Sunday, February 10, 2008

Pride & Prejudice with Colin Firth

My spies tell me that today is the day when the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice starts to be shown on TV in the US. For those who haven’t seen it yet, there’s a treat in store. At least, most Austen fans on this side of the pond think so.

I have two vivid impressions of watching the first episode. The script, by Andrew Davies, seemed to have used more of Jane Austen’s original dialogue than any other adaptation I could remember. What’s more, the actors delivered Austen’s witty lines to perfection. Mr Bennet, in particular, seemed to me to be ideally written and cast: sharp-tongued and long-suffering, certainly, but self-indulgent and weak, as well.

And then there was Colin Firth as Darcy, brooding like a volcano about to blow.

All Austen fans will have their own mental image of how Mr Darcy should look and sound. Was this Mr Darcy too silent, too brooding in the early stages to be true hero material? For the women of Longbourn and Meryton, Darcy’s single status and ten thousand pounds a year had made him as handsome as it was possible to be. Until it was decided that he was proud and disagreeable, of course, and shockingly rude.

It can’t be an easy role for any actor, especially in the early part of the story. Darcy begins by being admired, and fawned upon. But then he becomes detested. He has to be taciturn, and moody, and abrupt when forced into speech. What's more, he has hardly any lines to say. None of that makes for a character that is easy for us, the viewers, to like.

Do we empathise with Colin Firth’s Darcy because we already know how the story will end?
Or because we’ve seen a trailer for the later, sexier Darcy?

Or is it because Firth takes us behind the prickly exterior to the man beneath?

There’s something special about this portrayal, I think. That wistful quality when he gazes out of the window at Lizzie playing with the dog. Is this Darcy a man who never enjoys such carefree, simple pleasures? Is this a man who always has to consider the consequences before be speaks, or acts?

Later, in perhaps the most famous scene of this adaptation, we see Firth’s Darcy doing all of those things, as he changes his way of living, driven by his desire to earn Lizzie's regard.. He indulges in simple pleasure, just because he wants to. He gives no thought to possible consequences. Yet the consequences are real, and wonderfully embarrassing, both for him and for Lizzie Bennet. It makes the viewer smile. And warm to the Darcy that Firth has become.

Just in case there are some viewers out there who haven’t yet heard what happens in that famous scene, I’m saying nothing more here (though I'm afraid that Wendy has given the game away in her earlier post). It’s not authentic Jane Austen, of course, but it’s true to the spirit of her story. And when you see it, you’ll know exactly what I mean.



Historical Romance Author said...

Two great articles from Wendy and Joanna. And the USA are not the only ones to have P&P on their screens. BBC4 repeated the first two episodes on Saturday evening so British fans can also enjoy film length reruns. Kate Tremayne

Gillian Layne said...

Well, it's going to be miserable here tonight, with freezing rain settling in, so I cannot think of a better thing to do than run the kids off to bed early and settle in with Mr. Darcy :)

Anonymous said...

******!!!**** Insert your own rude words here!

Hadn't realised that BBC4 was repeating P&P last night. And since I cannot seem to find the video I made of it back when it was first shown, I would really have liked to tape it again.

I can see that my Scottish soul is going to have to gird its proverbial loins and go out and buy the DVD version. I seem to be fated not to be able to get a free copy. Ah well...

OTOH, there are advantages to a DVD. It plays on my laptop. I could take it with me on my travels and enjoy Colin Firth et al while I'm stuck in a dingy hotel room. Maybe my Scottish soul will be appeased after all!!

Gillian, hope your viewing is suitably comforting, and makes you forget the terrible weather. Here in the Welsh Marches, we have blue sky and sunshine. But cold with it, of course.


Anonymous said...

Jane said...

I think the Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle adaptation was excellent. The scene at the ball when the dance requires Darcy and Elizabeth to walk around each other is simply superb. I bought the video and it's my favourite comfort viewing!