Shari Perkins – Freelance Dramaturg

David Rintoul: The Best, Yet Least-Loved, Mr. Darcy

Darcy (David Rintoul) Going to his Doom
Mr. Darcy is about to propose (1980 Pride & Prejudice)

Poor David Rintoul. He played the role of Fitzwilliam Darcy in the little-known 1980 film of Pride and Prejudice. And he did it so well that he drew the ire of a solid portion of the much-adapted novel’s fans.

The 1980 miniseries has been largely eclipsed by the much more popular and cinematic 1996 version, which presents the mature, intense, and carefully humanized Colin Firth as what many consider the definitive film Darcy. Then came the 2005 film with Matthew Macfayden as an obviously shy Darcy whose visable, immediate attraction to Elizabeth breaks out inevitably in an impassioned, almost impromptu proposal in the midst of a thunderstorm.

Quite a difference from Rintoul’s Darcy, pictured above as he waits for an answer to his knock at the door of Mr. Collins’s parsonage: Rintoul looks like he’s heading to his doom. Not at all unfitting, really, for a man who is about to propose to someone who is so far below his social station that the union is likely to materially damage not only his own reputation, but his sister’s–along with her marriage prospects. Yet, he is going into the lion’s den and doing it, nonetheless.

Certainly, Rintoul is as tall and handsome as subsequent Darcys. Indeed, I’d posit he’s more classically handsome than either Firth or the puppy-dog-eyed Macfayden. He reads younger than Firth, too–closer to Darcy’s age in the novel. Yet it is Firth who has turned into the enduring image of Austen’s proud, unreadable hero: passionately gazing across the room at Elizabeth, or spying from a window at her playing with a dog right after emerging from a bathtub. Firth really has the advantage in the adaptation of these films: whereas the 1980 version sticks faithfully to Elizabeth Bennet’s point of view, Davies’s version humanizes Darcy from the very beginning, revealing his passion and emotional struggles, and even his heroic actions regarding Lydia to the audience throughout the film.

Rintoul doesn’t get the benefit of an adapter who has decided to re-distribute the balance of the source material, allowing the viewer into the inner-life of both heroine and hero. Like Austen’s Bennett family, the viewer of the 1980 Pride and Prejudice get precious little chance to see beyond his well-practiced shell. So where did Rintoul go wrong, according to fans? Well, to quote some quips from around the web:

  • “The only negative [to the 80s miniseries], in my opinion, is Rintoul’s wooden, poker-faced portrayal of Darcy.” – from this post on Amazon.
  • “I found that David Rintoul from this 80s version played his role way to snobbish for my taste and Colin Firth did not, nor did Matthew McFayden.” – another Amazon commentator.
  • “[W]here is the feeling? Where is the passion? Darcy in this version is cold, and stiff, even AFTER we know he’s fallen in love with Elizabeth.” – yet another.
  • “My one quibble with this version is the stiff, rather boring portrayal of Mr. Darcy. And that’s a failing since he is supposed to become Elizabeth’s perfect match. It’s hard to understand how Elizabeth could be attracted to him at all other than he ‘saved’ her sister. He shows so little emotion, even after he’s changed, it’s tough to root for them to get together.” – And so forth.
  • “Mr. Darcy had a brick-like countenance that seemed impervious to change,” reports yet another viewer.
Darcy becomes fascinated by Elizabeth
Darcy Becomes Fascinated by Elizabeth

Over on IMDB, however, one reviewer (LouE15) captures Rintoul’s Darcy particularly well–understanding how he can be simultaneously off-putting and yet perfect for the role:

David Rintoul’s Darcy is on first watching, excessively stiff and not particularly entertaining to watch. There is so little mobility in his face, and on occasion even in his voice, that only careful repeated viewings reveal nuances in his performance. I do find myself liking his portrayal more now: it’s very subtle, to be sure, no diving into pools or striding open-shirted through dawn meadows, but once you’re used to the subtlety, the great formality provides a backdrop against which Darcy’s own wit and growing interest in Lizzie stand out in the gentlest relief, like the pattern on a damask cloth.

