Looking for Darcy

Ask most fans of Jane Austen who played the definitive Mr. Darcy and they’ll likely point to the guy on my left: Colin Firth.  For many people the 1995 BBC adaptation with Firth and Jennifer Ehle is the Pride and Prejudice, and I have to say they got a lot of things truly right (including Firth, but not, to my mind, Ehle, who seems to be smirking through the entire mini-series.  Your mileage may vary). And yes: Colin Firth is extremely decorative.  So much so that he was tagged to play Darcy in Bridget Jones’ Diary–a deliberate rather meta-reference to himself in the role in P&P. Yoicks.

You are likely to hear less love for Matthew McFadyen, who played Darcy in the recent P&P with Keira Knightly, but I would like to speak in his defense.  I thought McFadyen conveyed Darcy’s vulnerability, and the haughtiness with which he tries to hide it, very nicely.  There are things about this version of P&P I disapprove of (including, it pains me to say, Dame Judi Dench as Lady Catherine de Bourgh, arriving in the middle of the night for no earthly reason except to require Mr. Bennet to greet her at the door in his nightshirt).  I have heard some dismay over the ending of the film, in which we see Lizzy and Darcy, probably on their wedding night–a scene which Miss Austen did not include in her book.  But neither did she include a scene where Darcy strips down to his shirt to go swimming on a hot day at Pemberley, a la Colin Firth, so I think we can forgive it.

But we can’t stop there in our search for Darcys.  There have been quite a number.  David Rintoul, for example, in another BBC production in 1980.  I am sorry to say I recognize none of the other actors listed along side Rintoul, but I am delighted to say that Mr. Bingley was played by a fellow who rejoices in the name Osmond Bullock.




Going even further back, we have Alan Badel in a 1958 BBC series (Pride and Prejudice appears to be a perennial favorite with the BBC). I like the look of Lizzy, played by Jane Downs, but Badel’s Darcy looks a little too supercilious for me.  Don’t go searching for the series, though.  According to IMDB, all six episodes are believed lost.  (Also according to IMDB, they used the same script for this version as for an earlier version in 1952, of which I have found absolutely no record.  That will have to be the Lost Darcy.

Finally, there was Sir Laurence Olivier, hopelessly mis-cast against Greer Garson, also hopelessly mis-cast.  Traditionally Pride and Prejudice is staged in the Regency–from the clothes, somewhere between 1805 and 1820.  But both Olivier and Garson felt that they didn’t look to advantage in Regency clothes, so the time period was changed to the late 1820s-early 1830s (a time for women’s dress I find particularly unattractive).  It’s a broad comic version, and one I don’t like much (can you tell?).

And there are the sort-of Darcys.  Orlando Seale in the 2003 version set in Utah.  Elliot Cowan in Lost in Austen. And perhaps most amusingly, Martin Henderson in Bride and Prejudice, the lovely 2004 Bollywood version.

There are a lot of Darcys out there–enough that you can probably find one to suit your own tastes.  I’m sure I’ve missed some, but if you know of any, do tell.




About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books


Looking for Darcy — 9 Comments

  1. Rintoul and his Lizzie are by far the most authentic version, as the BBC remained incredibly close to the original script, didn’t have the money for huge glamour and therefore worked around a tight budget in period clothes and outside shots, with the interiors filmed in the studios. The adaptation was written by Fay Wheldon! Here’s the problem of playing Darcy too close to the source material explained much better than I could: http://shariperkins.nfshost.com/?p=561

    They’ll always be my one true interpretation.

      • I searched until I was able to find a DVD version at Amazon.co.uk ^^. I had bought the VHS tapes in the late 80s, because they had shown a translated version in Germany (it’s a four episode miniseries) and I loved it even then. And of course, living in Europe there was no PAL/NTSC problem.

        Looks like you wouldn’t have a problem, either – especially if you’re a Prime member ^^.

    • Rintoul all the way. Authentically aristocratic and a gentleman who learns his lesson, he took your breath away without having to take off his shirt.

      The best thing about the Keira Knightly version was Donald Sutherland’s gentle interpretation of Mr. Bennett. Maybe it wasn’t accurate, but it was fascinating to watch.

  2. Quite true about the BBC eighties P&P–it’s very good. So (I thought) was Mansfield Park, which has been abysmally treated since. However, the eighties Northanger Abbey was jaw-droppingly, staggeringly bad, which was very puzzling.

    • I remember that Northanger Abbey. Yug. I wonder why that one, of all of them, is so hard to film, or so little filmed. Perhaps because the tone is harder to do properly?

  3. In Britain the Colin Firth version is so very popular that, in cases of women suffering from depresesion, before the doctor prescribes antidepressants he advises a short course of P&P viewings. This may of course say more about the financial state of their national health systems, but it is true that movies have fewer side effects (and are unquestionably cheaper) than drugs. Heaven knows, it cheers me!