Mr Darcy is one of literature’s iconic figures. The brooding hero of Pride And Prejudice has won the hearts of readers for two centuries and when Colin Firth took on the role in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel, Mr Darcy gained a whole new following.
Which is why actor Matthew Rhys was incredibly flattered when asked if he would like to play the character.
“Very unusually and unbelievably, I was asked if I’d like to do it,” the 39-year-old laughs. “My reaction was, ‘Darcy? From Pride And Prejudice? Me?’ I was shocked. I thought that maybe they were asking me to play Darcey Bussell from Strictly Come Dancing instead!”
Matthew, who has appeared in The Americans and Brothers & Sisters, stars as Mr Darcy in a new three-part drama, Death Comes To Pemberley, based on the novel by PD James. The drama imagines what might have happened after Mr Darcy and Elizabeth (Anna Maxwell Martin) married – and draws them into a murder mystery.
Filmed at Derbyshire’s Chatsworth House, Death Comes To Pemberley is ideal viewing this Christmas, with its impressive cast of Jenna Coleman, Matthew Goode, Trevor Eve, Rebecca Front, James Fleet, Joanna Scanlan and Penelope Keith.
We chat to Matthew to find out more…
Where are Elizabeth and Mr Darcy when we meet them again in Death Comes To Pemberley?
Death Comes To Pemberley is set six years on from the events of Pride And Prejudice and the Darcys are in a good place when we first meet them again. They are happy and in love and living in Pemberley. Tragedy strikes when a murder takes place and unexpected skeletons from the past come back to haunt them.
So it’s much more of a thriller than Pride And Prejudice then…
Absolutely. And it’s quite a risk to take such a well-known story and then stick a crime thriller at the end of it. This is something quite different. People have such strong views on Elizabeth and Darcy but this drama allows us to have some leeway.
This isn’t Pride And Prejudice. However, we are bringing back some of your favourite characters and putting them in a different situation.
Is Mr Darcy’s character different in Death Comes To Pemberley?
When we first see him, he’s mellowed and is happy and in love but when the murder takes place on his estate he feels threatened and reverts to being introverted and brooding.
I think he’s an incredibly sensitive character and it’s his way of trying to cope. It’s his depth that makes him such an attractive character.
Colin Firth was hugely popular as Mr Darcy in the BBC adaptation of Pride And Prejudice. How do you feel about following in his footsteps?
Awful! They are pretty big breeches to fill. It’s bad enough taking on a role where people have built up a strong picture of the character from the book, let alone having to follow Colin Firth.
He fulfilled 99 per cent of people’s expectations of how Mr Darcy should be and now I’ve got to try to follow it. Even my dad asked, “Are you playing Colin Firth?”
Are you hoping your portrayal of Mr Darcy will have the same effect on women as Colin’s Mr Darcy did?
Yes, that’s why I signed up! Maybe I should jump into the Thames and emerge in a dripping wet white shirt!
What was it like filming with Anna Maxwell Martin?
Fantastic and terrible at the same time because she’s so much fun and likes having a laugh on set. One minute we were laughing and the next we had to be serious for filming.
But Anna and I kept looking at each other and saying, “How have we been cast as Elizabeth and Darcy? How has this happened? There must be a mistake,” and we’d crack up again.
And you must have been happy when you saw who else had signed up to star in the drama…
You can’t be disappointed with a cast like this. Matthew Goode is particularly incredible. He plays Mr Wickham like a rock star, a bit like Mick Jagger crossed with Peter O’Toole. There are a lot of brilliant performances.
How will you spend Christmas this year?
Probably the same way I spend every Christmas – in Cardiff with my family, nursing a hangover and eating too much.