Indeed, indeed. Rintoul’s Darcy is subtle, he keeps his thoughts to himself as best he can, under what he may mistake for a mask of aloof politeness (this is particularly apparent in his scenes with Miss Bingley, where Rintoul-Darcy’s struggle to maintain composure under his friend’s sister’s barrage of flirtation is given away by the merest twitches of the cheek).

But what was Mr. Darcy–Austen’s Darcy, I mean–but totally unreadable except by the most observant–and even then, he was able to keep his “romantic” struggles to himself, even in front of his friends? The brilliance of Rintoul’s Darcy is the fact that we, as the viewer, upon first watching can see the man that the Bennets saw, “wooden” “stiff” “aloof” “cold” and “too snobbish.” But upon watching again, the viewer sees the inside man–the one who softens and even secretly smiles when Elizabeth enters the room at Rosings, and who is practically aglow–once he recovers from his shock–to discover her at Pemberley. All while he remains a palpable mystery to his companions.

As this post is already long, I will save the rest of my argument for future installments in this series which will, I hope, included video and textual evidence for my assertion that Rintoul is indeed the best, if least-loved, of all the film Darcys.

19 Responses

  1. Karen

    I agree completely! David Rintoul’s performance is very much in line with what Jane Austen intended for Mr. Darcy. It’s possible that today’s audiences need a sexed up version of the romance, hence their misunderstanding of Rintoul’s subdued character. Of course Mr. Darcy appears cold. He is a man out of his element – shy, withdrawn and yet superior to the Bennetts in his own mind and station in life. In meeting Eliza he is forced to question everything he has ever known. He must reassess what it means to be a gentleman. David Rintoul is a classically trained actor and knows this well. Not to take anything away from subsequent Mr. Darcys, but David Rintoul has the subtlety and nuance to carry this role with amazing accuracy.

    December 21, 2011 at 12:57 am

  2. Arlene W.

    I too am of the opinion that David Rintoul’s Mr. Darcy is the best version. His portrayal of Mr. Darcy is faithful to Jane Austen’s description of the character. I have the audio version of Pride and Prejudice as well, so obviously P & P is a source of literary fascination for me. The 1980 BBC version is excellent and there is something intimate about its production that is emotionally satisfying. The cast is superb, the actress who plays Lizzie, Ms. Garvie, is excellent as well as the rest of the supporting cast. I have given this to family and friends as a Christmas gift. It is by far, the most romantic version. Rintoul’s Darcy evolves as well- and his portrayal becomes an unforgettable one in the end. I saw Colin Firth’s Darcy, and although I admire his body of work, I still believe that David Rntoul’s Darcy is the best.

    December 27, 2011 at 6:07 am

  3. Thank you for doing justice to the excellent David Rintoul. Perhaps it is a generational thing (I am of an age with Elizabeth Garvie), but I found the 1980 adaptation the most satisfying. Fay Weldon’s script is almost perfect (falling only in giving a withering line of Mr Bennet’s at the Netherfield Ball to Mrs Bennet), Rintoul is the complete Darcy, principled, but full of pride. Garvie is my favourite Lizzie (I lost my heart to her as the character all those years ago), her playfulness making her character shine, but in keeping with the period. Moray Watson, a regular in BBC costume dramas of the period, is a fine Mr Bennet too.

    January 13, 2012 at 12:54 am

  4. I too think you need to watch it several times to understand his performance.
    The scene when they meet unexpectedly at Pemberley is played to perfection by both actors, exactly as I have imagined it when I read the book.

    And about the fact that he doesn’t show enough emotion, even after ~we know~ that he is in love, that very much depends on how much emotion the viewer needs to see to be satisfied with the performance, isn’t it?

    In this particular case it is all very well that Mr. Rintoul plays as he does, as Austen herself was a very economical writer.
    The charm of her novels is that you have to imagine so much as to almost write your own.
    I would say that Pride and Prejudice could have been at least three times as long had it been milked for all its worth.

    July 12, 2012 at 12:46 pm

  5. lg

    I absolutelly agree. Rintoul was Mr. Darcy as Jan Austen wrote him. I find this version of Pride and Prejudice to be the only one that is truly faithful to the book. I adore it. Colin Forth is more Heathcliff than Darcy and I can’t even credit he McFayen version as being Austen at all.

