The sight of Colin Firth in his white shirt, breeches and enviable sideburns, emerging from Pemberley’s lake certainly stirred the heart of Elizabeth Bennet, not to mention the pulses of countless female viewers across the globe. But while his Mr Darcy remains one of the most iconic in TV history, his portrayal was not the first and is certainly not the last, with the recent announcement that Matthew Rhys will become the latest actor to step into the brooding bachelor’s shoes in new BBC serial, Death Comes to Pemberley.
So to celebrate the upcoming three-part adaptation of PD James’s Austen spin-off, we thought we’d indulge in a run-through of the finest Mr Darcy’s in TV and film history. From Laurence Olivier’s 1940s incarnation to Martin Henderson’s Bollywood inspired Bride and Prejudice turn, not to mention Matthew Macfadyen’s starring role opposite Keira Knightley, here is an essential reminiscence of the very best Mr Darcys…
Even in black and white, Laurence Olivier smoulders as Lizzie Bennet’s dashing suitor. After seeing to her sister Lydia’s predicament – following her scandalous elopement with deceptive soldier Mr Wickham – Darcy returns to the Bennet household bearing news of Mr Bingley’s imminent proposal. But the gallant gent has a surprise of his own up his voluminous sleeve – a second proposal to Lizzie, the outspoken object of his affections. This Mr Darcy has none of the awkward stuttering of latter portrayals – Olivier’s smooth delivery and bushy sideburns make for a easy-on-the-eye romantic hero as he shares a smooch with his “dear, beautiful Lizzie”.
Fast-forward to 1980 and David Rintoul was telling Lizzie Bennet “how much I ardently admire and love you” in Darcy’s cringe-worthy first proposal. A note to any rich, comely gentlemen readying himself to ask for his loved one’s hand in marriage: do not first berate her for “the inferiority of her family, the miserable connection, the degradation and the lack of judgement” she displays. It doesn’t go down too well, as can be seen in the following clip…
The greatest Mr Darcy of all time, at least according to RadioTimes.com readers, Firth put in a quintessentially British performance as Austen’s romantic hero. His awkward ardour, delightfully plummy accent and cracking sideburns made Firth’s name, and while his heartfelt proposal to “dearest, loveliest Elizabeth” holds a treasured place in female hearts, it’s the iconic scene where he emerges from Pemberley’s lake for which he will be best remembered. Need a reminder? Neither do we, but that’s not going to stop us watching this clip again (and again and again…)
Recovered? Ok, moving on to Bride and Prejudice’s Martin Henderson. This Bollywood-inspired production sees Darcy reincarnated as a smooth-talking, snappy-dressing American hotelier (ooh-er) alongside Aishwarya Rai as Elizabeth Bennet’s opposite number, Lalita Bakshi. Their modern-day adventure sees the couple meet at a friend’s wedding in Lalita’s native India but circumstances parallel to Austen’s 200-year-old novel bring their burgeoning love affair to an abrupt end, before Darcy works to win her back. Punctuated by Bollywood’s trademark musical numbers, this 2004 adaptation from Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha was a surprise box office hit. Here are Darcy and Wickham competing for Lalita’s affections…
Matthew Macfadyen’s turn in Mr Darcy’s shoes opposite Hollywood A-lister Keira Knightley was much anticipated – and his frosty presence did not disappoint. Directed by Atonement’s Joe Wright, this 2005 silver screen production saw Pride and Prejudice adapted for a 21st century audience, with Macfadyen’s brooding presence a rare depiction capable of rivalling Firth’s. While his ill-concealed regard for Lizzie emerges later in the film, the following scene sees the pair fire barbed comments back and forth as they dance together during Mr Bingham’s Netherfield Ball.
2008’s Lost in Austen subverted the classic Pride and Prejudice plot by sending present-day fan Amanda Price back in time to the Bennet household after she swaps places with Lizzie. So far, so bizarre… But the five-part ITV serial boasted a stellar cast, including Hugh Bonneville, Gemma Arterton, Alex Kingston – and, of course, Elliot Cowan’s Mr Darcy. His muscular physique more than compliments the necessary “lake scene” that Amanda requests him to indulge in, but does he match the dizzy heights of Firth? Judge for yourself in the clip below…