also approved with Professor Carol M. Dole of Ursinus College praising the filmmakers for the use of “youth-orientated filming techniques.” and consequently, opening up Mr Darcy and the world of Austen to a new and younger generation.
Every version of Darcy mentioned in this article is different.
A symbol of the time mixed in with the hero Jane Austen wrote over 200 years ago. Do you have a favourite Mr Darcy? Is it the originality of Olivier? The smouldering aloofness of Firth? Or the heart-pounding romanticism of Macfadyen? Or perhaps your heart lies with another actor not mentioned in this article. I’d love to know your thoughts!
Also, side note for the diehard Pride and Prejudice fan, other Austen based worlds I love and recommend are; Lost in Austen, Death Comes to Pemberley and Austenland.
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