Mar 24 2011 5:00pm

Who’s Your Darcy?: Jane Austen’s Iconic Hero on Screen

David Rintoul as Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice 1980I read Jane Austen's  Pride and Prejudice for the first time in high school, and fell headlong in love with Fitzwilliam Darcy. I carried that Darcy around in my head for years, looking pretty much like the C.E. Brock illustrations in the edition of the book I first read: Brooding, a little snobby, rich, handsome, and brought low by a woman's love.

Ahhh, Darcy! What's not to love?

In 1980, the BBC produced a mini-series that eventually made its way to Masterpiece Theatre in the U.S. This introduced us to Darcy as performed by David Rintoul, who bore an uncanny resemblance to the Brock illustrations of Darcy. Unfortunately, he bore little to no resemblance to the Darcy who had taken up residence in my subconscious. My Darcy, though repressed and haughty, had a ton of suppressed passion just waiting to be released by the love of a good woman (either Elizabeth Bennet or me, we were pretty much interchangeable by this time). Unfortunately, the resemblance between my Darcy and David Rintoul stopped at the appearance.

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice 1995.Mr. Rintoul's Darcy, I am sorry to report, had apparently had a broomstick permanently implanted in his backside. I mean, could the man sit down? Or smile? Or even move his eyebrows? No, sorry. This was not my Darcy.

Laurence Olivier, the Darcy from 1940 was nobody's Darcy. I don't blame him, you understand. He had the look, he had the affect, he had the lovely manners. What he didn't have was the script. Coming hard on the heels of Gone with the Wind and right before the United States entered WWII, this adaptation eschewed period-correct costume for something a tad more hoop-skirted and insisted on making all of the English characters (even Lady Catherine De Bourgh) good-hearted. Laurence was a lovely hero, but I'm afraid he wasn't my Darcy.

Then! Then! 1995. The BBC did another mini-series that aired in the U.S in 1996 on A&E. What can I say other than 'Oh! Colin!'? Finally, I had found my Darcy. This adaptation had it all: wonderful script, great cast, excellent locations, and a Darcy to die for. Colin Firth nailed it.

It turns out he was the Darcy of my subconscious as well as the Darcy of my dreams: rich, handsome, brooding (oh yes! Brooding in a big way), snobby and brought low by the love of a good woman (Elizabeth Bennet and not me, damn it). But, at last I had found my Darcy. And so had several hundred thousand other women, apparently.

Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightley in Pride and Prejudice 2005But there were some out there who hadn't. In 2005, Joe Wright directed a feature film of Pride and Prejudice, with Matthew Macfadyen as Darcy. He was very nice. And he was probably somebody's idea of Fitzwilliam Darcy. Well, he was obviously quite a few people's idea of Fitzwilliam Darcy, if we are to judge by the fan sites littering the web. Was he handsome and rich? He was cute and rich; will that do? Was he brooding? Yeah. A bit. Was he snobby? I'm afraid not. He was shy, and we all know that the real Darcy was absolutely not shy. Was he brought low by the love of a good woman? Brought low from what? This Darcy was lifted from brooding shyness by the love of a good woman.

Elizabeth can have him. This was not my Darcy.

There are other Darcys out there. The IMDB has a long list. But I rest content that I have found my Darcy. Have you found yours?


Myretta Robens 
The Republic of Pemberley
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1. ksb36
Colin Firth, forever and always. Although I think he may consider it a curse, at this point. He'll never get away from this role, in the public mind. But that's because he was so damn good in it. Which, is really a compliment. Whatever. Mr. Darcy has paid a lot of bills in the Firth household over the years, and it would be nice if he'd acknowledge this.

But in my mind, just as important as the portrayal of Mr. Darcy, is that of Elizabeth Bennett. And in Jennifer Ehle, Firth found the perfect foil. They make each other better in every scene and the UST is so thick, you could practically cut it with a knife. So, I am giving 50% of my love and devotion to her, as well.
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
Myretta, you pose such a tough question. On one hand, Firth IS the iconic Darcy, but OTOH, I really liked Macfadyen's awkward shy take on him. And I thought Keira was a fine Elizabeth, even though Jennifer is my iconic Elizabeth.
Good issues to ponder, though. I don't reread, but I will rewatch!
Donna Cummings
3. Donna Cummings
I cast my vote for Colin Firth's version of Darcy. In fact, I'm surprised that anyone would even want to take on that role after him. LOL Maybe one day somebody else will be able to erase his Darcy from our minds, but it's hard to imagine. :)
Olivia Waite
4. O.Waite
I grew up watching the A&E, and that moment at the end where Darcy realizes she loves him and is accepting his proposal, and he gets that little, stunned not-quite-smile -- oh my. It does me in every time.

