Friday, May 19, 2017

My Main Man Darcy

The other day I shared a post on Facebook that had to do with a certain portrayal of Mr. Darcy. The response I got reminded me of a post last year when I watched Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and I expressed my hope that I wasn't dishonoring dear Jane Austen's memory by doing so. At the time, this prompted a comment-conversation with a friend of mine about various Darcys in some of the adaptations of Pride and Prejudice we've seen. That same friend and I started a similar conversation this time around, so that brings me here to this question; how many Pride and Prejudice stories have I actually watched? My final answer: 11! That. Is. A lot. Of those eleven, four are straight-forward adaptations set in the period (although that's even debatable for one of them, based on the costumes alone), four are updated to modern times, one straddles modern and period, one is a sequel based on published fanfiction, and the last is the aforementioned Zombies take (also a published fanfiction). But not all adaptations are created equal, and neither are the Darcys.

There are countless lists ranking the many Darcys, and naturally the world doesn't need another one, because really, it's all personal preference, anyway. But last year The Hubs got a kick out of the idea of ME actually rating them and creating a pro-con list as my process, so I went ahead and made my own list. Be aware that many in the middle are pretty interchangeable, and it's more a matter of which one I find the most watchable. But my lowest rankings and most especially my top ranking are set in stone and I will defend them with my dying breath. (You hear me, Heidi? My DYING breath.) Interestingly, the order of my watchable Darcys does not always line up with the order of adaptations I like best. I had one or two surprises as I ranked them. But mostly, it lines up. Especially Number One. But we'll start with number 11 and work our way up.

#11 Matthew Rhys, Death Comes to Pemberley

Okay, this is partly the source text's fault, because I felt like this "sequel" just committed blatant character assassination on basically everybody I love in the original story (I mean, who in their right mind makes Col. Fitzwilliam suddenly be this big jerk? That's just uncool). I couldn't even bring myself to watch the entire thing with my whole attention because I disliked it that much. This Darcy did not appeal to me whatsoever -- I think in general the actor's not a bad-looking guy, but I did not find him at all attractive as Darcy. There was no chemistry with his Elizabeth (their marriage is apparently on the rocks here, which also bugs me to no end). He was back to being a jerky snob through much of it, which meant he had to go through the exact same character development that he did in Pride and Prejudice, which is just a yawn when that story has already been told. Just. Didn't. Work. Blech.
#10 David Rintoul, Pride and Prejudice (1980)

It kind of hurts my heart to rank a Darcy from a straight period adaptation so low, but let's face it: this guy is nothing BUT stiff. Yeah, Darcy's a haughty fellow, but this guy barely changes his face. The text of this adaptation is the truest to the book, but that does not work in its favor; it makes it boring. I don't find his looks particularly alluring, and even when he's established as the good guy and is attempting to smile, it seems so incredibly forced. He's reading the lines but with a plastered smile on his face that doesn't ring true. Stiff as a board, and never seems like he can do anything but stare with his perfect, perfect posture.

#9 Martin Henderson, Bride and Prejudice

This is where we start to get iffy. This Darcy is an attractive fella for the most part, but his sensitive side is incredibly heavy-handed. Makes sense, as this is a Bollywood film -sensitive is their bread and butter-, but it really seems to force that side of Darcy while not doing much else with him. This is the Darcy that I really feel buys the heroine's love. They start getting along once he's taking her on elaborate helicopter dates and driving in his fancy, fancy car. Yes, Darcy's wealthy and Elizabeth jokes in the original book about falling in love with him because of Pemberley, but that's not actually why she loves him. Their chemistry seems kind of forced. Plus, he NEVER sings! How can I root for a guy in a Bollywood film that doesn't sing in it?!?!!?? They have Naveen Andrews (Sayid from Lost), of all people, singing and dancing (awesomely, I might add), so shouldn't Darcy have a turn once his character development kicks in? Such a waste.

#8 Elliot Cowan, Lost in Austen

(sorry in advance, Heidi.) Okay, reallllly getting into murky waters here, because I've officially reached my interchangeable Darcys. The idea of a modern P&P fan changing places with Elizabeth Bennet is a pretty fun one, because her initial attempt to keep the story in line while she inexplicably and inevitably introduces chaos is kind of delightful. But this is another one where I feel like the story itself bogs down how much I can really like the Darcy here, even if he's good-looking dude. He has a few good moments, but there's no in-between with him. No, Heidi, a funny moment with Tinky Winky is not enough to save him for me. He's either totally stiff or totally passionate (remember, Darcy is hardly a Byronic hero, and to make him so while everybody else is pretty much in Regency-manners-mode is just strange). They change around his "ideal elder brother" act a bit, which I can't support because that was one of his consistently good qualities, even at the beginning when he's snobbish, and I just don't know about a story where Darcy doesn't end up with Elizabeth Bennet (who chooses to stay in modern times . . . quite frankly, we don't see enough of THAT storyline to suit me). All in all, he's a decent Darcy, but a pretty middle-of-the-road one.