    August 6, 2012 at 3:42 pm

  6. Dorothea Martin

    Bravo, LouE15, or perhaps Brava!

    Rintoul’s portrayal is indeed the essential Darcy. The Firth/Macfayden versions are so overwrought as to have departed completely from Austen’s notion of Darcy, Olivier’s version, too miscast to mention. Rintoul’s subtle shift from pride to passion adds to the story’s fascination. The strut toward the piano where Garvey sang, long legs, narrow hips sheathed in white, passion smoldering in the ebon-clad bosom portrays heat as palpable as Firth’s gaze across the room at Elizabeth. All this while remaining faithful to the text. “That is the wonder of it!”

    June 29, 2013 at 6:58 pm

  7. Mouse

    Have loved the 1980 version also. Moray is my favorite mr. Bennett of all versions. He so often has me laughing, his sardonic portrait of mr. Bennett. David rintoul is so handsome, and a wonderfully intense darcy. Elizabeth garvie acts so natural and charming, with none of the stiffness that could so easily happen with Austen’s challenging dialog. Just a great film, I watch at least once a year.

    August 6, 2013 at 12:30 am

  8. Gordon Thomson

    Having just watched the Rintoul/Garvie “Pride and Prejudice,”I could not disagree more with your appraisal of his performance: “cold fish” doesn’t begin to describe it. He was, of course, very badly hampered by the almost equally appalling performance of Elizabeth Garvie as Elizabet Bennet.
    This one of my favourite and most-often reread books, and I am as familiar with it as I am with the Firth and MacFadyen versions.
    I am an actor, with decades of experience in all media, and I am always on the look-out for the false, the empty and the vain: all three almost throb in Mr. Rintoul’s performance. (Although “throb” would indicate feeling, of which there was not an iota to be found.)
    What a waste of a great opportunity, a great book and a great role.
    I would advise any serious and intelligent student of the arts of acting and direction to avoid this travesty of D”Arcy at all costs.

    August 27, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    • Susan Livingstone

      Agreed, except it found some worth in Ms. Garvie’s performance. Sadly, Mr. Rintoul was eye rollingly awful in this. But mostly I wanted to respond to your comment to thank you for having been the only person in this discussion to have spelled Mr. Macfadyen’s name correctly!

      January 5, 2014 at 11:38 pm

  9. Soozie

    I have put off for years watching the 1980 adaptation of P&P. Now I am so sorry I did, David Rintoul is the perfect Mr. Darcy, I believe Miss Austen would have been extremely pleased with it. While watching Colin Firth play Mr. Darcy is just a plain guilty pleasure, Mr. Rintoul has made the 1980 version my favorite.

    I am sorry I waited so long to see it, but it will be a frequent rewatch going forward. Thank you for bringing to light a great view of his portrayal, he played it beautifully.

    October 12, 2013 at 3:48 am

  10. karen chastain

    The first P & P movie I saw had Collin Firth as Mr. Darcy. Very impressive but then I was blown away when I came across a 1980 video with David Rintoul. What an excellent job he did playing an aloof stoic arrogant yet charming man. I fell in love with his character. He has to be one of the best looking male actors.

    October 18, 2013 at 10:10 am

  11. Douglas Hamilton

    The 1980s BBC Pride and Prejudice is the best of the three recent adaptations. The film misses out too much, partly because of the limited time allocated to a normal full-length film. In fairness to all three versions, I would suggest the casting is good, and I feel that the film’s portrayal of Mrs Bennet, Brenda Blethyn I think, is more sympathetic to her concerns to find suitable husbands for her girls.
    The 1995 Andrew Davis adaptation scores in having wonderful locations, and a very full story-line, even adding in some parts only hinted at in the original. The production does, however, almost lapse into caricature on occasion. Alison Steadman’s Mrs Bennet seems excessively vulgar and loud, while Mr Bingley’s sisters are almost pantomime “ugly sisters”. Much of the rest of the casting is very good, though perhaps Jennifer Ehle’s Elizabeth is a bit too boisterous, and I would suggest that she is more attractive than her Jane (Susannah Harker) who is supposed to be the beauty of the family.
    The 1980s production is near perfect. I could imagine no better Elizabeth than Elizabeth Garvie. She is attractive, but perhaps not as beautiful as the Jane. Her demeanour is suitably restrained, but with superb delivery of her lines, and beautiful facial expressions. Mr and Mrs Bennet are well cast and portrayed, without Mrs Bennet lapsing into excessively hysterical, loud or vulgar behaviour. David Rintoul’s Darcy is excellent in a cool, upper-class manner, which is what the character was. The Bingley sisters are unpleasant, but in a more restrained way, without lapsing into caricature. Again, Mr Collins is truer to the book. He should be, if I remember aright, a big clumsy man, as is portrayed in the 1980s version, rather than the smaller, slightly slimy character portrayed in the 1995 version.
    So, while I enjoy all three of these recent adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, the one which I prefer is the 1980s BBC version, adapted by Fay Weldon. It is superbly and realistically cast, and is truest to the book, both in details and in the spirit of Jane Austen’s writing.

