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FOCUS FEATURES // BBC

Let’s Settle the Great Darcy Debate: Colin Firth v. Matthew Macfadyen

Some feuds have the power to tear families apart, rend cultures in two, or begin a new world order. Other feuds trend so hard, people think Colin Firth is dead. That’s what happened on Twitter in response to this post:

This Tweet led to the million dollar question… Who ‘did Darcy’ better in the two most popular Pride & Prejudice adaptations? Twitter users responded overwhelmingly in Firth’s favor. So much so that fans feared the worst.

Firth is above all things famous for his charm and cheeky good looks. Who among us can forget the leather pants in What a Girl Wants, the wet shirt in Pride & Prejudice (1995), or the Christmas sweater in Bridget Jones’ Diary? Colin fills them all beautifully, and this seems to have won him the treasured Twitter title for best Mr. Darcy.

But – the results have not been officially determined. Twitter has yet to turn to the authority on Darcy-ology for confirmation.

…It’s me. I’m the authority.

Doctor of Darcy-ology

What are my credentials, you may ask? They exist in the form of Pride & Prejudice bracelet, earrings, T-shirt, fan art, fan fiction, and temporary tattoos. Between my transition from eighth to ninth grade, I read the novel six times. My best bud was the English lit teacher, and I was president of the school’s Jane Austen fan club. Ladies and gentlemen, I was born to take this case.

This author is unafraid to look “Lake Scene” groupies in the eye and say the truth – Matthew Macfadyen is the better Darcy. In fact, the best Darcy. And I can prove it.

Exhibit A: You can’t trust Lizzy Bennet’s point of view.

Pride & Prejudice, originally titled First Impressions, was published in 1813 by the infamously insightful Jane Austen. This time around, Austen’s perceptive pen is fixed on the feisty, basically middle class Elizabeth Bennet and the rich, brooding Mr. Darcy. To make a long story short, Lizzy hears Darcy say something rude about her, she decides to hate him forever, then realizes he isn’t actually a bad person at all. A heroine who learns a lesson is one of many Austen trademarks – In Pride & Prejudice the lesson is this: Lizzy’s judgment sucks.

Sure, she’s right about some people – Mr. Collins, for example, is as hilariously repulsive as he seems. (Or is he? Fan fiction, anyone?) Then the girl goes and falls for our villain, totally believing Mr. Wickham’s melodramatic, transparent lies about Mr. Darcy. Why? Because she loves having more reasons to hate her least favorite person. Turns out Darce is a gem who saves everyone’s butts later. The heroine of Pride & Prejudice has a prejudiced point of view. So, we can’t believe a word she says in describing dear old Mr. Darcy.

Exhibit B: Most of the book is in Lizzy’s point of view.

This is what makes the book so effective. Elizabeth Bennet so convincingly perceives Mr. Darcy’s “despicable qualities” that we, the readers, support her trash talk and cheer her on! That is, until we realize Mr. Darcy is a nice, normal man whose judgment is just a bit flawed. Then, like her, we all feel bad and fall in love with him.

We know Lizzy’s judgment can’t be trusted. And we know Lizzy’s point of view comprises the novel. Here, friends, is the final damning piece of evidence…

Exhibit C: Pride & Prejudice (1995) is basically the book.

Andrew Davies did not miss a single page in his adaptation of the novel. Excepting the infamous “Lake Scene” and an intimate look at villainous Wickham, Pride & Prejudice (1995) is a visual replication of the book. A lazy high school senior could watch the miniseries and pass their test – taking just as much time as they would have reading the book.

To coincide with the story’s replication, Colin Firth must play the cookie cutter mold of “book Darcy.” Mind you, he does it brilliantly. One minute he’s Mr. Pompous Perfect Hair, the next he’s swimming around and being charming. Though his regeneration is well performed, Firth is playing Mr. Darcy as Elizabeth Bennet sees him. And, as proven above, the girl sees him wrong.

Testifying for the Defendant, Matthew Macfadyen

Matthew Macfadyen former three season star of crime show MI-5 (a.k.a. Spooks), is now something of a period drama veteran. Yet, even with Macfadyen’s array of BBC and Masterpiece Classic credits, his appearance as Darcy is unsurpassed by any other role. You look at Matthew, you see Darcy. Fans of HBO’s Succession are evidence of that fact.

Pride & Prejudice (2005), directed by Joe Wright and co-starring Keira Knightley, is considered radical by most O.G. Austen fans. Every character and setting is a bit brooding, a bit grungy, a bit…dare I say it, realistic? It is the early 19th century, after all. I doubt everything was clean. And Darcy wouldn’t have any hairspray.

In order to compliment the rustic realism of Joe Wright’s adaptation, Matthew Macfadyen portrays a sullen, mild, not-foppish-at-all Mr. Darcy. And he’s absolutely right in doing so. Since Elizabeth Bennet’s bad opinion of Darcy is based on eavesdropping, false gossip, and her bias against quiet people… We must assume Mr. Darcy to be a normal, socially awkward man of the Regency era. And that is the man Macfadyen plays.

How did Macfadyen perfect the role of misunderstood Darcy? Not by reading the book. This, readers, is a good thing! It freed Macfadyen up to play the man Mr. Darcy likely was, behind Lizzy Bennet’s shade-colored glasses – one who can’t talk to girls, but has great sideburns.

Case closed.

Naturally, women will always have their favorites. Matthew Macfadyen is Darcy-fying women everywhere with that ragged hair and open shirt. But Colin Firth is adored the world over and is often bestowed the title of ‘true Mr. Darcy.’ Readers, when it comes to true portrayals, there can only be one victor.

Who played the legendary Mr. Darcy, as he truly is or would have been? Who made it believable? Based on the startling evidence presented to this court, the verdict favors Macfadyen.

The gavel has gone down. Let the civil disobedience begin.

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