My recent post on the various actors who have graced our screens as Mr Rochester has inspired me to look at those who have taken on the role of Mr Darcy. Some fantastic actors have taken on the part, but who was the best? Darcy is perhaps one of the best loved fictional heros (or he is mine at any rate..!), and it takes something special to get the right mix of aloofness, haughtiness and aristocratic pride, whilst also showing his humour, warmth and vulnerability. It is that combination (mixed in with his dashing good looks and £10,000 a year!), which makes Darcy such a fantastic character.. and I think there have been quite a few actors who have got this just right…
Laurence Olivier was outstanding as Fitwilliam in the 1940 film version, starring alongside Greer Garson as Lizzy. I loved Olivier as Darcy despite the fact that admittedly the film is not completely true to Austen’s text. The costumes for example, aren’t exactly standard Georgian outfits(!) and the ending has a plot twist which I’m not sure Austen would have approved of (even though it’s actually quite entertaining). In spite of this though, I do think Oliver pulled off a good Darcy and his chemistry with Greer Garson was wonderful. He definitely set the standards high for the next generations of Darcy’s..
The BBC made a mini series of Pride and Prejudice in 1980, where David Rintoul played Darcy. I have only seen this series once, a couple of years ago and I wasn’t overly impressed generally. I think this is more to do with my constantly comparing it to the newer versions and the fact that it all seemed a little dated, rather than a reflection on the acting performances. Rintoul is actually quite a good Darcy; his performance is subtle and believable and I would definitely watch it again.
For me, the defining performance however (I know this may be cliched!) was Colin Firth’s in the 1995 BBC production. Andrew Davies is a wonderful writer and this adaptation stayed remarkably close to Austen’s text. Firth was the first Darcy I saw, and this probably is why I always compare other performances to his, but I do think he really captured everything that Darcy is. The lake scene, (whilst admittedly not being an Austen invention), was genius and the scenes with Lizzy at Pemberley are just fantastic- the chemistry between them is spot on, and the development of Darcy’s character (or Lizzy’s understanding of his character at any rate!) is played out wonderfully.
Almost ten years later then we have another performance by Martin Henderson as Darcy in the adapted version of the novel – Bride & Prejudice. This was a modern Bollywood remake of Austen’s text and is actually quite fun. Henderson’s Darcy is a bit too overly snobby for my tastes- I am not sure the character development is as good as in some of the other versions (probably largely down to the fact that it is under two hours long – I am spolit by these six hour BBC versions!)
A year later then we got Matthew Macfadyen as Darcy alongside Keira Knightley. Basing my judgement purely on the casting and performance of Darcy, I have to say, some great choices were made. Matthew has the right combination of haughty indifference with endearing shyness and vulnerability and the proposal scene is just gorgeously performed. It took me a while to come to the conclusion that I liked this version, but now I have seen it a few times, I have been converted.
Lastly then, was Eliot Cowan in the ITV mini-series Lost in Austen: another good performance, although perhaps again, the overbearing rude side to the character was a little overplayed. But then again, I suppose none of the other Darcy’s had to deal with their heroine telling them that she had had lots of boyfriends, and had even (horror of all horrors!) lived with another man…
There have been some other Darcy’s too, but I haven’t had the pleasure of viewing these adaptations as yet- I think most of them are pretty hard to get hold of. Any recommendations are as ever, are gratefully received! I do believe there is definitely room for more Darcy portrayals in the world however.. It’s been FIFTEEN years since the last BBC version, so surely a remake is in order?! It’s hard actually to think of a perfect casting for a new Darcy – Richard Armitage springs to mind (but that’s largely down to my own obsession with him I think!)- anyone else have any suggestions?!