Has Colin Firth Finally Outrun Darcy?

Colin Firth as George V.

Colin Firth as George VI.

It’s been quite a week for Colin Firth. The 50-year-old British actor got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He won Best Actor honors at both the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice Awards for his performance as the stammering King George VI in “The King’s Speech.” And critics and fans predict that he’ll take home the Best Actor Oscar in March. (The nominations won’t be announced till January 25, but Firth is sure to be on the list.) UPDATE: Colin Firth did indeed win the Oscar for Best Actor, though the Academy passed over Geoffrey Rush for supporting actor.

For three decades, Firth has given solid performances, ranging from comic to tragic, in a wide range of films, including “Valmont,” “Bridget Jones’ Diary,” “The English Patient,” “Shakespeare in Love,” “Love Actually,” “Fever Pitch,” “Nanny McPhee”, “Mamma Mia,” “Girl With a Pearl Earring” and “A Single Man” (which garnered him an Oscar nomination and a BAFTA win in 2009 for Best Actor).

But the role for which he has been most famous is that of Mr. Darcy in the BBC’s beloved 1995 production of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Firth brought Mr. Darcy to life, and sent legions of female fans into a swoon when he emerged from a pond in a wet shirt. He followed up with a modern version of Darcy in “Bridget Jones’ Diary” and “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.” For many (mostly female) fans, Colin Firth is Mr. Darcy, and vice versa.

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New “Emma” Doesn’t Quite Hit the Mark

emma2009I felt as if I were watching “Emma” 2009 through smudged glass. I found it entertaining for the most part, but it never deeply engaged my emotions and it didn’t make me laugh enough.

PBS’ “Masterpiece” will air the BBC’s latest version of “Emma” (which debuted in the UK in fall 2009)  in three weekly episodes (a 2-hour episode and two 1-hour episodes), starting this Sunday, Jan. 24.

I’ll start by admitting that I wasn’t sure why we needed a remake of “Emma” anyway. We already have three filmed takes on Jane Austen’s comic novel: the very good 1972 BBC “Emma” with Doran Godwin, the excellent 1996 BBC version with Kate Beckinsale , and the wonderful 1996 Miramax feature film starring Gwyneth Paltrow. Then there’s “Clueless,” the cute 1995 movie starring Alicia Silverstone that transports Austen’s meddling heroine to modern times. Then again, it’s been 13 years since the last Emmas aired, enough time for a new generation to need introduction to Austen’s clueless anti-heroine.

In the new “Emma,” Romola Garai mugs her way through the title role; at any moment I expected her to say, “Omigod!” This version of “Emma” was no doubt designed to appeal to viewers younger than I. After the first half hour or so, I got used to Garai’s interpretation of Austen’s comic heroine, though I can’t say I ever fell in love with it.

While my heart will forever belong to Jeremy Northam’s Mr. Knightley,  Jonny Lee Miller’s performance in the new version probably comes closest to the Mr. Knightley of Austen’s novel. Northam (Miramax 1996 film) played up Knightley’s sense of humor. Mark Strong (BBC 1996) emphasized his more serious side. Miller skillfully blends the two.

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Meeting the Austen Challenge

Oh my, time does fly. Back in July, I announced that I would be taking part in the Everything Austen Challenge. I more than fulfilled the requirement to read or watch six Austen-related books or movies before January 1. In fact, I easily met the requirements of the Austen Challenge X Two. Alas, I have been too busy this fall (well, OK, sometimes just too lazy) to post about my reading and viewing adventures.

I’ve got bits and pieces of reviews scattered over my hard drive, which I will gather up and post over the next week or two, but in the meantime, I ring in the new year with a list of what I have read/watched since the Challenge began in July.

  1. Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World, by Claire Herman. I actually did manage to post a review of this.
  2. Jane Austen Ruined My Life, by Beth Pattillo. An entertaining, Austen-inspired modern tale in which the heroine is lured to London by the promise of a cache of undiscovered Jane Austen letters. The cover alone, featuring a swooning lass in an eye-catching scarlet dress, is worth the price of the book.
  3. The Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman trilogy by Pamela Aidan. These well-written books, told from Darcy’s point of view, include An Assembly Such as This, Duty and Desire, and These Three Remain.
  4. “Clueless,” the fun 1995 movie that transports Emma to a 20th century high school. Alicia Silverstone plays the clueless, matchmaking heroine. [Read more…]

Challenge Yourself with Everything Austen

Been meaning to read Sense and Sensibility or Mr. Darcy’s Diary? Never did get around to seeing the movie “Mansfield Park”?

Deadline for entering the Everything Austen Challenge is July 15.

Deadline for entering the Everything Austen Challenge is July 15.

Well, here’s your chance to catch up on all things Austen, and maybe win a prize in the process. The blog Stephanie’s Written Word has announced the Everything Austen Challenge. Between July 1, 2009 and January 1, 2010, simply finish six Austen-themed things, such as reading one of Austen’s books, watching Austen-related movies, or attending an Austen event.

Since I’ve seen just about every Austen-related movie out there, my list is heavy on books. The first item on my list is reading The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy, which is proving to be quite diverting (look for a review shortly). I’m also going to read Sense and Sensibility…I never have read it all the way through. Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife should be arriving soon. I’m also keen to read Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World. And I look forward to “Clueless,” one of the rare Austen-inspired movies I have not seen. In a more proactive mode, I’m also working on a couple of Austen-related YouTube videos.