And when Bridget Jones came out many years later, where he spends like a third of the movie smiling -- it was like some kind of drug for me to watch it. I'd come to associate Colin Firth's smile with that whole emotional payoff.
5. Catherine Gayle
Colin Firth. Hands down. There is no contest here. I absolutely abhorred the Matthew MacFayden/Keira Knightley version. The BBC film was far and away the best adaptation of the book, and a large part of it was because of Colin Firth's portrayal of the character.
Jennifer Ma
6. Jen X
Colin Firth. He's Darcy.

Re: MacFadyen
Did you watch the bonus features in the 2005 P&P? Because MacFadyen specifically says that he interpreted Darcy as SHY!! The man totally misjudged the character and played him as a such.
7. SillyJaime @ Jaime 2.0
I haven't seen Colin Firth's Darcy, but I've wanted to so badly. I have to admit, I'm one of the girls that fell for Macfadyen's Darcy. I love him.
Myretta Robens
8. Myretta
@SillyJaime, you absolutely must see Colin Firth as Darcy. I promise you you won't be disappointed.
9. K. Keira Soleore
Matthew MacFadyen is my Darcy. Sacrilege, I know! But I liked most of the cast from 2005 more than 1995. Perhaps 2015 will see another version of the movie. I wonder who the next pair are going to be...
10. KateNagy
I've found my people! I could meditate on this interesting question all day, but fwiw: I think Firth played it entirely straight, and Darcy's a role for which he could really draw on his personal and individual strengths as an actor. It was the perfect match of actor and role, in other words, and his interpretation is, well, iconic.

But hold the phone here -- if Firth's portrayal is more iconic, McFadyen's is more interesting to me, because he put a very unusual but altogether logical spin on the role. As a bit of an introvert myself, I know that shyness can come across as aloofness sometimes, and shyness + class privilege + a bit of natural arrogance stemming from no one being around to say "we may not WANT to observe the social niceties here, Fitzwilliam, but we're going to do it anyway"? Totally explains a good bit of Darcy's behavior.

Of course, as readers we'd much rather see the spirited Lizzie tame Darcy's arrogance, rather than merely bring him out of his shell and cure him of a certain social awkwardness, so from that perspective Firth has the edge; I think a convincing argument can be made that McFadyen overthought the role. But I like them both (that scene where McF is walking across the moor to Keira? SWOON), and I unabashedly adore both the miniseries and the movie.
11. kelli landers
Colin!! (enough said)
12. elleoneiram
Funnily enough, I always imagine David Rintoul. True, Colin Firth's portrayal was nuanced, vulnerable, and passionate, though not as softened as Matthew Macfadyen's. But I thought Firth's was a tad smoother than the book Darcy, and Rintoul harsher. Still, the 1980 BBC version is my favorite.

My mom's ideal Darcy is Elliot Cowan in Lost in Austen! I can't say he was toned down.
Laurie Gold
13. LaurieGold
I know it's heresy, but when I dream of Darcy...and I tend to dream more of Jeremy Northam's Mr. Knightley...I see MacFayden more than Firth. I remember arguing with a friend who was annoyed by the ending of the MacFayden version as it was made out of whole cloth, until I reminded her that Darcy diving into the lake was made up as well.
14. Janet W
Colin Firth -- but I was fine with the MacFayden version too (altho not quite as much as Firth) ... and the Bridget Jones Darcy is super too.