    October 26, 2013 at 1:36 pm

  12. Daria

    I loved Mr. Rintoul in his role as Mr. Darcy. He was most illusive and alluring. His mystique added to relationship between he and Eliza and made me want to watch the movie over and over. He is not just another hollywood type. A great actor he is.

    October 27, 2013 at 5:38 am

  13. Barry Fink

    I agree as well. In fact, I have long been puzzled why it is not a truth universally recognized that the Garvie/Rintoul version is the best adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, bar none. So many of the main characters are perfectly portrayed, including the entire Bennet family. Yes, Rintouls’s Darcy is a bit stiff, but that is an accurate rendition of the character created by Jane Austen 200 years ago. And as others have written, I believe that Rintoul is the most successful Darcy of any adaptation.

    November 3, 2013 at 5:51 am

  14. Mei

    Mr Rintoul played Mr Darcy so well. He is the only Darcy I like.

    November 4, 2013 at 1:05 am

  15. Sandra

    I absolutely loved the 1980 version. Ironically the 1995 one is my least favourite. Firth & Ehle did a reasonably good job, but I really disliked most of the other characters. I found the Bingley sisters false, Lydia sounds like she is menatlly impaired and Mrs. Bennett is positively hysterical, screeching through the entire series.

    I rather liked the 2005 version with both Mcfadyen and Knightley doing a good job. I also really enjoyed Rosamund Pike’s portrayal of Jane. My main complaint with the 2005 version is the fact that the dialogue has been modernized with expressions such as “don’t judge me” thrown in, which do not ring true to the original Austen text. Moreover, I found that the Bennett and Darcy families were also portrayed in a manner that wasn’t faithfull to the book, much farther apart on the social scale than what is described in the book.

    The 1980s version has the best Mr.Collins, the best Mrs. and Mr. Bennett and Lizzie and Darcy are exactly the way I imagined them reading the book. I don’t understand why people expect Darcy to change over completley from one day to the next. That is not the way it was described in the book. I wish the BBC would release a digitally enhanced version of the 1980s version. It is my absolute favourite and David Rintoul’s performance was subtle and right on. I think people often forget that people’s behaviour in the 18th-19th centuries was much more restrained than currently and that the overall tone was one of subtlety.

    November 15, 2013 at 6:30 pm

  16. Cheyenne

    David Rintoul is the only actor in the four films that played Darcy the way Austen wrote him. As such, he’s the only Darcy I can stand to watch. All the others look like impostors.

    January 28, 2014 at 6:30 am

  17. Barry

    It will always puzzle me that our view is the minority view … David Rintoul, as well as the entire cast, is much better at portraying the characters as I see them from Jane Austen’s novels. The portrayal of Mr Wickham is also spot on in the Fay Weldon adaptation, since only a convincing liar with an honest looking face could have fooled Elizabeth.

    January 28, 2014 at 4:39 pm

  18. Agreed. Rintoul is also the only actor to have played Darcy as an aristocrat, too – he wouldn’t have grinned and grimaced and jumped into ponds. It’s a beautifully-weighted performance, and his gradual melting is a delight. I’ve always been impressed that he managed to do the Pemberley scene with that fly buzzing all over his face, too! His gentle and occasional smiles contrast so well with Wickham’s easy grin (well done Peter Setteln, too).

    February 5, 2014 at 9:09 pm

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