Yesterday a friend read my post about The Goblin King and accused me of choosing that character because even if there were no Goblin King, I’d still be hot for David Bowie. True, but he also argued that since the Goblin King never appeared anywhere else before the film was made, that he didn’t really count as a fictional character. He said I just wanted to fuck “David Bowie with Tina Turner hair.” While David Bowie does in fact have Tina Turner hair in Labyrinth and I still think he’s totally fucakble in that role, Jareth the Goblin King is a fictional character. A character with David Bowie’s face, voice, moves, crotch and charisma, but last I checked, David Bowie was never reported to steal babies and turn them into goblins, nor was he a wizard, nor did he own a labyrinth. I can’t speak to his desires to hang out with Muppets or date teen-aged girls, but Labyrinth has a screenplay and Jareth is fictional.
But, this questioning of where Jareth begins and David Bowie ends sparked an interesting discussion. It has occurred to me several times while choosing fictional characters for these posts that the reason I love a particular character so much is because of the actor who is portraying him or her. In many cases, the characters we’ve grown to love in fiction, either from books, comic books, cartoons, etc., become almost impossible to separate from the actors who have brought those characters to life on screen. For many die-hard fiction readers it is often disappointing when the wrong actor is cast in the role of one of our favorite characters. The first two who spring to my mind are Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt as Lestat and Louis in Interview with the Vampire. I love Anne Rice, but I’ll never forgive her for allowing that to happen. Stuart Townsend was a better choice in Queen of the Damned, but still not right. In fact most of the casting choices for both of those films left me confused and irate.
So today I thought I’d tackle a character created by Jane Austen and published in her novel, Pride and Prejudice, in 1813. This particular character has become an archetype for romantic heroes, especially those who are either difficult to attain, or at first glance appear to be complete pricks, and he is widely accepted as a literary hottie. I’m choosing him not only because he first appeared in print, but because he is studied in classrooms, appears in many film and television adaptations of Austen’s novel, and most importantly, he has been portrayed by several different actors. Each actor lends an aspect of his own personality to the character. Unlike David Bowie as Jareth, we can think of him as completely fictional without attaching him to one particular actor.
February 19: Mr. Darcy
Fitzwilliam Darcy (there’s an old joke somewhere in that name) is most often referred to in the novel and elsewhere as Mr. Darcy, or Darcy. He is the primary love interest of the main character, Elizabeth Bennet. However, when they first encounter each other at a ball he is incredibly rude and refuses to dance with her. Elizabeth overhears him telling his friend, Mr. Bingley, “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.” For most readers and viewers the automatic reaction to his behavior is to think “what a prick.” And, depending on which actor is portraying him, you might be inclined to think “what a handsome prick he is.”
For the purposes of this post I have chosen three of the hottest Darcy’s to date: Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen, and Sam Riley. All three are completely fuckable versions of Mr. Darcy, and each for their own separate reasons. Colin Firth is an interesting Mr. Darcy, because not only did he portray Jane Austen’s character for the BBC in 1995, but also his portrayal inspired Helen Fielding to write Bridget Jones’s Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Colin Firth was cast as Mark Darcy in both films. So, apparently to some viewers, he’s the Über Darcy. If you want to see Colin Firth at his sexiest (in my opinion), watch Kingsman: The Secret Service. He gives James Bond a run for his money.
Colin Firth is a very sexy man, but he isn’t my favorite Darcy. Until last weekend, my favorite Darcy was Matthew Macfayden. The first time I encountered him was in the BBC television show Spooks, in which he played MI5 Intelligence Officer Tom Quinn. When I found out he’d be playing Darcy I nearly had a heart attack. And now, I love him as Detective Inspector Edmund Reid on Ripper Street. He’s so effing dreamy, and he has a knack for eliciting not only an emotional response from me, but his on-screen kisses are to die for. But, this past weekend, I encountered the Darcy of my darkest dreams.
Sam Riley is by far the hottest Darcy I’ve ever seen. Young, fit, handsome, and don’t get me started about his voice. But here’s the thing. I think the main reason I love him so much is because of how he had to adapt Darcy to meet the satirical background of Seth Grahame-Smith’s parody novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Make no mistake, he is a genuine Darcy, but he’s also a kick-ass zombie hunter. In a long, black leather coat. In fact, he is dressed all in black, and I couldn’t help thinking he would make a wonderful vampire some day. Fingers crossed.
