Happy New Year everybody! It’s time for the fourth installment of Cinema Treasure/Guilty Pleasure! As a reminder, here’s what the series is all about: The first film I discuss is one of arguably obvious cinematic merit–the sort of thing taught in Introduction to Film courses, featured on “Top 100 Yadda Yadda” lists, or winning awards at fancy events that include speeches and extensive song-and-dance numbers. The second film I discuss is one that doesn’t have the cinematic gravitas of, say, Citizen Kane, but that remains a personal favorite for other reasons: cult films, films from my youth, or films simply so bad they’re good.
This week’s theme: Colin Firth.
At first glance Colin Firth might seem like an odd choice for the Cinema Treasure/Guilty Pleasure series. After all, Firth is perhaps best known for his dramatic performances in the dramas A Single Man and The King’s Speech (he received an Oscar nomination for the first and a win for the latter). And yet Firth’s filmography is full of absolutely fantastic Guilty Pleasure fodder because he does not shy away from roles in lighter fare, including romantic comedies and movie musicals. Firth is just as comfortable spouting the witty repartee of Oscar Wilde (The Importance of Being Earnest) as he is hamming it up while singing ABBA on screen (Mamma Mia). For this segment of Cinema Treasure/Guilty Pleasure I’ll be discussing two of my favorite Firth performances.
Cinema Treasure: “Pride and Prejudice” (1995), directed by Simon Langton. Starring: Colin Firth, Jennifer Ehle.
Full disclosure: I’m bending the rules a bit here, since Pride and Prejudice originally aired as a miniseries on the BBC. Still, it’s probably Firth’s most well-known and beloved performance. This is perhaps the most faithful adaptation of an Austen work to date–so faithful, in fact, that it runs a whopping 5 hours! Adaptations of the novel are a dime a dozen, but Firth’s performance is so spot-on that I (and many of my Austenite friends) consider him the quintessential ‘Mr. Darcy.’ In fact, when Helen Fielding wrote a novelization of “Pride and Prejudice” called “Bridget Jones’s Diary”, she based her character of Mark Darcy on Firth’s performance. In a strange twist of fate, “Bridget Jones’s Diary” was later adapted to film, and Firth was cast as Mark Darcy.
Things I love: Firth’s subtle development from haughty snob to tortured lover; the overabundance of cravat’s and sideburns on attractive men; David Bamber’s fantastically greasy portrayal of Mr. Collins; the unforgettable ‘dip in the lake’ scene.
Guilty Pleasure: What a Girl Wants (2003), directed by Dennie Gordon. Starring: Amanda Bynes, Colin Firth, Oliver James.
Colin Firth in an Amanda Bynes romantic comedy? Now that’s a guilty pleasure. Amanda Bynes plays Daphne, a young American girl who travels to England in search of her father, a British politician (played by Firth) who does not know she exists. What follows is a silly adventure replete with stuffy-British-people jokes, an evil step-sister, and the mandatory hunky musician love interest. One of my college friend’s introduced me to this film, and it has since become my go-to movie on a rainy day. What a Girl Wants may be chock full of cliches, but it’s a lot of fun and features a surprisingly stellar supporting cast. The set-up allows Firth to play both the stalwart politician and the heartwarming father figure, but he’s most fun to watch when he’s cheesing it up. The movie’s worth seeing just to watch Firth and the other Brits make fun of British life and behavior. Side note: There are a surprising number of Austen connections in the film, as well. Whether an intentional homage or not, Firth plays ‘Henry Dashwood’–the name of a character in Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility”. Furthermore, Anna Chancellor, who plays Firth’s fiance in What a Girl Wants also featured as Miss Bingley in Firth’s Pride and Prejudice.
Things I love: The scene where Firth dances in front of a mirror wearing leather pants; Eileen Atkins’ turn as the spunky Lady Jocelyn; the role of the Hot Musician Boyfriend being filled by an actor who actually sings his own vocals (Oliver James), including a surprisingly funky cover of “Get Up Offa That Thing.”