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Rebecca Harrington Headshot

A Modest Defense Of Matthew MacFadyen's Darcy

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I will admit, the first time I saw Joe Wright's 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, I walked out of the theater in a fit of rage.

"The climatic scene took place outside in a garden? And it rained?" I screamed at my friend on the walk back home. "What is this crap, Jane Eyre?

My friend muttered in agreement.

"Also, changing the words of Jane Austen ever so slightly? Who does he think he is? Does he think he's cleverer than Jane Austen? He is not!" I said. I kept uttering versions of these two sentiments for the rest of evening. Really, I am a boring friend.

Flash forward several years, when I recently rewatched the film while feeling especially sick and lying prone on my couch. I still had much of the same feelings I had the first time. Why did so much of it take place outside? Why were Keira's bangs plastered onto her forehead like she was also sick?

But I was also granted another revelation about the film, and that was that Matthew MacFadyen was a great Darcy. Possibly the best I've ever seen.

I think there are two ways to interpret the character of Darcy. Explicitly, of course, he is motivated by a sense of genuine superiority. He is both cool and arrogant-- only able to get his comeuppance from meeting his intellectual equal. But I think one can give equal and perhaps more naturalistic weight to the idea that Darcy's behavior is motivated by a fundamental awkwardness. He is, we know, an anti-social man. He has few friends or aquaintances he enjoys.

When we first meet Darcy, he is refusing to dance and surveying the women in the room rather too harshly. "She is tolerable," he says to Bingley about Elizabeth, "but not handsome enough to tempt me." This sentiment is on the face of it arrogant, but it is also bespeaks a tremendous awkwardness. Who goes to a dance only to ridicule the other people there? Nerds, that is who. Popular kids, like Mr. Bingley et al, usually dance when asked. Darcy's first proposal scene, which many interpret as an immodest display of power, could really be the indelicate verbal vomit of someone unused to behaving in a socially normal way.

It is clear that Colin Firth took the former interpretation of Darcy's character to heart in the BBC's 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. His Darcy is cool, arrogant and in control. He rarely tips his hand. He goes swimming in a lake, just because that is what he wants to do in that moment. In short, he is the platonic ideal of what is most attractive about a certain type of powerful man.

Matthew MacFadyen's Darcy is different. He stammers. He shifts his weight often. His hair was upsetting. He seems at times to almost be crawling out of his own skin. His Darcy is awkward and perhaps less attractive, but rather more real. I have rarely met a man so convinced of his own superiority that he cannot under any circumstances dance in a public place. I have met men far too embarassed to dance in a public place. Unfortunately, the former outnumbers the later.

MacFadyen's Darcy however, does not excuse the kiss at the end of the movie though. That was just appalling. I can still yell about it, if I only ever got the chance.