Andrew Davies changed my life.
I speak, of course, of the Andrew Davies who wrote the screenplay for the BBC’s wildly successful 1995 miniseries of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. P&P, as it’s known in our house, is my very, very favourite book. (Yes, I know, me and fifty million other women. So sue me.) If I’m feeling ill or low or just in need of an excellent read, out it comes. There are times – thankfully rare – when I’ve felt too rough even to read. Thanks to Andrew Davies, for almost twenty years now I’ve had an alternative – first the video, now the DVD.
That shiny little disc has been my friend through hangovers, bouts of food poisoning and quiet nights in with a bar of chocolate and a bottle of wine for company. Yesterday, I had a rare treat – I visited Lyme Park, the location for the exterior shots of Pemberley, Mr Darcy’s stately pile. There, they’re celebrating the 200th anniversary of P&P’s publication with – wait for it – a twelve foot fibreglass model of Colin (I like to think we’re on first-name terms) as Mr Darcy, emerging from the lake, all clingy, transparent white shirt and dubious sideburns.
You can’t argue with something that’s done with so much affection – if you could, I might take issue with the size, the quality and indeed the taste of what, for want of a better word, I’ll call the installation – but that would be ill-natured, so I won’t. I will say, though, that out of sight of the fibreglass Colin, seeing Lyme Park across the lake did make me catch my breath and say, with Elizabeth, “I don’t think I ever saw a place more happily situated.”
Oddly – or perhaps not, given its temporary tenant – it wasn’t the lake that gave me my greatest Darcy Flutter. It was instead the inner courtyard, to be specific, the steps down which Darcy runs, hair still wet and tugging at his hastily-donned jacket, as he rushes to find Elizabeth before she leaves Pemberley after their embarrassing meeting at the lake. Seeing it, I found myself imagining again his feelings as he seeks her out, desperate to find some way to show her he has changed for the better, unsure of himself for perhaps the first time in his life, unsure of anything except that – despite his vows to forget her – this woman is everything to him.
How could any woman not fall in love with Mr Darcy? And somehow, with Andrew Davies’s screenplay and a cast of talented actors, a new and different dimension was brought to that wonderful story. Whenever I read Jane Austen’s words, Colin Firth will be my Mr Darcy (I won’t mention who’s cast as Elizabeth – you might have guessed it’s not Jennifer Ehle). And Lyme Park will be my Pemberley.