Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” is one the most popular novels in the history of English literature. The story of love and desire between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy remains vital and enchanting ever since it has been published in 1813. Numerous adaptations of Jane Austen’s masterpiece have been created and novel’s characters have been presented in different ways, discovering new aspects of interpreting the premise of this truly romantic comedy.
In the following assignment I would like to take a better look at the character of Mr. Darcy presented in the BBC 1995 adaptation and 2005 film version of Jane Austen’ s “Pride and Prejudice”. Both are transpositions, faithful to the main thrust of the narrative.
First of all, I am going to introduce briefly the character of Mr. Darcy presented in Jane Austen’s masterpiece in terms of his personal dispositions presented in the plot. Secondly, I will analyse the presentation of Collin Firth personifying Mr. Darcy in the BBC adaptation from 1995, as well as Mathew MacFadyen’s presentation of this character in 2005 film version. I will introduce the spirit of Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy expressed in different two screen versions created by different interpreters regarding acting but also depiction as well as scriptwriting. Finally, I will outline the similarities and differences of those presentations.
MR. DARCY IN JANE AUSTEN’S â€žPRIDE AND PREJUDICE”
Even though Fitzwilliam Darcy is the main male character of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the book revels very little about him, however, enough to create a general picture of this dashing hero, who deserves the title of the best man ever featured in the English literature.
Mr. Darcy is a well situated young gentleman of aristocratic background. His income of 10,000 a year makes him a very â€žaccomplished” young man of a good fortune, who, as we read in the opening phrase of Jane Austen’s novel, certainly belongs to the group of “lucky” men who must be in want of a wife. We learn quite early in the book, that Darcy is a tall and handsome man, of a noble mien. On the other hand, his behaviour at the Meryton ball shows that his physical appearance is quite indifferent with his personality. His proud behaviour towards the participants of the ball, as well as the famous snub on Elizabeth Bennet, decide his highly disagreeable character.
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Mr. Darcy admits though, he is ill qualified to recommend himself to strangers and has not the talent of conversing easily with those he has never seen before. Nevertheless Fitzwilliam is described by his friends as a loyal and caring companion. Those whom he admitted to his closest circle may count on him and often depend on his better judgement. On the other hand, Darcy seems to depend on no one but himself. His companions and friends respect him and are in awe of him, but they never cease to show him deference. According to Mrs. Reynolds, his housekeeper, he is the best master and the best landlord. His sister Georgiana’s respect for him almost overcomes her affection. He takes good care of her as her guardian, makes her presents which please her (a new piano), but she doesn’t cease to be intimidated by him.
Whereas Jane Austen’s novel is about desperation and hugely about love, sex and desire, while following the story, we see Fitzwilliam Darcy finding step by step his better part in Elisabeth Bennet, who is the main female character of “Pride and Prejudice”. Even though in the book Mr. Darcy allows Elizabeth at first to be pretty, than looks at her without admiration at the ball, and when they meet next, he looks at her only to criticise, he finally notices an uncommonly intelligent beautiful expression of her dark eyes. Her sharp mind, eloquence and physical beauty make him to wish to know more of her.
“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” In this uncommonly eloquent way Mr. Darcy declares his love to Elizabeth Bennet during the Hunsford proposal. Nevertheless, in order to win Miss Bennet’s heart Fitzwilliam needs to rehabilitate her first and quite bad impression of him. After he is rejected he recognises Elizabeth as his true equal and tries to give her numerous proofs of his changed mind. He shows every civility to Elizabeth and her family during their visit in Pemberly, and using his money, he prevents the Bennet’s family from ruin, caused by the relationship between Wickham, Darcy’s worst enemy, and Elizabeth’s sister, Lydia.
On the other hand, the wish of his aunt Lady Catherine De Bourgh is to marry her daughter in order to strengthen their family’s position and double their property, but his attraction to Elizabeth cannot be restrained. Even though Mr. Darcy’s feelings are bottled up and are not visible in his closest circle, the passion that lurks from beneath the surface is powerful, and cannot withhold him from the woman he actually loves. The feelings for Elizabeth make him reject his duty and dishonour his family by marriage to an inferior. Fitzwilliam Darcy is aware that he would never be happy in a match born not out of love, dares to propose to Elizabeth once again and finally wins her hand.
COLIN FIRTH’S PRESENTATION OF MR. DARCY IN THE 1995 BBC ADAPTATION
It was the BBC 1995 version of “Pride and Prejudice”, translated to the screen by the acknowledged master of period drama adaptation Andrew Davies, which received the biggest applause from the British audience. The screenwriter admits, Jane Austen’s novel itself is his favourite novel and has been for ages. In his opinion, it is about young people with raging hormones and about Darcy’s sexual attraction to Elizabeth, which is the engine of the plot. Davies created a six-part television serial, showing the development of attraction, desire and love between two young people, as well as about money and betrayal.
