Mamma Mia

Please permit me a little diversion from our regularly scheduled programming (namely Pride and Prejudice musings) to offer some musings on Colin Firth in Mamma Mia. I may include what you would consider to be SPOILERS, so be warned.

Our dear Colin Firth is showing a few signs of aging. Granted, he is still pretty dreamy. But his portrayal of Harry Bright won’t make you swoon as much. Here are a few examples:

PAISLEY PANTS: Mr. Darcy would never, never, ever sport gray paisley pants and white keds. It could be worse, though. At first, I thought they were snakeskin. Nonetheless, not the best look.

LIFE PRESERVER: He also sported a life preserver for several scenes, even on land. Was this to conceal his torso? Should he have done a few more sit-ups? Used a little self-tanner? Or is Harry really that bad of a swimmer?

There were a few things that were worse, though. Including listening to Pierce Brosnan sing virtually any song, Julie Waters’ grating voice, and seeing Stellan Skarsgard’s arse.

And there were a few things that were great:

FINAL CREDITS: You have to stay for all the credits, for the main characters all ham it up (in full seventies regalia) to the song Waterloo. Priceless!

YACHT: The scenes on the yacht were pretty good, before Colin Firth donned the life preserver. They kept his torso pretty concealed, and apparently deemed his legs to be the best asset for viewing. From this photo, I’d say that was a very good call.


Elizabeth, Part II

There are numerous Pride and Prejudice “sequels” on the market today. They’ve become an unseemly addiction for me– filled with the shame and loathing that often accompanies additions. I know they will never measure up to our beloved Miss Austen. I should be strong, I should be able to resist, and yet…off I go with credit card in hand to my local bookstore or on-line retailer.

Also, like many addictions, it is never completely satisfying. Sure, some are better than others. Some are downright awful. And, in most cases, the characters are extremely one-dimensional.

Lady Catherine is always rude and selfish. Mr. Collins is always boring and long-winded. Lydia is always flighty and self-centered. Caroline is always petty and witchy. The characters often don’t evolve (except in the rare cases where the evolve SO much that they are hardly recognizable! In one “sequel,” Bingley has an affair and begets an illegitimate child, Darcy shoots three people while defending Lizzy, and Georgianna becomes a seductive temptress to entice Colonel Fitzilliam. WHAT! Who are those people!?!)

So, it leads me to wonder: What would happen to Darcy and Lizzy? Would she remain witty, charming, and a little bit bold? Would Darcy remain reformed from his previously aloof and prideful ways? Would their love remain pure and deep and fulfilling through the years?

Despite all the guessing in poor-to-mediocre sequels to come, we’ll never really know the answer. And maybe that’s a good thing. You never get details about the “after” in “happily ever after.” This way, Darcy and Lizzy remain the essence of romantic love and admiration, coming together despite all obstacles.

Darcy’s first proposal

Colin Firth has often said he is most proud of his performance as Lord Wessex in Shakespeare in Love. Recently, he said of this character: “I love the boredom of the vacant, mediocre man who has got everything, a huge amount of money, spoiled, and this kind of blithe, lazy cruelty that he has.” [The Australian, May 10, 2008]

Although the quote is about Lord Wessex, I think it resounds with Mr. Darcy as well. Before meeting Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy was a mediocre man. He executed his roles as a landowner and a brother well. But he didn’t really care about people, other than his sister, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Bingley. He didn’t seem to be fond of many other people (including Lady Catherine, his cousin Anne, or even Miss Bingley), and usually was outright disdainful. I think he was a bit bored, vacant, blithe and lazy, like Lord Wessex.

I often wonder what would have happened if Lizzy had accepted his first proposal at Rosings. If she had, I think he would have stayed on the same path of selfishness and pride. Their marriage probably wouldn’t have been very happy, because it wouldn’t have been based on mutual respect, esteem and honor. He would be the acknowledge superior in all things.

Only through her refusal, and his later attempts to win her regard, does he lose his selfishness and become a better man.


Learning about yourself

Modern psycho-babble tells us that we can’t love someone else until we know and love ourselves. Most of the characters in Pride and Prejudice are blissfully unaware. They all have faults and delusions which prevent them from achieving a deeper affection and intimacy with their partner.

