The definitive Mr. Darcy

Sunday night was the third and concluding part of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ on PBS Masterpiece. It’s a version that’s not new to me. I’ve seen it before, with great enjoyment. As far as I’m concerned, Colin Firth is the definitive Mr. Darcy. He looks and moves and talks like Mr. Darcy and, although he doesn’t smile until the end of the story, his every nuance speaks volumes. I wait for that smile with breathless anticipation. Elizabeth and Jane Bennet are wonderful as the two sensible older sisters. Mr. Bennet, the father, is splendid. And Mary, the homely middle sister, is very engaging.

But there is one performance that agitates me, like a piercing high-pitched screech. It’s the mother, Mrs. Bennet, who is so strident that I cringe whenever she opens her mouth, and whose one-note performance makes me want to look away whenever I see or hear her.

When I see an interpretation of a major Jane Austen character that is so lacking in nuance, I can only conclude that the actor doesn’t understand Jane Austen and/or has read her only superficially. Elizabeth and Jane love their mother and younger sisters, despite their stupendous lack of judgment and sense. This awareness has enabled other actors to soften and layer the character of Mrs. Bennet, and present her sympathetically. After all, Mrs. Bennet just wants to marry off her five young chicks.

As for Andrew Davies’ dramatization, he can do no wrong when it comes to Jane Austen novels. And with ‘Pride and Prejudice’ he wisely lifts much of the dialogue whole cloth from the novel. After all, how can you improve on perfection? Especially when you have five hours in which to display the material.

3 thoughts on “The definitive Mr. Darcy

  1. Don’t you think it’s interesting that there are few admirable parents in Jane Austen’s novels? The mother in Northanger Abbey seems decent enough, but she’s barely in the story. And the mother in Sense and Sensibility isn’t too bad, though she encourages the younger daughter’s romantic notions. But those were the first books Austen wrote, weren’t they? After that, mommy and daddy dearest are flawed, to say the least. I think Anne Eliot’s father, in Persuasion, wins the awfulness prize. And in Emma, I never could understand Emma’s forbearance of her self-centered father. In Mansfield Park, even the parental substitutes are terrible. Maybe it was just a convention of Austen’s storytelling, but it does make you wonder about her own life. We know, for example, that she had a good relationship with her sister Cassandra. And that kind of relationship is faithfully echoed in her books — Elizabeth and Jane in Pride and Prejudice, Elinor and Marianne in Sense and Sensibility.

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  2. Except for the heartless father in Persuasion, I think that Austen’s parental characters are flawed but sympathetic. Mr. Bennet is intelligent but indolent. The Northanger Abbey parents are loving but distracted by their large brood. The Sense and Sensibility mother is loving but incurably romantic. Emma’s father is self-centered but irresistibly loving and affectionate. And Lord Bertram, in Mansfield Park, is proud but capable of change (like Mr. Darcy), while Lady Bertram is gentle and harmless, although she takes indolence to a whole new level.

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  3. The series, for me, is wonderful. I find myself so involved in the story, and I find the characters to be very believeable. I was just reading the comment that Ann Proulx had about her written word being brought to life, and it reminded me of this very subject. I find myself doing the same thing; the characters in this series are exactly how I would have imagined them to be. Bravo(a).

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