#7 Orlando Seale, Pride and Prejudice (2003)

Yeah, if I weren't Mormon, I probably never would have seen this modern version. But this is one of those updates where it is reasonable since culturally we still put a great deal of stock into getting married. It ends up being kind of a fun romp, and this is a perfectly adequate Darcy for the task. He's cute, and has the curly hair and British accent working for him. The biggest turn-off for me is how much he tries once there's supposed to be romantic tension between him and Elizabeth. It's almost like he's trying to push with his eyes and is forcing those mood-changing moments that you see when two people in a movie suddenly get silent and things start shifting in an "Ooh, are they going to kiss?" direction. Still fun, but ultimately forgettable.

#6 Laurence Olivier, Pride and Prejudice (1940)

Do I really want to rank Sir Larry so low? Well, yes. This is an adaptation of P&P this is laughably unlike the book for being a so-called period adaptation (apparently, it's actually based on a play based on the book) (and then there are the borrowed Gone with the Wind costumes -- yikes!). It really focuses on the "comedy of manners" aspect, and that's what he does -- he has manners. It's a very stylized way of acting (which is basically what everybody else is doing in the movie, so can I really fault him for that? hmm...) that ends up being a little off for modern audiences, what with all the hand flourishes and dramatic poses. This actually doesn't bother me too much, but it does other people. But I've still got a bit of a soft spot for him because he has a few good facial expressions that very much remind me of my #1 guy, and I feel like he pulls off his anguish well. Plus, there's a moment toward the end when he and Elizabeth are kind of talking over each other, making up an excuse for privacy (away from her mother) on the fly, that's just too adorable.

#5 Daniel Vincent Gordh, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

This one was HARD to rank, mainly because it's an entirely different medium of seeing P&P in, being a web series rather than a movie or miniseries. As such, Darcy is in VERY little of it. Which makes sense, as he's actually in less of the book than you might remember, but in the web series you don't see his face until the modern analogue of the disastrous proposal, and at least in the book he's been in quite a bit before then. Since the book focuses so much on Elizabeth's limited perspective and information, it works for this web series to ONLY see her and hear what her impressions of him are, but it made it hard for me to warm up to the him once the audience "knew" he was the good guy. He was very awkward rather than snobbish, which was good for a setting update because it really wouldn't work these days to like a guy who sincerely looks down on people, and he's a cute guy, too. I just never felt like he got past the awkward stage, even when things were going well for him and Lizzie. Further viewings have endeared him more to me, which is why he's still fairly high in the middle, and he fits in the setting just fine. So there's that.

#4 Sam Riley, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

This is my BIG surprise. For all I know that I'll likely never watch this movie again, I'm shocked at how watchable I found this Darcy and how high he's ranked in my list as I've thought this over. That raspy voice IS incredibly distracting, and let's face it, it's zombies in P&P . . . how much can you really approve? Not to mention the shoehorning in of a line from the book while he watches Elizabeth fight zombies made me laugh out loud. But surprisingly enough, he grew on me! I felt like he really fit in the setting that the movie gave us. The raspy voice actually worked for me once it was clear that he's a battle-hardened warrior of sorts, and his bold cleverness in one scene actually had me inwardly cheer for him getting one-up on Wickham (grrrrr on him in all forms). Although he's not the most physically-appealing Darcy to me, I felt like there was decent chemistry between him and Elizabeth. In a straight adaptation of the original book, he would NEVER rank this high, but yeah. What a surprise for me on this list.

#3 Colin Firth, Bridget Jones' Diary

I will preface this by saying that although there are two sequels to Bridget Jones, I am basing my ranking only on the first one, since that's the one that is actually the P&P story (kind of . . . you know what I mean). This is the best setting-update version for me, Darcy-wise, because he comes across as kind of snobbish and awkward, but still seems like a real person with a sense of humor who ultimately wants to overcome his own foibles and sincerely likes the eponymous Bridget (our Elizabeth in this telling), even with all the things she finds wrong with herself. I mean, come on, it's a bonus that it's Colin Firth, although who knows what possessed him to essentially reprise a role that stereotyped him for years? Oh, well, I don't mind, because his hilarious fight with Hugh Grant is worth seeing (it's not often you get to see the Darcy character land a knock-out punch on the Wickham character, so that's satisfying), especially when they briefly pause to sing "Happy Birthday" in the restaurant they've barged into. Not bad, Mr. Firth.

