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The importance of being Darcy

Matthew MacFayden has a tough job filling Colin Firth’s smoldering shoes. By Mary Beth Ellis
/ Source: contributor

I was speaking to an older colleague about the latest essay I was writing; I informed her it concerned a new movie based on “Pride and Prejudice,” which she last read at approximately the same time the Earth was first cooling.

And first words out of her mouth were:  “Oh!  Mr. Darcy!”

Yes, Mr. Darcy. Thanks loads, Jane Austen, for ruining generations of perfectly good women with your ballgowns and your rolling barouches and your Mr. Darcy. Many are the ladies who wait in vain for their own personal, portable Darcy, complete with estate in Derbyshire.

The number has increased since 1995, when Colin Firth took on the role for a BBC miniseries. Colin was Action Figure Darcy. He fences! He swims! He bathes! Naked! He gives and fixes and scowls and rides his horse and just in general Firths all over the place, and we are much the better for it.

He also stares, a lot. There is a great deal of staring on the part of Darcy, mostly at Elizabeth Bennet, who occasionally stares back, which in the Regency era I suppose was the equivalent of text messaging. 

A difficult act to followPrimarily, what sets Colin apart from all other Darcys is his hair. It truly is wonderful hair. The man rides thither and yon — sometimes yon twice in the same scene — and not once does he suffer hathead.

You kind of get the feeling that Darcy, in college, was not a frat boy. He wasn’t showing up at your doorstep with Game Cube and a 12-pack of Natural Light and calling it a romantic evening. Darcy would at least change out of the ball cap he had been wearing for the past eight consecutive days first. He’s a difficult act to follow. 

But now the Lord has now bestowed upon us a new incarnation of Darcy, now played by Matthew MacFayden, which … good luck, Matt. Sometimes actors simply define roles; I cannot imagine Professor Higgins without Rex Harrison, Harold Hill without Robert Preston, or, of course, Larry Gigli without Ben Affleck. So has Colin’s stare enamored any number of Austen fans. 

It’s all in the smolder, you see. For in today’s culture, there is little time to smolder; the next episode of “The Apprentice” is roaring down the pike, or the plane is circling the airport yet again, or our cell phone is insistently informing us, via a tinny version of “La Bamba,” that our best friend is currently standing 10 feet away — where are we?  I don’t think modern society loves Elizabeth and Darcy as much as we covet their spare time. House parties would last up to six weeks at a time in the 1880s. Who, outside of Paris Hilton, has that much alcohol on hand?

Among his other fine attributes, Colin Firth’s Darcy possesses the ability to selectively bilocate. It really is quite extraordinary; one moment he’s brooding on horseback, the next his face is floating to the forefront of Elizabeth’s mirror or carriage window, issuing dark, repetitive, and sonorous pronouncements about how very icky he finds her family. “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you … but your mother is horrid and will have to stay in the basement.  Dad needs to go too, and I seriously hate your sisters.  And how attached are you, really, to the family dog?”

Darcy also maintains quite the respectable crib, and, it’s safe to imagine, the most pimped-out carriages available. The driveway alone could serve as a landing strip for the space shuttle.  And the pond — all proper estates require a pond. All I have is a sad puddle of warm beer beneath the refrigerator. 

And you just know that Darcy gets into all the best clubs, too. He really is the ultimate date. There would be no standing at the hostess station, light-up seating alert device limply in hand for Darcy. No, he walks into Friday’s, and he sits right down!

Shall we dance?Impressive, too, is this whole business of dancing. I welcome any new adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice,” Firthed or un-Firthed, so long as the dancing is done properly. People in Regency England didn’t dance quite the way we do. There was, for example, precious little grinding.  Smoke machines were rarely used. I doubt lasers made much of an appearance. On the other hand — fortunate generation! — everyone was spared the Electric Slide.

Physical contact between unmarried men and women was pretty much limited to a lot of bowing and fan fluttering. In dancing there was a great deal of twirling, which — and I say this as a square dancer from way back — is a lot harder than it sounds. I’ve thrown off the rotation of the planet with a poorly directed alamand left. But Colin manages this admirably, and with a remarkably small amount of dorkiness. He even skips in a manly manner.

Darcy, however, may not be well suited for the long haul. Once all the smoldering is done — what is there to burn after, really? A really excellent pot roast on Michaelmas, or whatever in the world people yearned for once plights were trothed? I mean, Pemberly is quite the hizzy, but how many chandeliers does one person need? 

And is he really the best judge of character? Look at his friends: He hangs out with Wickham, who is the leading candidate as a spokesman for Rohypnol, and the overly smiley Bingley, who never met a pile of dog poop he didn’t like. “Colin-as-Darcy,” I would say — for I’m sure Colin Firth prefers to be addressed as nothing but — “Colin-as-Darcy, you may stay for as long as you like, but your friends are only allowed inside when I’m off at Pilates class.”

However, given the bilocation and the preference for pond-swimming, I suppose I could settle in for a nice life of horses and twirling. An 80-year-old Colin Firth is still far preferable to a 27-year-old Kevin Federline.

Freelance writer Mary Beth Ellis runs, from whence she leads a merry chase, or plights her troth, or whatever.