Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Resurrection of Mr. Darcy

The Resurrection of Mr. Darcy (and his ubiquitous drenched linen shirt)

Colin Firth, now 52, stands at the pinnacle of his distinguished career. 

He won an Oscar for playing the stammering George VI and currently has his pick of the most fascinating roles in Hollywood. 

However, there's no way the world will ever let him forget that he was once Lizzie Bennet's beloved Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. In many respects, he still is.

 Voted Britain's most iconic moment in drama no less than 18 years after its debut, the image of a vulnerable Mr. Darcy emerging drenched from a lake at his spectacular Pemberley estate has rendered him  endearing to millions of viewers--possibly for posterity. 

Andrew Davies' sensitive interpretation of Austen's romantic hero in BBC's 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice proved a great success, critically, commercially and culturally. 

While there have been several other Darcys since 1995, none have evoked quite the same reaction, in what I'd like to call the WWS (Wet White Shirt) phenomenon... 

These have included Elliot Cowen emerging from the lake as Mr. Darcy in Lost in Austen

Colin Firth fighting in the rain--and kissing in the snow--as Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones' Diary (2001): 

And various rain-drenched literary characters such as Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens chopping wood in the rain in Sense and Sensibility (ITV):

Matthew MacFayden's Mr. Darcy proposing to Keira Knightley in Pride and Prejudice (2005) 

Matthew refrains from diving into the lake

David Oakes drenched by London rain while playing Mr Darcy at an open-air theatre production of Pride and Prejudice (2013) at Regent's Park (with thanks to my sister Mahlia for her description)

What really takes the cake is this 12 foot tall fiberglass statue of Firth as Darcy, complete with WWS, touring British lakes until 2014

The postmodern Mr. Darcy continues to inspire print fiction, cinematic adaptations, cultural memorabilia and popular culture:

* Austenland (an adaptation of a chick lit novel, releasing August 2013)

* Death Comes to Pemberley (a 3-episode adaptation of PD James' novel featuring Matthew Rhys as Mr. Darcy)

A young Matthew Rhys in the Georgian-era The Abduction Club

* Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (a horror hybrid which has been in development for years)

* Bridget Jones' Baby (a film adaptation of Helen Fielding's third Bridget Jones book, currently in development)

* Pride and Prejudice: Having A Ball (the BBC's recent documentary about P&P's ongoing 200th anniversary celebrations)

Unfortunately for Colin Firth, Darcy Fever has become a worldwide epidemic two decades on and shows no signs of abating. 

Here's Colin's 1997 reaction to the frenzy via                                     "It seems obvious that what happened with the Darcy character was very special, not just to me but to a lot of other people, and I feel that I must look at it all again, absorb it, understand this bewildering golden moment"--Colin Firth in TimeOut.

...And here's Colin in an interview with Piers Morgan following his Oscar win in 2011:
MORGAN: Do you quite like the fact of having been Darcy and having been in "Bridget Jones'" stuff where you play the classic archetype of charmer that the last two great roles you've had, "Single Man" and "King's Speech," you're not actually playing that kind of character?

FIRTH: I do relish that. I mean you know this character quite -- leaving aside the speech problem, he's a damaged soul and whether it's because of the speech problem, whatever, the character as written in our script is somebody who's got a huge number of demons. That's very interesting work for me.

MORGAN: You prefer it as an actor?

FIRTH: Of course. Yes. It's wonderful hunting ground. I mean that's what we get our teeth into.

MORGAN: I mean, no disrespect. You just turned 50. I'm not sure how long you can play out that Darcy stuff.

FIRTH: I'm not trying to play it out.

MORGAN: I know.


FIRTH: Come after me. It's either Darcy or Piers Morgan or whatever, it's impossible to escape. But no, it's -- that's where the rich pickings are, you know. It's people with problems are far more interesting. If you don't have any problems, you're bland. And you know --

MORGAN: I've always detected, you feel slightly uncomfortable being a sex symbol. You've never felt as easy with that part as you want to. I mean I'd love it if I ever have that role.

FIRTH: If I could truly believe it, I would be so comfortable with it. It's not like a vanity at all.

MORGAN: You should believe it. I get women telling me when they think I'm Colin, wow, you're sexy. I've loved all your films.

FIRTH: These things have a shelf life. I mean I think you've just got to know when you so gracefully like hang up a mantle and trade it for another and Darcy was 15 years ago. And funnily enough, I mean, for about five or six hours of Darcy, he was anything but a charmer.

This was a kind of strange character intuitive thing. I thought I was playing this unlikable person in literature, you know, who alienates absolutely everybody. And yet, somehow, this sort of, you know, the -- I mean, certainly not the David Niven part in that film.

Mr. Darcy as illustrated in my first copy of Pride and Prejudice (on my 12th birthday)

At university, I wrote my honours thesis on deconstructing cinematic adaptations of Jane Austen and was fortunate enough to encounter Colin Firth on a rainy night in London (via ):
"I waited backstage to speak to Colin after a theatrical performance of Three Days Of Rain in Soho. Although I forced myself to not mention the dreaded D word, there were a few elderly ladies evidently inflicted with a bad case of Darcy Fever who asked him trivial questions about the P&P production. I couldn’t help giggling when I saw how carefully he kept a straight face and politely answered their questions. Mr. Firth didn’t bat an eyelid when I gave up trying to sound nonchalant and demanded a photo with him. Unfortunately, he was dressed in jeans and a sweater rather than breeches and a top hat."
Yup, that's me. Ironically, it was raining then too

Lucky me! I got to chat with Colin for over half an hour. He was extremely animated and gentlemanly, cracking jokes and sharing work anecdotes. Mr. Darcy wouldn't have been quite so forthcoming. 

* Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, THEN AND NOW:
Ehle and Firth two decades ago
Incomparable as Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy

Years later: Ehle and Firth in the brief scene they shared in The King's Speech

Press for The King's Speech

No comments:

Post a Comment