With his classic good look and understated charisma, Colin Firth captured women harts with his award-winning performance as Mr. Darcy in the acclaimed television adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice”. Interpreting the main male character of Jane Austen’s novel, Colin Firth took up a challenge of personifying one of the most famous characters in English literature. In his opinion, Mr. Darcy is arguably the most complex and complicated character who is terribly unpredictable and continuously manifests himself differently. He is utterly unreasonably dismissive of almost everybody he meets, which makes him quite unappealing. Nevertheless, Darcy makes the biggest journey of any of the characters in terms of change. He first strokes with his arrogance and proud behaviour but then, influenced with desire and love, suddenly shows civility, kindness and politeness.
Andrew Davies wanted to cast such an actor for the role of Mr. Darcy who would be able to give an inkling and understanding of the role. Colin Firth fulfilled the wish of Mr. Davies completely. The actor created a dateless television protagonist, who won the hearts of the audience, even though he is actually a very nasty character in the beginning of the series as well as in the beginning of the book. Colin Firth managed to present Mr. Darcy as a romantic hero, who derives his pride from his place in the society and at the same time secretly despises their hypocrisy. He is influential, rich and eligible but, on the other hand, resembles an animal captured in a golden cage which constantly searches for a way out. In Davies’ adaptation we see Colin Firth often standing at the window, which is a symbol of Mr. Darcy’s possible way of escape from the snobbish high-society. Whereas Darcy disapproves the stagnation of the social group which he was born into, he admires secretly the lively and warm Elizabeth Bennet. He fancies her long before he begins to like her as she is indifferent with the world in which he has been confined.
The meaning of love and desire are expressed silently both in Jane Austen’s novel as well as in Andrew Davies’ adaptation. Colin Firth watches Jennifer Ehle, playing Elizabeth Bennet, very closely at all times, and presents Mr. Darcy analysing Lizy, and trying to understand what makes him keep chasing after her. You can read from his wistful gazes and facial expressions how his feelings to Elizabeth develop. On the other hand, Andrew Davies introduced a new element which in Jane Austen’s times would be highly inappropriate. The screenwriter literary put the bodies into the plot and brought the book sexual subtext closer to the surface. The most celebrated scene of BBC 1995 Pride and Prejudice, which is not to find in Jane Austen’s novel, is the lake scene. Andrew Davies took Darcy out of his period costume and created one of the most compelling romantic figures in the history of television. His intention was to point out that Darcy is a natural man. The famous dive of Colin Firth into one of Lyme Hall’s alias Pemberly’s ponds reminds, that Mr. Darcy is able to release himself from the reality he lives in and for one moment can forget about his love struggles, as well as responsibilities as the master of Pemberly and duties towards his family.
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More than 11 Million viewers watched Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth as Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy from “Pride and Prejudice” move from aspiring to seduction. Colin Firth proved he is an extremely talented actor, capable of playing a classic character. He could silently express Mr. Darcy’s personal development, influenced by various circumstances in his live, which turn him from a rather withdrawn person, brooding in diffident, to a man full of desire, ardently longing for the women he loves. In the 1995 BBC “Pride and Prejudice” series Firth personified fantastically Jane Austen’s male protagonist who is able to overcome his pride and who is willing to make tremendous sacrifices in order to prove his real character to admired Elizabeth Bennet. He is wonderfully affectionate, terribly romantic and exciting.
MATHEW MACFADYEN’S INTERPRETATION OF DARCY IN THE 2005 FILM VERSION
In 2005 unmissable film adaptation, written by Deborah Moggach and directed by Joe Wright, streamlines the story of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” for the cinema. In this Academy Award-nominated version the screenwriter, Deborah Moggach, emphasised that “Pride and Prejudice” is Elizabeth Bennet’s story. She wanted to point out a strong single narrative presented in Jane Austen’s novel, as well as young women’s emotional development in terms of love. In this adaptation of Austen’s most famous novel, as well as in the novel itself, the characters of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy are not equal, whereas the young Miss Bennet, played by Keira Knightley, is definitely the leading character in the plot. On the other hand, the role of Mr. Darcy is indispensable for the story and has a significant meaning. Without him it wouldn’t be possible to show how a romantic love between two young people of Jane Austen’s period came into existence.
When choosing the right actor for the role of Mr Darcy, Joe Wright thought immediately about Mathew MacFadyen. With his masculine and old-fashioned presence, as well as leading man looks, Mathew was decided to have the best Mr. Darcy attitude. MacFadyen wasn’t this famous at that time, but was head and shoulders the best actor out there to take the role, which he proved mainly after testing against Keira Knightley, and of course during the whole filming. Mathew MacFadyen in his creation of Mr. Darcy presented an arrogant, faulty, pompous and prideful character, which, on the other hand, seems to be misunderstood and shy. His shyness and lack of talent of conversing easily with those he has never seen before is misunderstood and makes him look highly disagreeable in the eyes of others.