Both Lizzy and Mr. Darcy start on similar paths. Lizzy prides herself on her ability to assess others accurately and rapidly, but later finds that her first impressions are filled with prejudice. Mr. Darcy is cool and distant, but later learns that he was tought to be selfisn and overbearing.

The journey to one another only begins when they start to look at themselves more honestly and critically. The depth of their affection is only reached when they honestly assess their own personalities and tendencies.

Both Lizzy and Mr. Darcy experience profound journeys of self-discovery and soul-baring. These journeys make them more compassionate and more able to find a deep love with each other.


Money changes everything

Cyndi Lauper surmised that money changes everything. In Regency England, I’d say that money IS everything in the dating world. Almost 200 years later, I’d say that is probably still the case.  At least Regency England was straightfoward about their obsession with a persons’ financial status.

Almost all the relationships in Pride and Prejudice have a financial element. It is common knowledge how much yearly income Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy earn, and the size of Georgiana Darcy’s inheritance. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have the entail of Longbourn to worry about. Caroline Bingley is a social climber who ridicules anyone she considers of lower wealth and prestige. Lady Catherine has a compulsive need to show everyone how wealthy she is. Charlotte marries Mr. Collins for financial stability. Mr. Wickham pursues Miss King for her inheritance, and only marries Lydia when Mr. Darcy offers him a financial settlement. Financial situations are common knowledge and in the open.

And yet, money plays a much smaller role in the relationships that Jane Austen holds up as most admirable. Mr. Darcy’s wealth is, of course, well known, but neither of them speak directly of money as reasons for their marriage. Indeed, Elizabeth turns down his first proposal despite the material comfort it would provide for her and her entire family. Even Jane is relatively low key about Mr. Bingley’s wealth.

Jane Austen’s most admirable characters don’t discount the importance of wealth and financial security. But, at the same time, they don’t hold it to be the sole and most important component of life and love.


Kindly Meant?

I have long been confused on the conversation between Caroline Bingley and Lizzy at the Netherfield Ball. At this point in the story, Caroline knows that Mr. Darcy admires Lizzy’s “fine eyes,” but I also think she seriously doubts that Mr. Darcy would marry so far beneath his social position. So I would say that she has some vague feelings of jealousy toward Lizzy, but hasn’t yet zeroed in with her wrath and cutting comments.

It is also surprising to me that Caroline Bingley knows of the ill will between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham. Even though she is sketchy in the details, it is surprising to me that she has any knowledge at all. Given how tight-lipped Darcy wanted to be in the matter, it’s hard to imagine that he would have told her personally. Jane Austen later says that Bingley was quite ignorant of the circumstances between Darcy and Wickham, so Caroline would not have heard from Bingley.

Nevertheless, Caroline has some information on the history between Darcy and Wickham. Caroline hears that Lizzy has an affinity for Wickham, and (despite her civil disdain) warns Lizzy not to trust everything that Wickham says. Why?  I can’t figure it out. Caroline herself has nothing to lose if Lizzy falls in love with Wickham. In fact, one would think that Caroline Bingley would WANT Lizzy’s affections directed any anyone else, so that they aren’t directed at Darcy.

Could it really be that Caroline’s intentions truly were kindly meant!?


Masters of Disguise

Most of us wear disguises. We figure out ways to make ourselves seem smarter. More attractive. More wealthy. More intelligent. Just better somehow.

Most of the characters in Pride and Prejudice wear disguises, and much of the irony in Jane Austen’s writing is shown when a character’s words are in direct contrast to their actions and disguises.

Lady Catherine disguises herself as a woman of accomplishments– she says she the best natural taste in music and owns the finest instruments, yet doesn’t even know how to play. Mr. Collins disguises himself as a scholarly and charitable man of the cloth, but is more focused on collecting tithes and casting judgements.  Caroline Bingley looks down her nose at the Bennet’s poor connections, yet she herself is the daughter of a tradesman.

Mr. Darcy disguises himself very little, mostly because he has no need of disguises himself.  He already has extreme wealth and superior intelligence. He doesn’t crave attention or a wide circle of friends and acquaintances.

Simply put, as Colonel Fitwilliam comments, he will not give himself the trouble.