#2 Matthew Madfadyen, Pride and Prejudice (2005)

All right, anybody who knows me knows that I often refer to this adaptation as P&P as written by Charlotte Bronte. It looks and sounds gorgeous, but it focuses so much on that and making everything ten times more dramatic that the original delight of the story gets totally lost. Lady Catherine showing up in the middle of the night to chew out Elizabeth, an anguished-but-please-still-let-them-be-sexy proposal in the rain, the ultimate getting-together in the beautiful morning light while half-dressed? It all looks really good, but . . . it doesn't sit right with me. That being said, this is another case where I don't think I can really blame Darcy's actor; he does a good job of fitting into what this film does with the story. He's a good-looking guy who's willing to do proposals in the rain and carry them off pretty well. My big complaint about him? He talks at 500 miles per minute most of the time, and that makes an otherwise emotional performance come across as more stiff. Maybe that was a conscious choice to show him being nervous or awkward, but to me it seems like he's just trying to cram in at least some of the story amidst the rolling vistas and long shots of him walking in the sunrise. See, my problem isn't so much with this Darcy as it is with the setting he's put in. He definitely fits in well, though, so he's got a high ranking.

#1 Colin Firth, Pride and Prejudice (1995)

Long live the King.

This will surprise precisely no one. He was my first Darcy, and what a lucky girl I am that he was. He handles the Austen dialogue like he actually belongs there (and he's fortunate that he's in a five-hour adaptation that doesn't force him to talk so fast), and he's haughty while still appearing like a real person. You can see his sense of humor early on with some pointed zingers directed at Miss Bingley, his attraction (and inner conflict with regard) to Elizabeth is clear, and that first terrible proposal is awesome through-and-through, from his hilarious inability to sit still to his incredulous expression at Elizabeth bringing up Wickham's name to his subtle pain when Elizabeth delivers the "gentleman-like manner" shot. Then his flustered reaction to Elizabeth's appearance at Pemberley is just . . . perfection (and not just because he's soaking wet; really, it wasn't until I was much older that I realized people were looking at that as a sexy thing. I just thought it was a great addition to make him that much more uncomfortable). I love his panicked look after he changes clothes and is running around and afraid Elizabeth's taken off. And if anyone was doubting his ability to emote, I refer them to the infamous held gaze between him and Elizabeth while she's turning pages at the piano and they understand each other and she smiles and he's SOOOOO in love. Just . . . ahhhhh! Could you melt into a puddle watching him watch Elizabeth? I almost think you could. Not to mention we get to see him actually search for Lydia, which is pretty fun when he turns his angry glare on Mrs. Younge. There are about two things in the whole miniseries that bug me, and one of them is his floating head in the carriage window when Elizabeth's remembering his first proposal . . . it's just odd. But I don't blame Colin Firth for that; he didn't write the script. But all in all, I can't imagine anyone coming close to him, and that's okay with me. Well done, Mr. Firth. Well done.

So that's my Darcy list. One big surprise, a few middling performances that I can't choose among, a couple of major downers, and then the far-and-away best of all. Isn't it so nice that we have so many Darcys to choose from? It's definitely a wonderful world.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

My Two (or Three) Cents

The Hubs says I need to write out my thoughts about the new "Anne of Green Gables" series, titled "Anne with an E" in a blog post, because . . . well, let's face it. There's no way I could confine all my thoughts into a readable facebook post. I already gave my opinion following the first episode, and that was mainly that while it's done well, the way it's been handled is simply not my cup of tea. I agree that the premise of Anne being traumatized by her experiences before coming to Green Gables is something worth exploring, and it's an interesting new angle. However, it is handled in far too grim a fashion for my taste.

I want to clarify that I am not annoyed with the fact that "Anne" was "re-made". Just look at how many "Pride and Prejudice" adaptations there are; despite what many of us may think, there are a lot more "Anne of Green Gables" adaptations out there besides the beloved 80's version starring Megan Follows. I've caught a couple of them. Interesting stuff. I read an article about Netflix cashing in on nostalgia, a la "Fuller House", but I don't see a new adaptation of "Anne" really fitting the same mold as that. "Fuller House" is basically exactly what "Full House" was twenty-five years ago, and is very much hitting that nostalgia button (which I eat up, I will admit; I have watched both seasons). "Anne" is one of those literary institutions that will always be redone, because the story itself is so timeless. So no, I'm not offended that they dared re-make perfection.

I am offended that the creators/writers of this particular go-around are bound and determined that anything that could go wrong, DOES go wrong. Apparently it's not enough for Anne to have every-day battles that develop her character. Everything is an enormous struggle and over-the-top heroic deed. I want to give as few spoilers as possible, but I'm going to give one right now. There's a house fire in Avonlea and the whole community is there fighting it. And who is the one to save the day? It's Anne. And suddenly more people decide she's worth the time of day! Ummmm . . . I have issues with this.