There is, however, another side to this proud and disagreeable man. which demerges strongly in the 2005 adaptation. Deborah Moggach wanted to present Darcy as a person with no small talk and being not social-apt at all. It was important to point out that Mr. Darcy feels uncomfortable in the society of rural England, in which he’s just gotten into, from the high-class society which he originally belongs to. Mathew MacFadyen presented a character who openly expresses his discontentment with the environment he is surrounded with, but, on the other hand, who can step by step develop huge interest and passion for things previously unknown. Even though he disapproves the Bennet’s family and their circle of acquaintance, he starts to be charmed with Elizabeth’s uncommonly smart and beautiful appearance and learns to accept her as well as her family. This makes him more understandable in his actions, attractive and truly romantic. He, for instance, shows every civility and good manners to Elizabeth and her family during their visit in Pemberly in order to overcome Elizabeth’s first bad impression of him. Furthermore, ever since the piano scene in Rosings, in which Darcy confides to Elizabeth his way of being and acting, he notices how much in common they have and starts constantly to seek for her company.
In his adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice”, Joe Wright introduced a distinctive visual style, which is also reflected in the novel. Whereas Jane Austen created wonderful love stories based on acute observations of the people who she knew and who lived around her and was looking at things very closely, Joe Wright used close ups to point out details which route the emotional development of the characters. In one scene we see Mathew MacFadyen looking very closely at Keira Knightley’s beautiful neck, which expresses the magnetism of bodies as well as Mr. Darcy’s sexual attraction to Elizabeth Bennet. His attraction to her is also visible when Darcy helps Elizabeth into the carriage. This is the first time when Fitzwilliam touches Miss Bennet. The scene shows how beautiful and important one moment can be for a gentleman like Darcy.
Furthermore, Joe Wright uses dance to point out the development of intimate relation between Darcy and Elizabeth. Dancing is absolutely central in the adaptation because the characters are finally allowed to have the physical contact, which was normally highly forbidden by the etiquette of Austen’s period. In the movie a lot of things in terms of love happen at the dance floor. Mathew MacFadyen and Keira Knightley are dancing alone in the ballroom, silently performing a highly magnetic collision between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. The characters don’t realise that something unconsciously happens between them. This very electric and extremely charged scene let the audience know that both characters have developed feelings for each other, however, on the other hand, they still have to overcome their pride and prejudice to be able to see and accept their love to each other.
In Joe Wright’s 2005 adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” Mathew MacFadyen presented a young man falling in love with a girl from a different social class. Even though the character is not comfortable with the society she comes from, he cannot resist her. The viewers see the actor watching Keira Knightley and discover a great feeling which develops between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. In the final scene Mathew MacFadyen strides from the mist and presents a truly romantic figure of Fitzwilliam, who finally wins Elizabeth’s heart. With his great acting and understanding of the role, MacFadyen created an unforgettable film hero who will be hard to overcome in terms of acting for other Darcys in future transpositions of the Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”.
CONCLUSION: FINDING SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES
It cannot be denied that both, Firth and MacFadyen presented Mr. Darcy as a truly romantic character, who at the begging of each adaptation is a slightly scaring, however, a thrilling figure, but then influenced with love and desire turns out to be a totally agreeable hero, ardently longing for his better part. Both handsome, with their classic looks, match perfectly Mr. Darcy, as he even might have been in the imagination of Jane Austen. Even though the camera cannot capture the literary potential of the novel and the characters undergo a simplification process when translated onto the screen, both presentations of Fitzwilliam Darcy express his gentlemanlike way of acting and are highly comparable with the original. Both actors, even though of different fame and acting experience at the time of filming, created an unforgettable television and movie protagonist of Mr. Darcy.
On the other hand, however, some differences are noticeable, depending on the adaptation and way of shooting the scenes. In the BBC 1995 television series Colin Firth presented Mr. Darcy as an equal hero with Elizabeth Bennet. We see him often on his own, looking pensively into the distance, lost in his thoughts, struggling with his feelings. In comparison, Mr. Darcy presented by Mathew MacFadyen in the 2005 film version is more like the novel’s protagonist; we are privileged to know as much about him as Elizabeth does, as he is never shown by his own. This leaves the audience wanting to know more of the proud and reserved Mr Darcy. Furthermore, different aspects of Darcy’s emotional development towards Elizabeth are shown in different adaptations. Collin Firth’s passionate glances at Elizabeth are more visible than MacFadyen’s. On the other hand, Mr. Darcy presented in the 2005 adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” expresses his attraction to Miss Bennet in dance and with touch, which are a paradigm of a visual equivalent of narration and psychological exploration of the character.
Nevertheless, both presentations of Mr. Darcy describe the same character, however, emphasising different distinctive features of this romantic hero. In two different adaptations they are both brilliantly managed and show similarities as well as differences in interpretation of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” most thrilling character. In my opinion the filmmakers found a way of reimagining the original Mr. Darcy, who speaks to a modern audience and gives examples of gentlemanlike behaviour of the past. Both transpositions complement the character of Mr. Darcy beautifully in Austen’s spirit and take us back to the original novel protagonist and make us see this eternal character with a new and fresh perspective. It shows the way of understanding and expressing feelings by a gentleman of Jane Austen’s period.
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