The Contamination of Mr. Darcy

March 26, 2010

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Photo by flickr user nicogenin

Cognizant of the danger upon which I place myself in asserting the following declaration, I will nonetheless state it: I cannot stand Colin Firth. For those of you who dwell outside the realm of predictable “chick-flicks” and vacuous dialogue, I will enlighten you by disclosing that Colin Firth is a British actor, commonly cast as the cute, considerate, complicated and endearingly clumsy love interest to the female protagonist in films such as “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” “Love Actually” and “Mamma Mia.” Typically (read: in “Bridget Jones,” for I cannot rid myself of the image of his character in that movie), the heroine initially overlooks Darcy, Firth’s character, as a potential lover because his shy, reserved nature registers as snobbish. Furthermore, a gallant, glowing gentleman (i.e., Hugh Grant) who turns out to be a rake, is usually in the way of Firth’s conquest. The playboy woos the painfully insecure woman, uninspired dialogue ensues, the lover is exposed as a cheater, the woman is in throes, but—alas—Colin resurfaces and heals the wounded heart.

Don’t misapprehend me; I am a sucker for inane romantic comedies, yet my irritation with Colin Firth originates from the broody, slightly pathetic characters he portrays in these movies.

The paramount motive for my aversion to Firth is in the fact that he has forever tainted my perception of Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy.

Admittedly, I actually like Firth’s rendering of Austen’s irresistible—albeit fictional—creation. The actor portrays the original Mr. Darcy (not the gloomy, feeble one in “Bridget Jones”) with much devotion to the original text—therefore leaving very little to criticize—in the 1995 A&E miniseries production of “Pride and Prejudice.” Nevertheless, I will never forgive Firth for playing such an admirable personage as Darcy, only to pollute the character’s image with his subsequent movie choices.

How could he? Is Firth truly so insensible as not to foresee the injurious consequences that would plague his audience by succeeding Mr. Darcy with such unremarkable characters? I will never again be able to read the scene in “Pride and Prejudice” in which Darcy indignantly proposes to Elizabeth and she rejects his offer, without picturing the “Bridget Jones” Mr. Darcy bursting into tears.

I suppose my qualm with the poor Mr. Firth is rooted in a vaster dominion than this particular actor’s movies, and I might just possibly be projecting my anger towards the most salient exemplar of my frustration. The bigger picture is in fact the following: movies based on books are always disappointing, and more importantly, they very often cloud the reader’s imaginative powers and subject them to a particular perspective of the work from which it is very difficult to detach oneself.

It is not the actors’ fault per se, but thespians certainly carry a portion of the blame when they choose to partake in the cinematographic rendition of a literary work that doesn’t do justice to the original text. Arguably, a film will never be able to equal a book in its ability to inspire, stimulate, question and enlighten; as the medium itself lacks the faculty to depict the subtleties that are presented in the written word—that is, unless the screenplay follows the original text verbatim. I cannot, for the life of me, imagine a movie based on a Henry James novel; it is actually painful for me to do so. I refuse to believe that the brilliant Isabel Archer from “The Portrait of a Lady” can be in any way emulated by Nicole Kidman.

It is precisely for this reason that I do estimate the 1953 film version of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” as a fine representation, for the movie stays very true to the author, and when it digresses, it doesn’t offend by attempting to surpass Shakespeare’s rhetorical genius. The most memorable scene in the movie is, ironically, one in which Marlon Brando, who plays Mark Antony, stands before the Roman people and silently gestures—doesn’t modify—the notorious “Friends, Romans, countrymen” speech.

Only films that are based on mediocre books have the capacity to convey new meaning to the text. My first encounter with Nicholas Sparks’ “The Notebook” was through the movie version, which I, like every other teenage girl in the country, quite thoroughly enjoyed. Such was my emotional attachment to the story that I decided to read the novel, which was, in hindsight, quite an absurd idea. Not only did the book disappoint my expectation that the written version would provide a deeper identification with the characters, but it actually ruined the movie for me by exposing the whole narrative for what it really is: a clichéd love story.

It might not be evident from this post, but I am actually quite a filmophile (so much so that I venture to define it in a term that doesn’t exist). However, I am not an advocate of merging literature and film. There are some brilliant screenwriters out there, I am sure (though most of them are currently in hiding, in my opinion), just as there are gifted novelists. Nevertheless, each of them should strive to improve their respective mediums, and if possible, refrain from interfering with the other, because if I happen to see a preview of Colin Firth playing Don Quixote, windmills will be the least of his worries.