This weekend at the 82nd annual Academy Awards, British thesp Colin Firth will compete for Best Actor for his performance in Tom Ford's A Single Man, in which he stars as a grieving gay professor in 1962 Los Angeles. But just fifteen years ago, Firth vied for (and won) my heart by reaching a bit farther back in the annals of time to play a wealthy 19th century bachelor with a thing for spunky heroines, a haughty but handsome gentleman whose name I will always associate with Colin Firth: Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.
Many women have a deeply personal relationship with Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, a novel that's induced countless swoons over the years in its various pop cultural iterations. And while we can all argue over which is the very best filmic adaptation of Miss Austen's romantic-comedy of manners (Cinematical's Elisabeth Rappe prefers 2005's Oscar-nominated Keira Knightley-Matthew McFadyen film, for example), I hold tight to my beloved BBC miniseries version, which starred Firth as the quintessential Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as his foil, the strong-willed Elizabeth Bennet.
I'd read and loved Austen's novel in the years before Pride and Prejudice hit the airwaves in the U.S. (January 14, 1996), a few months after it debuted in its six-episode installments in the U.K., so I was perhaps perfectly prepared to see the deliciously drawn-out romantic longing on screen. For many young literature nerds of the female persuasion, I imagine Pride and Prejudice was a gateway drug of sorts to all kinds of historical romance; deep down, aren't we all ripe young heroines bristling against social conventions who delight in flirting with cocky, handsome bachelors who declare their undying love for us just so we can shut them down?