Can we talk about Persuasion? Now that was perfect casting.
Alie V
15. ophelial
If I'm basing totally on truthfulness to Austen, Colin Firth wins it hands down. I have a soft spot of Matthew MacFadyen's Darcy though. I liked the shyness he portrayed, it was a different interpretation.
16. reginathorn
Always, always, always Colin Firth. I find Matthew McFadyen really unattractive and David Rintoul looked the part to be sure, but for me it's also the Lizzies in question. Keira Knightley played her as some sort of strange bedraggled tomboy (and the whole production seemed determined to be weirdly indebted to Wuthering Heights!) and Rintoul's Lizzie was cross-eyed. Jennifer Ehle, though, was perfect!!! She managed to be ladylike AND mischievous.
17. fsbuchler
Colin Firth is and forever will be my Darcy. He was Perfect in P&P as well as in Bridget Jones' Diary.
I saw him in The King's Speech just last night; amazing! I'm so glad that he won that Academy Award.
18. fsbuchler
Myretta, I forgot to thank you for this terrific article! I loved reading it.
19. esmith10
I loved Macfayden. So misunderstood and too proud to let anyone even know they had misjudged him. My absolute favorite version. I like Colin Firth in lots of other roles but Matthew has this one.
Myretta Robens
20. Myretta
Thanks, @fsbuchler. I loved writing it.

And Colin Firth will always be my Darcy. But that doesn't mean I won't occasionally watch the other adaptations.
21. Susan Rector
Colin Firth is Mr. Darcy for me. He brings the nuances of the era and the novel alive! BTW, if you've seen The King's Speech, wasn't it nice to see Mr. Firth together with Jennifer Ehle again? Ms. Ehle did a wonderful turn as Lionel's wife, Myrtle.
Samantha Escobedo
22. sam13monky
Colin Firth has been my Mr. Darcy since my mother first had me watch it when I was a little girl. I have been hooked on Colin Firth ever since. There is no other role that can eclipse his Mr. Darcy in my opinion. That is his sexiest role of all time.
23. jeanamarie
For me it's Firth all the way. I have yet to watch the 2005 version of P&P though so I really can't say I hated it. but I did recently try to watch the 1980 version and I have seen parts of the Olivier version as well. I shudder when i think of that version..But that's just me..

I also have to say that Ehle is the perfect Lizzie in my mind. that is part of why I don't like the 1980 version. I hadn't made it very far into the miniseries before I turned it off because Lizzie just didn't seem right to me.

On a second note I hear people say they grew up watching the Firth version of P&P and I think it's not been out that long. and then I realize yeah it was that long ago. but it feels like it was released just yesterday.
24. Hvingelby
I was hooked up in the whole "Austen Universe" by the version from 2005 and well, I kinda stick to it. If I had seen the 1995 version first I might have said differently. I absolutly love Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightley as the couple, though I prefer the Mr. Wickham an Mr. Collins from 1995.
25. SherryMc
Althought I absolutely adore Colin's Mr. Darcy I love David Ritoul's too. I felt like he fit the bill better. He was tall, dark and handsome, high in the instep as they would say and he just seemed like the vision of Mr. Darcy I had in my mind. He did smile at the every end when Elizabeth agreed to marry him and it took my breath away. It would have been nice to have seen that smile a little more.

I still love Colin's Mr. Darcy though and think he did a wonderful job. I thought both Elizabeth Garvie and Jennifer Ehle were right for the role of Elzabeth Bennett. Both were marveous actresses.

I absolutely hated Matthew MacFayden's hang dog Mr. Darcy. IMO, that wasn't Mr. Darcy. Kira Knightly was also horrible as Elizabeth. She played the same role she has played in every movie. I see no layers in her acting. Give me either Colin or David and I will be a happy camper.
26. vbo0210
Colin Firth is my all time favourite. I saw both versions of 1995 and 2005 and allthough the last version was not bad, I still prefer the 1995 one.
Colin is Mr. Darcy.
27. Julie P.
First, last and always, David Rintoul. He's just the way Austen described him -- proud, aloof and enigmatic. And, during their post-engagement conversation, he has a lovely smile.

