Hands up if you love Pride and Prejudice?
(Now typing with one hand because the other one’s in the air.) Anyone without their hand up – you may be surprised to learn that actually you know P&P better than you think you do. It’s a timeless classic of girl meets boy, girl hates boy, girl gets a crush on handsome, charming but ultimately very bad boy, girl eventually realises she loves original boy after all. Throw in an overbearing mother and you’ve got yourself a hit. In other words, it’s the formula that the modern day romantic comedy is built on, not least Bridget Jones’ Diary (Helen Fielding openly admits that she stole the plot for her best-selling novel from Jane Austen).
Recently, my mum, my sister and I went to see Pride and Prejudice at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre (one of my favourite places to go in the summer – unless it’s raining). The play was quite faithful to the original novel, with a few necessary tweaks to make it work on stage, and I was slightly taken aback at how much of the script I knew before the actors even opened their mouths. In conversation with a friend the other day, I was able to put her straight on all the characters and who marries who, without even stopping to think about it. So I think it’s fair to say I’m a fan.
A few years ago, I shared a house with a couple of girlfriends, and we would occasionally have ‘P&P Sunday’. This involved kicking out any boys who happened to be in the house – not that they really needed much kicking, if I remember correctly – and spending the entire day watching the BBC TV series on DVD and eating ice cream. Good times… We also used to argue about which of the Bennet sisters we’d be, and which of the gentlemen we thought we’d end up marrying. Needless to say, I wanted a Mr Darcy, but was told by my friend that she could more likely see me with a Mr Bingley. (Well, I suppose it’s better than Mr Collins.) As it is, I’m currently lacking either; if I were one of the Bennet sisters, I imagine my mother would have despaired of me long ago.
When you say ‘Mr Darcy’, most people, including me, immediately think of Colin Firth, who starred in the role in that BBC version, making lots of women the world over very happy by diving into a lake. (Ok, so Jane Austen never wrote that scene, but what’s a bit of fabrication between friends?) In fact, when asked at a recent pub quiz, ‘What was Mr Darcy’s first name?’, the instant answer that came to mind was ‘Colin’. Shortly followed by ‘John’, for some inexplicable reason. Funnily enough, neither of those is correct – it’s actually Fitzwilliam, a fact I will literally never forget ever again, after I had to be reminded by a male team member. Oh, the shame.
But honestly it doesn’t really matter who’s playing Mr Darcy. Colin Firth’s the first one I remember (I was only 13 when the BBC adaptation was first on TV). Matthew Macfadyen played him in the movie version alongside Keira Knightley. We saw David Oakes in the role at Regent’s Park; he proved very popular with the (largely female) audience. Honestly, I think just about anyone could play that character (within reason) and we’d probably still love him.
So what is it about Mr Darcy that makes us all go weak at the knees? He’s rude, grumpy and a bit of a snob. He interferes in his friend’s relationships. He’s really bad at proposing. And his best friend is Mr Bingley, who just happens to be the nicest guy in the world, making everyone look bad in comparison. But underneath all that our Fitzwilliam has a heart of gold, is a loyal big brother and turns out in the end to be a bit of a hero. Plus he’s very rich, which always helps. He’s just the right mix of good and bad to make him irresistible. Also – the lake thing.
Today I went on a field trip after work to Hyde Park, hoping to see the giant statue in the Serpentine (even though, if I’m honest, it looks a little bit terrifying). But it’s already gone, which was slightly disappointing. I guess I’ll have to keep looking…
Ok, you can put your hand down now.