I’m sure you have met Mr. Darcy. Yes, Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Now, close your eyes for just a second and try to come up with a mental image of Mr. Darcy… I guess for some of you, he will look exactly like Colin Firth.
When in 1995 Andrew Davis’s BBC-Adaptation of Pride and Prejudice came out, England – and shortly afterwards a larger part of the world – was infected with Darcy fever. This adaptation fashions our beloved Mr. Darcy as an often brooding hero, who is presented to us for the first two hours mainly in profile and frequently looking out of windows. This allows us (female) viewers to stare at him while he remains a mystery to us.
When offered the role of Mr. Darcy, Colin Firth’s brother wondered: “Darcy? But isn’t he supposed to be sexy?” And Colin made him sexy. This is mainly achieved by the famous pond scene, which made Darcy, Firth and Davis’s Pride and Prejudice famous.
This scene (which does not have an equivalent in Austen’s novel) has made Colin Firth “Mr. Wet Shirt”. On Facebook there is even a “Mr Darcy Wet Shirt Appreciation Society” which celebrates Firth’s jump into the pond. Colin Firth is very aware of his status as cultural icon and of the immense influence of Darcy on his career and public image:
But Darcy is a figure that won’t die. He is wandering somewhere. I can’t control him. I tried to play with it in Bridget Jones – Schokolade zum Frühstück (2001). I’ve never resented it: if it wasn’t for him I might be languishing, but part of me thinks I should do this postmodern thing, change my name by deed poll to Mr Darcy. Then people can come up to me and say, ‘But you are not Mr Darcy’ which would be different. I dare say it will be my saving grace when the only employment available to me is opening supermarkets dressed in breeches and a wig. (Colin Firth)
While I’d argue that many other actors would have tried to fight the curse of Mr Darcy by taking on different (more avantgardistic) roles, Firth’s shirt gets wet again… and again… and again. As already mentioned, his character in Bridget Jones (called Marc Darcy) gets soaking wet when fighting opponent Daniel Cleaver (who actually ended up in a pond in an earlier scene) in the rain. And of course, the sequel to Bridget Jones finds its climax in another very wet fight between Darcy and Cleaver.
But Firth does not only play with his darcyesk image in the Bridget Jones movies, but also in less generally acknowledged teen movies, like Was Mädchen Wollen, in which his character is called Henry Dashwood (after another of Austen’s protagonists). And in The Girls of St. Trinian he ends up falling into a fountain… And yes, his shirt is soaking wet. And not to forget Love… Actually in which his character has to jump into a pond to save the pages of his unfinished novel (And notice that the song covered in Love… Actually is originally by the band Wet Wet Wet. Coincidence? I don’t think so).
“I was delighted to become a popular-culture reference point. I’m still delighted about it actually, and I still find it to be weird.” (Colin Firth)
Yet, in recent years, Firth appeared to finally have taken another course by starring in Tom Ford’s A Single Man and playing King Edward in The King’s Speech, for which he received an academy award.
It really does seem that Colin finally got rid of his obsession with ponds, lakes, and white wet shirts. But, don’t worry ladies! Apparently a third part of the Bridget Jones series is coming up (working title: Bridget Jones’s Baby) and I would bet my blow dryer that Mr Firth will find a pond/fountain/lake/bath tub to jump in and get wet.