But then, I'm not a big fan of Darcy anyway. You ladies can fight over him because that leaves more Frederick Wentworth for me. :-D
28. Kym Lucas
Colin Firth. Always and forever, amen.
29. MaryMc
Matthew MacFayden. Hands down. There is no contest here. :)
30. cattblue
Colin Firth is great, but he can't compare to Matthew MacFadyen for me! Wow! I love the subtle expression changes that say so much! And I totally disagree with many of your comments that he only played Darcy as shy...not so! The arrogance and prejudice were blatant, but his fear of admitting his love to Elizabeth (particularly in the Collins' cottage) was so touching. That's where the shyness really stepped in. I also support his desire to approach the part without having read the book. It made a lot of sense.
31. reine
MacFadyen is MY Darcy: shy, gauche, brooding, serious and yes, conceited. I disagree that MacFadyen's Darcy did not change through out the movie. On teh contrary, with less than half the time than the BBC version, MacFadyen expressed Darcy's interior struggles wonderfully. I especially liked the scene at the Bingley's ball and how he ask Elizabeth for a dance, spoiling the moment before it has even began, since he did not even smile, his body rigid when in fact teh scene gives the third indication that he is interested in Lizzie. He dances with her first and even though the way they speak is passionate and yet frigid, they fit each other liek a glove. When MacFadyen/Darcy dances with Caroline Bingley, he does so in total silence and in a mechanical way.I loved how MacFadyen's Darcy was gauche, introvert, his take on Darcy was soooooo subtle. Go MacFadyen!
33. Ginzu
I must say that as a person Matthew captivated me in his role. He was shy and tender and that just melted my heart more...
34. Lira
Colin Firth is good in everything he does, but this time he was just .. PERFECT! After I read the book my cousin made me watch the 2005 movie first and I just didn't enjoy it at all. Bingley was funny though, and Keira did a good job, but Darcy? No, no, no. I watched all the 6 episodes of the 1995 series today and I must say, WOW! I really have no words to describe it. At some scenes I didn't like Jennifer because I excpected her to be more lively and less "polite", but then realised that if she were like that, (a behaviour which may now seem completely normal) Lydia's behaviour would not be shameful. Anyway, back to Colin! :D Have I told you he is the love of my life? From the first time I've seen this man, I just ... I love everything he does. He is my Darcy. :) I also just saw some scenes from the 1980 series and I have to agree completely with you, and the 1940 movie was something quite unexpected. I nearly never watch movies that old, and well it was ... old but not gold. I have to agree again about Darcy, but Elizabeth I did not like at all. When I read the book, I actually had read a little bit online about the actors and I kind of imagined Lizzy and Darcy as Keira and Colin. Colin, Colin, Colin .. *sigh*
35. cattblue
Ahh...such a non-sensical article. No...Colin was never my Darcy. I didn't even like his character, and felt zero compassion or attraction to him. Don't get me wrong, I like him as an actor, in all those silly little romantic comedies he does, but....that's the limit of his abilities. Matthew Macfadyen nailed it. His portrayal of Darcy is so subtle and tears my heart out. You can read all his thoughts in his eyes and subtle expression changes. He's a magnificent actor anyway, but he completely won my heart as Darcy. Now I enjoy watching all his projects, and I'm amazed at the scope of his talent. Matthew IS Darcy!
36. Maria C
Colin Firth is my Mr Darcy. Ever since I saw him in this role, I can't get him out of my mind. Having read the book first, Colin portrayed him him just how I imagined him to be. Argh, he was just so perfect!

I went to see the 2005 version at the cinema. As I sat through it, I just wished Colin was in it as Mr Darcy instead, as well as Jennifer Ehle. They were sensational together.
37. krishnaa
Colin Firth is the definitive Darcy! Hs portrayal of a proud and disagreeable man transformed completely for the love of his life is so convincing. His pride changes to humility before our eyes and that is so captivating.
38. Chinnari Lakshmi
Colin Firth hands down. He is the best Mr. Darcy that I have ever seen. There can never be another Mr. Darcy who is as good as Colin Firth. I fell in love with is portrayal. In fact, 1995 is the best adaption of Pride and Prejudice. The chemistry between the leads is sizzling. I also liked Benjamin Whitrow's portrayal of Mr. Bennett.

Coming bact to .Mr. Darcy. I absolutely love when Colin Firth looks at Jennifer Ehle while she is dancing with Mr. Collins at Netherfield ball. I also adore the way he says "dearest lovelies Elizabeth". Oh, I watch these scenes at least once in a day. Colin Firth is not only the best Mr. Darcy but, for me, he is the only Mr. Darcy.
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