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