Colin Firth vs. Matthew MacFayden
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the question of which Darcy is the best is a strongly debated topic among avid Janeites, and, in my experience, more often than not, Firth comes out on top.
Firstly, I shall say that I am only going to compare Colin Firth and Matthew MacFayden as I believe they are the two performances which get talked of the most. And I will also put in my opinion here – which is that I cannot choose between these amazing actors and I do not favour one over the other. I am merely aiming to state my reasons why I think that MacFayden should be given a fair trial with his performance as Mr Darcy. I believe there are certain differences of situation that need to be taken into consideration before announcing Firth to be the best.
I know that many people say that Firth set the bar too high in the BBC’s production in 1995, meaning no one could even compete with his performance – don’t get me wrong, it was a fantastic performance – but I think that the people who watched the 2005 Pride and Prejudice with this thought in their head would be starting in the wrong frame of mind from the off. If you think that no one can better Firth, then you will not let yourself find someone to better Firth. Another problem in this area is that for many, 1995 Pride and Prejudice would have been their first viewing of an adaptation, given it was made 10 years before the other, of the spectacular novel – and your first experience is often the one that sticks! For me this wasn’t an issue. My first experience with any Austen at all was the 2005 version. But, when I watched the 1995 version for the first time, given that I heard a lot about Firth’s performance, I did not go into thinking that he would not be as good as MacFayden. Hence why I cannot decide who I like the best – and why I don’t plan to choose!
I have heard many people say to me, when asked about MacFayden’s performance, ‘he didn’t do it like Colin Firth!’But to this, I can only say - good! Would not it merely be copying if he had tried to imitate Firth’s performance? Each actor, whatever the role and however many times it has been played before, should make the character his own! This is exactly what I think MacFayden did as there is no real similarity between the way the parts were played. MacFayden himself said that he had not read Pride and Prejudice and consequently based the character entirely on the script he was given. I personally think I would have been bored to see another actor try and perform the same role in the same style... it is nice to see how different people interpret the character.
A side point here would be that many love the ‘extra Darcy scenes’ in the 1995 version – who could forget the image of a rather good looking man walking towards you soaked to the skin... Sorry – daydreaming!! ;) As there are these ‘extra’ (also the fencing and the bath scene) which are not in the novel, I think it is unfair to say people do not like the different scenes in the 2005 one. The first proposal, for example, is not like the book I grant you but it does mean he gets a wet shirt!!! Also other deviations from the setting of events I think can be overlooked, especially because of the added scenes in the 1995 one, and the ending may be different from the novel but it was still wonderfully romantic I think, even if not that Regency! I am from England meaning the ending was not the part outside Pemberley after their marriage which I will admit goes a little too far – even though it is still rather sweet! That ending is in the bonus features called ‘Alternate US Ending’, and for us the film finishes when Elizabeth runs out of her father’s room once she has permission to marry, to tell Darcy the good news! This leads to the ending of the 1995 – the double wedding – different to the novel also!
Back to Firth vs. MacFayden. I think it is fair to say that Firth went down the ‘proud’ route, whereas MacFayden went the ‘shy’ route. This brings me onto my other point of time scale. The 1995 SERIES was 5 hours long and the 2005 FILM only 2 hours – that’s a big difference! Do you not think that if MacFayden had gone the proud way that his transformation in such a short time would be a lot less imaginable and realistic? (Yes, I know that technically it is over the same time but I mean screen time scale!) Whereas, MacFayden’s shy Darcy growing into a more confident man did work for that length of time. Firth, however, had the time to develop the role from a very proud man to a lovely gentleman. :) Some here might argue that Darcy is meant to start proud as that it is how he is portrayed in the book – yes, it’s titled PRIDE and Prejudice I know ;) – but there is also in the novel instances showing him to be also a shy man. For example, he says himself “I certainly have not the talent which some people possess of conversing easily with those I have never seen before.” So, both pride and shyness are evident in the character in the novel meaning the performances of both are acceptable in regards to the novel.
These are just a few reasons why I think that MacFayden’s performance should not be so quickly dismissed and why I think that the high bar which was set by Firth was definitely reached by MacFayden and why I cannot pick a favourite and why I love them both equally, however much this little article makes me sound as if I am for MacFayden!
Your affectionate friend,