For a little less than a year, I’ve been following a Jane Austen e-mail list run by McGill University. Not surprisingly, several posts have recently appeared commenting upon the on-screen Pride and Prejudice reunion in the Oscar-nominated film “The King’s Speech”–namely the brief exchange between Colin Firth (Bertie/King George VI) and Jennifer Ehle (the wife of speech therapist Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush). Firth and Ehle were famously paired as Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in the BBC/A and E adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in 1995, and their off-screen romantic liaison has been commented upon exhaustively and, perhaps, rather whistfully, by Austenites and Firth fans alike. As both an Austenite and Colin Firth fan, I admit to indulging in a moment of fangirlish, stomach-swooping delight at seeing them reconnecting on-screen, if only briefly.
The general consensus seems to be that Firth has at last given up the ghost of Mr. Darcy that has haunted him for the past decade and a half. While we cannot deny the career Debt Mr. Firth owes Mr. Darcy, nor should we cease to acknowledge Firth’s contribution to the Jane Austen film phenomenon, this characterization casts the rest of his career in shadow. there seems to have developed an irritating trend on the part of certain Austenites to claim Firth’s achievement at finally transcending the Darcy tag and then immediately proceed to compare the meeting between the couple in each film. Several fans have even expressed an intention to watch “The King’s Speech” and “Pride and Prejudice” alongside one another to compare the encounter between Bertie and Logue’s wife to those between Mr. Darcy and Lizzie; presumably one would turn to the (in)famous wet shirt scene. While an interesting exercise in analyzing the dynamic between the actors, it seems, I would argue, merely to recast Firth (and Ehle by association) within the very shadow from under which fans claim he has at last emerged.
One fan even goes so far as to speculate whether, in his predicted Oscar acceptance speech,Firth will “give the devil his due and bring Darcy into the mix as a kind of verbal epitaph.” If he does–and I don’t believe he will–it would only perpetuate the “Darcy discourse”. I can envision the headlines on Monday: “Mr. Darcy Get’s his Due: Colin Firth scoops up his first Academy Award.” Firth has, of course, learned over the years to accept the tag with characteristic Colinesque humor, so while gesturing in Darcy’s direction would seem to be taking one step forward and two steps back, it is not entirely beyond the bounds of possibility. Still, I think it would potentially deflect attention from the role for which he (will hopefully) be receiving such a well-deserved honor.
All speculation will, of course, be at an end in just four more days; and who knows? Perhaps one final word from Firth will at last silence us on this subject forever.
P.S. the blog post to which I refer above can be found here