Of course, the list may evolve as the months pass.

How about you? What’s on your Austen Challenge list?

Jane Austen Popular as Ever with Filmmakers

Next to Shakespeare, Austen is one of the most widely adapted English writers. The plots of her novels have been modernized, satirized, idolized, and revised every which way. And she’s as popular as ever, judging by projects in the works:

  • The BBC is once again filming a mini-series of “Emma,” for release this fall. The four-part series stars Romula Garai (“Atonement”) in the title role, with Jonny Lee Miller (who played Edmund Bertram in 1999’s “Mansfield Park”) as Mr. Knightley. We last visited “Emma” in 1996, which saw the release of both a BBC miniseries (starring Kate Beckinsale and Mark Strong) and a feature film. I’m not sure anyone can top the latter, with Gwyneth Paltrow’s delightfully dizzy Emma and Jeremy Northam’s devastatingly charming Mr. Knightley, but more of “Emma” can never be a bad thing. Thanks to the folks at Pemberley.com, you can see set photos of Romula Garai and Jonny Lee Miller. And there’s a video slide show of the filming in Kent on YouTube.
  • After having fun with the popular and highly regarded “Bride and Prejudice,” Bollywood is tackling “Ayesha,” the Indian equivalent of “Emma.” “Slumdog Millionaire” star Anil Kapoor is producing, and his daughter, Sonam Kapoor, plays the title role and Abhay Deol is her Mr. Knightley.

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Pride Gone with the Wind

The budget was tight (there was  a war on, after all) and legend has it that many of the costumes were borrowed from the previous year’s “Gone with the Wind.” The studio favored Clark Gable for the male lead, and Vivien Leigh was in the running, at least briefly, to play Elizabeth Bennet, though Greer Garson got the role.

Yes, it’s Longbourn meets Tara, better known as the 1940 version of “Pride and Prejudice.” Fortunately, Rhett Butler does not re-materialize as Mr. Darcy—the role went to Laurence Olivier—though Vivien “Miz Scarlett!” Leigh might well have made quite a feisty and lively Lizzy.

Somehow I had escaped seeing the 1940 movie of Jane Austen’s most beloved novel until recently. My first inclination was to laugh at the costumes. At any moment, I expected Lizzy Bennet to tear down the draperies to make a dress. My second inclination was to cringe at what MGM had done to Austen’s marvelous love story. While they kept much of her dialogue, they threw out some of the best lines, and dulled her sharp, sometimes caustic wit with a typically syrupy Hollywood story.

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‘Lost in Austen’ DVD Finally Arrives

Lost in Austen's Mr. Darcy, portrayed by Eliot Cowan

Lost in Austen’s Mr. Darcy, portrayed by Elliot Cowan

A couple of weeks ago, “Lost in Austen” finally came out on DVD in the United States. Those of us who delight in this marvelously twisted take on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice couldn’t be happier.

This sharply written four-part series, which originally aired on British TV, then on the Oxygen channel (and PBS) here, revolves around what happens when a modern woman, Amanda Price (excellently portrayed by Jemima Rooper), finds herself transported into fictional Georgian England, right into the heart of Jane Austen’s most famous novel. As Amanda tries to negotiate the intricacies of early 19th century dancing, dining and etiquette, Lizzy Bennet, the heroine of Pride and Prejudice, is living it up in 21st century London and shows no signs of wanting to come back.

Like many women, Amanda loves Pride and Prejudice for its timeless love story between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. Then she meets the famous Fitzwilliam Darcy, who bitterly disappoints her by being a “relentlessly unpleasant,” overly arrogant aristocrat. Ah, but we knew that, didn’t we? Elliot Cowan excels as Darcy. He’s proud and overbearing, then contrite, and finally passionate. And he looks really, really good in a wet shirt. (Yes, “Lost in Austen” pays tribute to that famous jump-in-the-lake scene in the 1995 version of P&P, which cemented Colin Firth’s reputation as the Mr. Darcy for all time.)

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Jane Austen Movie Men Stand Tall

Want to play one of Jane Austen’s male romantic heroes in the movies? Don’t bother to audition unless you’re at least 6 feet tall. (Well, maybe you can squeak by at just a shade under.) Consider the evidence:

  • Colin Firth (Mr. Darcy, “Pride and Prejudice”), 6’1”
  • Jeremy Northam (Mr. Knightley, “Emma”), 6’2”
  • JJ Feild (Mr. Tilney, “Northanger Abbey”), 6’1”
  • Matthew McFadyen (Mr. Darcy, “Pride and Prejudice”), 6’3”
  • Mark Strong (Mr. Knightley, “Emma”), 6’2”
  • Ciaran Hinds (Captain Wentworth, “Persuasion”), 6’1”
  • Rupert Penry-Jones (Captain Wentworth, “Persuasion”), 6’2”
  • Alan Rickman (Col. Brandon, “Sense and Sensibility”), 6’1”
  • David Rintoul (Mr. Darcy, “Pride and Prejudice”), height unknown but it’s obvious that he’s pretty tall
  • Elliot Cowan (Mr. Darcy, “Lost in Austen”), 6’2″

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