Colin Firth is famous for having played two men called Darcy. One in the Bridget Jones movies, and one in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice.
In the latter, his appearance in one particular lakeside scene – where he meets a surprised Elizabeth in a clingy shirt, all drenched and flushed with exertion after swimming – was a notable boost to his career, causing a lot of instantly enamoured people to reach for the smelling salts and fan their enflamed cheeks.
It’s here, if you have not seen it:
But it emerged yesterday that the original plan for that scene – which does not appear in Jane Austen’s novel – was that Mr Darcy would not be wearing anything at all. Or at least, not for the swimming bit.
Andrew Davies, who wrote the script, told the audience at the Cheltenham Literary Festival (as reported in Radio Times) that he wanted to break Mr Darcy out of his buttoned-up carapace and allow him to indulge in a very human desire: to go skinny-dipping on a warm day.
He said: “The wet shirt scene was intended to be a total full-frontal nudity scene. Darcy was an actual man but he spent all his time being constrained by demands of society. He’d just spent weeks and months in London being polite with a group of stuffy people. He would have had a few hours in which he could be blissfully alone. It’s a hot day, he arrives at this lake – so I thought he would strip completely off and dive down and just become a creature, an animal, just for once.”
So the question is whether, given that this is the scene most people think of when the words Colin, Firth, pride, prejudice and lake are mentioned, it would have been improved had this idea been taken up, and the shirt taken off.
Certainly there is a sizeable part of Colin’s fanbase that would have enjoyed a more intimate view (or even eyeful) of Mr Darcy at that point, but it fits our picture of what was socially acceptable at the time – or within the confines of a costume drama, which isn’t always the same thing – and is therefore a truer expression of his character to our eyes, that he would have jumped into the lake wearing a nightshirt.
Even though nakedness was invented long before the late 20th century and swimming in clothes is far harder than swimming unhindered, Mr Darcy is still Mr Darcy, even when he’s not being watched.
And of course, if he wears the shirt in the lake, the shirt is still wet when he bumps into Elizabeth immediately afterwards, and that dishevelment is a good portion of the appeal of that scene, as Andrew explains:
“Here’s two people having a little conversation. One of them is wet and neither of them refers to it, but in fact it seems to have affected women in quite a different way, but who am I to complain.”
He’s pretty sure his version would have worked, however, and doesn’t know exactly why the idea was shelved: “I don’t know the reason why – maybe they felt it would have taken too long to get him undressed. They could have always cut to him standing on the bank diving in naked, so it might have been something about Colin’s anxiety about love handles or something.”
See that last bit right there? That’s the romantic spell broken. A good shirt can work wonders!
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