It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a movie adaptation in pursuit of an actor must be in want of criticism.
When any book gets turned into a movie, people will inevitably comment on the casting choices. Readers get very invested in the characters and they envision exactly who they think should play the role. And when the casting comes out, they love the actors or they hate them. It doesn't matter what the book is ... if there is a following, there will be commentary. From Christian Gray and Anastasia Steel in 50 Shades of Grey (how can one forget the commentary around that - but I think it all turned out for the best - check out my "frame by frame" run down of the trailer), to Gone Girl, and even to the comic book characters of Marvel. There are strong feelings about casting of any story or character.
In many cases, some haven't even read the book until after they have seen the movie. Then they feel even more strongly about the actors in the original since they carry those images with them into the book. This has happened to me on many an occasion. I didn't read the Harry Potter books until long after I saw the first few movies, so Harry and Hermoine and Ron will always be the actors from the books. Same thing happened with Twilight .... I read the books after I saw the first movie. Therefore, for better for for worst, Edward and Bella will always be Kristin Steward and Robert Pattinson. Although I read the Divergent series in full before I saw the movie, it was after I saw the first preview - so the characters are the actors for me (and what amazing casting that was!).
And then, to add a layer of complexity, things get even tougher when you add in previous versions of the story. Then, are you not only competing with the characters that readers have built up in their mind from the book itself, BUT you are also dealing with previous actors and actresses that have stepped in and filled those shoes and actually become the characters for many audiences. Think Sabrina - Audrey Hepburn and Julia Ormond. Think The Parent Trap. Think Ocean's 11 - Rat Pack or Clooney/Pitt/and company.
One of the best examples is probably James Bond. So many actors over the years. So many opinions on who is the Bond ... James Bond.
But I think THE epitome of this conversation is Pride & Prejudice. Darcy and Elizabeth.
Pause for sigh.
I cannot remember the first time I read P&P, but I was very young. And it was definitely long before I saw any film or production. But the first time I saw any production it was the 5 hour BBC mini series staring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. Yes ... the one where Colin Firth emerges from the lake in a wet white shirt.
Pause for sigh.
And soon thereafter came the film adaptation of Bridget Jone's Diary which is modeled after P&P. Including Mark Darcy, who is clearly modeled after Mr. Darcy. And, in fact, Helen Fielding said that she envisioned Colin Firth as Mark Darcy in her book.
So, clearly, Colin Firth became Darcy in many ways in my mind ... and the minds of many of that time.
Then came the first big screen adaptation in awhile - Keira Knightley as Elizabeth and Matthew Macfadyen as Darcy. They did a very good job in that adaptation. Keira in particular was a great balance of mischief and wit, simple and understated beauty, honesty and fun.
And now, this week and last on Masterpiece Mystery, was the two-part Death Comes to Pemberley, based on the novel by P.D. James. Staring Matthew Rhys as Darcy, Anne Maxwell Martin as Elizabeth Darcy, and Matthew Goode as Wickham. Anything that sparks even remotely of P&P, whether a modern day movie adaptation or a new book that extends the lives of Darcy and Elizabeth or a stage production, gets my immediate attention. So of course I read the book, and of course I was greatly looking forward to these Sunday nights.
I really enjoyed the story, the acting, the setting, the costumes. I looked forward to the little moments throughout that showed the love between Darcy and Elizabeth - little notes and embraces, looks shared between the two, and glimpses into everyday life at Pemberley. Sigh ... again. And the story itself was really quite good. It picks up later in life and isn't about Darcy and Elizabeth directly, but rather focuses on the mystery surrounding a death on Pemberley grounds supposedly perpetrated by Wickham himself.
Yet no matter how good the production, how well the actors do with the material in their own regard, or how accurate the film stays to the book, there is always going to be commentary around the actors themselves from those who envision Colin Firth or Keira Knightley or someone else in the roles. People cannot get past that. As I was perusing the social space, I saw comment after comment about this. Personally, I think that Rhys and Martin do a great job with the material and they work very well together. They are not perhaps what I envision as Darcy and Elizabeth because I too am generally pretty stuck on the actors in the versions I grew up with, but that does not take aways anything from Rhys and Martin.
At first glance, Rhys and Martin just didn't hit me as Darcy and Elizabeth. But after awhile they grew on me and I came to really like them in their respective roles. I had to get past Austen's original characters. They were young, they were in the first bloom of love. They were getting to know each other. Darcy was extra haughty and rude. Elizabeth was very free with no responsibilities. This is 6 or 8 years later. They have grown. They have gotten to know each other. They have both taken on increased responsibilities and have settled into life at Pemberley. They are parents and have to deal with much in the way of maintaining a home and a life for themselves and all those who rely on them and Pemberley.
Originally I thought that Rhys didn't quite bring that presence, haughtiness and grandeur I have come to expect from Darcy. But, perhaps that is a good thing. His marriage to Elizabeth and the years should have softened him a little bit. Made him less haughty. More approachable. As for Martin, in the way she speaks and carries herself she does bring forth Elizabeth. But, in her appearance I initially didn't think she looked like I would expect Elizabeth. She is a little too small ... a little too meek. She is missing something of the youthful joy I have come to expect. But then again, just like Darcy, years have passed and she has presumably grown up as well. She has become older and wiser and has taken on the challenge of running Pemperley. So perhaps the way she comports herself works for this version of Elizabeth. So while individually they may not feel like the great literary characters from Austen's work, together and with some years behind them, Rhys and Martin bring forth a version of Darcy and Elizabeth that works and that seems appropriate for the P.D. James story.
And now, onto Wickham. While he was important in Austen's work (duh), he was never as central as he is here. As long as he was just a little too good looking and a little too smooth, he worked. You didn't have to like him in Austen's work. In fact ... you were supposed to not like him. But here you must try and find some redeeming qualities in him. And Goode does a great job of brining that forward. He gives Wickham's character more dimension and a spark of hope.
Of course, no conversation about Austen and P&P and Darcy and Elizabeth would be complete without a commentary on the setting and costumes. They did not disappoint ... and that is an understatement. Everything was beautiful ... just beautiful. To use Austen language, all the "appointments" were just lovely. Pemberley house itself both in interior and exterior are grand and rich. The interior in particular is just beautiful. All the rooms are so rich and full of lovely textures and fabrics, furniture and art, sculpture, flowers, etc. Just beautiful. Then of course there are the clothes. I like how they really keep things very simple for Elizabeth. There is no ball or grand dinner, so we don't get a chance to really see her in a ball gone or such. All of her dresses throughout are really quite simple and basic, and all in the same basic color scheme of blue-green. Simple, but pretty. They work for her. It is just yet another reminder that she did not marry Darcy for his money or jewels. Georgiana's dresses are fancier than Elizabeth's even. (Pause: Anyone else that Georgiana is the best friend from Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging? It is.)
So there you have it. My ramblings on one of my favorite stories of all time. I think it's time to go watch some other Austen films. Perhaps some BBC Emma ... or Gwyneth Paltrow Emma ... or Emma Thompson Sense & Sensibility.