Feb 18, 2008

The perfect Mr. Darcy

She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.

The highlight for me of the last two weeks has been watching Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy give smoldering glances to Elizabeth Bennet in the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. No one ever smoldered better than Mr. Firth, who really doesn't have much else to do in the first half of the series. but he does it to such good purpose.

In the book, we become aware that Darcy is becoming attracted to Elizabeth with this passage in the first chapter:
Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty; he had looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticise. But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she hardly had a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form, he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught by their easy playfulness. Of this she was perfectly unaware; to her he was only the man who made himself agreeable nowhere, and who had not thought her handsome enough to dance with.
In the miniseries we only see Darcy looking more and more attentively at Lizzie until, at an assembly given by Sir William Lucas, he is approached by one of Mr. Bingley's sisters.
"I can guess the subject of your reverie."

"I should imagine not."

"You are considering how insupportable it would be to pass many evenings in this manner-- in such society; and indeed I am quite of you opinion. I was never more annoyed! The insipidity, and yet the noise-- the nothingness, and yet the self-importance of all those people! What would I give to hear your strictures on them!"

"You conjecture is totally wrong, I assure you. My mind was more agreeably engaged. I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow."

Miss Bingley immediately fixed her eyes on his face, a desired he would tell her what lady had the credit of inspiring such reflections. Mr. Darcy replied with great intrepidity:

"Miss Elizabeth Bennet."

For the next couple of hours we see Mr. Darcy struggle against his growing attraction until finally, he absolutely blows and proposes to Lizzie. But there's no narrator to tell us that Darcy is falling in love with Eliza, just a series of looks that grow in intensity with each meeting. It's as though Mr. Darcy were a volcano; for ages he's been emitting smoke, but no one sees anything amiss until he erupts with a proposal--a very insulting proposal, to be sure.

This video gets the proposal, but it omits the beginning of the scene, when Darcy enters the room and starts pacing about like a maniac until he finally comes out with it.

Anytime a work of art is adapted for the screen there are bound to be disappointments. In this version of P&P, I gradually found myself liking Elizabeth more and more--much like Mr. Darcy does--but I can't say Jennifer Ehle would be my first choice to play Lizzie. That goes double for the actress who plays Jane Bennett, Susannah Harker.

It is universally acknowledged that Miss Bennet is beautiful, possessing even features and beautiful coloring. And while Harker is rather sweet looking, she doesn't look anything like the Miss Bennet I pictured: I always thought of her as having the features and coloring of Grace Kelly.

Yet, even though I'd never heard of Colin Firth at the time, if you asked me after reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time to draw a picture of Mr. Darcy I'm quite certain I would have drawn a perfect likeness of Colin Firth.

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