She has a similar experience in the book and previous adaptations when she and Diana are forbidden from being friends (thanks, currant wine!), and then she saves Minnie May's life and Mrs. Barry comes around and lets Diana and Anne be friends again. This still happens in this show (yay!), and you can't help thinking that Mrs. Barry is sure a fair-weather friend. I can't help but feel this way about the people who are only willing to give Anne a chance after she's the heroine of the afore-mentioned house fire. Do you really want everybody to give that "fair-weather friend" impression? What kind of lasting friendships is this reallllllly going to lead to? Instead of small, ordinary victories or people simply improving their characters and recognizing that Anne is an extraordinary person, it's only after she does something enormous that they decide to like her.

So this just further solidifies my first reaction, in which I stated that "this version is saying that a heroine is not a heroine unless her life has been awful, that the overly dramatic spins on old tales are the only ones worth telling, and that a victory is only a victory if it's won against impossible odds."

So now that I've finished the whole thing, besides this aspect of it, has my opinion of it improved? Well . . .

I came around to this version's Marilla, and I was very close to approving of Matthew, and then the last episode happened and he acted in a way that shut the door on it for me. "Nope. Not my Matthew." Sorry. Diana was good for me a great deal of the time, and I'd say the same for Rachel Lynde. Anne herself was charming, if uneven. Sometimes I was very affected by her, and sometimes her behavior just didn't make sense, even within the arc and mood set by the story being told.

I know what you're all thinking. What about Gilbert, right?!?? Cute kid, but the way his story was told and how his life developed was still in that "everything must be a tragedy" vibe, and I was baffled by where he ended up at the end. (And I'm not talking metaphorically; I mean physically where he ended up.) He also suffered from having to be around the other teenage boys, who were given dialogue that was incredibly out-of-place in the setting. It seriously sounded like they were 2017 boys dressed in 1900 clothing. I was waiting for one of them to whip out a "dude" any minute.

And the feminism angle: okay, aside from one (or was it two? they've blurred together) episode where it seemed especially heavy-handed, and I was justified in predicting that there would be overly misogynistic men in authority, it was surprisingly subtle. But maybe it just seemed subtle in comparison to where it was heavy-handed, and when it was heavy-handed, it was terrible. This is not an exaggeration of a response made by a woman in a "progressive" sewing circle (okay, maybe it is a tad exaggerated, but not by much): "Feminism? What an interesting word. Whatever does it mean?" Um. sigh If you're going to be feminist, please please write it a little better than that. It was excruciating to watch. I don't like decrying a show for being feminist; it's a good thing to be feminist. It's not a good thing to tolerate bad writing.

Now you're probably thinking, "If you disliked it that much, why in the world did you keep watching it?" Well, I felt it worth giving a shot, even if I knew that it would be a "grittier" re-telling. Sometimes you're surprised by these things. And there were perspectives and little bits that I thought were interesting and thought-provoking. For example, the book mentions the Cuthbert's hired boy, Jerry, maybe a couple times and then forgets him. In this, he's actually a character who you come to care about (although his French accent sure wobbled; but at the same time, i don't exactly speak French). There's a memorable part of Anne's growing up that all girls experience (oh, lucky us), and you thank heaven that you live in a time when you were prepared for it, even if your mother was out of town like mine was when it started for me. (is it obvious what i mean?)

You experience some moments of joy and tenderness, and that's wonderful. That's what you (or at least, I) want to get out of "Anne". But the whole series for me is bogged with downer after downer, and it's no fun feeling like you're just stuck in that quagmire. It even ends in a way that I wanted to tear my hair out and yell at the tv, "You really had to squelch that hopeful, up-beat ending with a completely made-up plot tease?" (Really: completely manufactured for this series.) What a disappointment that they felt the need to do such a thing.

So those are my thoughts on "Anne with an E". Have I completely turned you off of watching it? Or if you've watched it and disagree with me, are you going to dare talking to me about it? Or if you've watched it and agree with me, are you going to commiserate with me? Or have I teased it enough that even if you think along the same lines as me, your curiosity is going to get the better of you? So many possible ways this could go! I've found online reviews that echo exactly my feelings on it, and I've found online reviews that simply love it (nothing in-between, interestingly enough). Which camp are you? Will you dare? What makes you trust my word on it, anyway? That was surprising when I first posted on facebook that I was going to watch it; people wanting my opinion! Well, you certainly got it, and probably more than you wanted. Sorry. I'm a talker. Just like Anne.

And now I'm going to watch the happy version and take joy in that moment of crossing through the White Way of Delight with our dear Anne and the REAL Matthew Cuthbert.