He takes Darcy’s prickishness to a level I’ve never witnessed and it is glorious. One of the best scenes in the film (and book) is when he first proposes to Elizabeth. She not only turns him down, but they have a knockdown, drag-out martial arts-inspired fight that is one of the sexiest scenes ever. It reminded me of Buffy and Spike kicking each other’s asses right before they started boinking each other. H. O. T.
Since the story is primarily told through Elizabeth’s narration, she doesn’t always have all the details she needs (nor do we) to make a fair judgment of Mr. Darcy or the other characters connected to him. Elizabeth and Darcy remain in contact with each other throughout the novel due to circumstances and people who connect them. Elizabeth’s sister Jane has a romantic relationship with Mr. Bingley, but Darcy believes she is only interested in his money, and persuades Bingley not to pursue an engagement. While he unfairly judges Jane, he is looking out for his friend’s best interests, and proves himself to be a loyal friend.
Around the same time Elizabeth becomes aware of Mr. Darcy, she becomes acquainted with Mr. Wickham, a man who has known Darcy most of his life. He tells her a story filled with half-truths about how Darcy has mistreated him. Later, we discover that Wickham is a liar and he runs off with one of Elizabeth’s younger sisters, Lydia.
Through her initial impression, knowledge of his influence in Bingley calling off his engagement to Jane, and the misinformation given by Mr. Wickham, Elizabeth develops a strong dislike of Mr. Darcy. Like us, she thinks he’s a prick.
To be fair, he does seem to think an awful lot of himself. He is very wealthy, with an income around £10,000 a year, and a large estate in Derbyshire. So, that alone makes him a good catch. But he’s also intelligent, likes to read, and even by Jane Austen’s accounts, he’s easy on the eyes. Aside from his rudeness when he first encounters Elizabeth, he’s actually a gentleman and adheres to the practices of polite society. We already know that he finds friendship important and we learn that he is very protective of his younger sister, Georgiana.
Throughout the novel, Darcy has many opportunities to witness Elizabeth’s accomplishments and gets insight into her character. The more he sees, the more he likes, and eventually falls in love with her. He struggles with this fact since he intellectually cannot ignore the difference in their backgrounds. Eventually he declares his love for Elizabeth, but his delivery, combined with Elizabeth’s perception of him doesn’t end well. Like an idiot, while proposing marriage to the woman he loves, he reminds her of the gap in their social status. Basically, he says she’s beneath him. And it comes as no surprise to the reader/viewer that she tells him off and declines his proposal. In fact, this surprises no one but Darcy. He is embarrassed and hurt, and goes away angry.
Darcy is angered by Elizabeth’s animated refusal and harsh criticism of his character, but he is also shocked to discover how others perceive him, and he sets out to correct these misconceptions about himself.
First he writes a letter to Elizabeth explaining why he interfered with Bingley and Jane’s relationship, and defends his wounded honor, as well as setting her straight about Wickham. We learn that Wickham tried to elope with Darcy’s sister the previous summer, and when Darcy discovers Wickham has run off with Lydia, he insists on their marriage to save the Bennet family any further embarrassment.
He turns out to be a pretty decent guy once the truth comes out, and he gives his blessing to Bingley to continue his courtship of Jane. When Elizabeth has the whole picture she realizes that she is also in love with Darcy. So, when he returns to Longbourn with Bingley and asks Elizabeth once again to marry him, she finally says yes.
So, in general, Austen’s Mr. Darcy is a well-written character that has provided us with more than 200 years of entertainment. And each actor’s portrayal keeps him fresh and alive. I think that would make Jane happy to know that her creation has remained part of the literary and entertainment discussions for this long. I wonder who her favorite Darcy would be. There is some speculation that there was a real person she knew who inspired the character, and literary nerds have been trying to figure out who that person was for years. I don’t really care who inspired the character, but I do appreciate how the character has inspired actors to bring their A-Game to the screen.