He has 10,000 a year — and a smoldering gaze. There have been countless Jane Austen film and TV adaptations over the years, starring countless actors as the handsome men who steal the hearts of the books’ heroines.
Fitzwilliam Darcy, arguably Austen’s most famous hero, made his debut in her 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice. The first film adaptation of the classic novel premiered in 1940, but it would be another 50 years before Colin Firth broke hearts in what is arguably the most memorable Darcy performance of all time.
The Oscar winner played the wealthy Englishman in the BBC’s 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice opposite Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet. While the 327-minute series is very faithful to Austen’s novel, one of the most famous scenes is not in the novel: Darcy taking a swim in the pond at his residence, Pemberley.
In 2013, U.K. viewers voted the scene the most memorable scene in British TV history, surpassing iconic moments from Doctor Who, Downton Abbey and Sherlock. That same year, a 12-foot sculpture of Firth as Darcy was erected in a lake in London’s Hyde Park to promote the launch of a new U.K. TV channel. The artwork went on tour around the country before taking up permanent residence in Lyme Park, where the original scene was filmed.
As Firth noted during a 2014 interview, however, fans often misremember that scene as showing him exiting the lake while dripping wet in a sheer blouse — but that never happened. Darcy goes for the swim in his white shirt, but when Elizabeth runs into him later, he’s already gotten out off-camera and started to dry off.
“He’s been terrorizing the country. Attack of the 50-foot miniseries actor,” Firth quipped of the statue during an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. “I never got out of a lake in a wet shirt. … They’ve turned me into Ursula Andress coming out [of the water in Dr. No]. A stunt guy jumped into a kind of algae-ridden pond and then it cut to me looking a little damp.”
After Matthew Macfadyen played the same role in Joe Wright’s 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, he and Firth had a conversation about the “weird pressure” that comes with playing such a beloved part. “I played him like a sort of grumpy adolescent, probably because I felt quite grumpy because I was scared,” the Succession star told Vanity Fair in May 2022, explaining that the duo chatted about their past roles while making the film Operation Mincemeat.
Firth, for his part, was impressed that Macfadyen conveyed so much emotion in a vastly shorter amount of time. (The 2005 version is only 127 minutes long.)
“I think what was masterful about Matthew’s interpretation was that he did manage to tell that whole story in a more condensed form,” the King’s Speech actor told the outlet. “And I think that’s very difficult because it’s so dependent on a slow reveal.”
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Keep scrolling for a look back at some of the most memorable Austen heartthrobs of film and TV: