The BBC’s version of Pride and Prejudice surpasses any other adaptation of the Great Jane. Novels tend to make for poor movies, but their dramatic rhythms make for great television series. Part of the reason for this version’s excellence, I think, stems from the attraction all women feel for Darcy, as played by Colin Firth. He’s the most manly of all Austen’s beaux and the most skilled in game–clearly at work in this excerpt, Darcy’s first appearance at a public ball. The whole thing unfolds perfectly: First, Elizabeth generates a bit of a jealousy plot for herself as she watches her sister, Jane, dance with the highly valued Mr. Bingley. Second, Darcy does not directly approach Elizabeth, but instead he lingers within earshot. Finally, he launches the negs that every woman I know who has seen this remembers to this day:
Bingley: Come, you must dance.
Darcy: I certainly shall not. At an assembly such as this? It would be unsupportable.
[Cut to Elizabeth yearning to prove her worth.]
Darcy: Your sisters are engaged at present. I would think it a punishment to stand up with any other woman in the room.
[He accomplishes three things: another neg, preselection–he’s here with other high value women–and he makes a nod to caring for others.]
Bingley: I wouldn’t be as fastidious for a kingdom. I never met so many pleasant girls in my life, except for one uncommonly pretty.
[Darcy’s wingman calls him out on his bull shittake. Great Cat theory here: lay out the toy, wiggle it, tempt, but pull away…]
Darcy: You have been dancing with the only handsome girl in the room.
Bingley: She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld.
[This is smooth. The mere fact that Bingley is interested in Jane ignites hope in Elizabeth. Might Darcy want me?]
Bingley: (indicating Elizabeth) Look there’s one of her sisters. She’s very pretty, too. I dare say agreeable.
Darcy: She’s tolerable, I suppose. But she’s not handsome enough to tempt me.
[Elizabeth’s stung, but tropical underneath that dress. Darcy continues, unrelenting…]
Darcy: Bingley! I’m in no mood to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. Go back to your partner and enjoy her smiles for the rest of the evening.
[Disqualifies himself as suitor and demonstrates her much lower social value.]
Admittedly, the scene ends on Darcy feeling some guilt for having been so rough. But the game has been played. The only thing Elizabeth can do is runaway and laugh with other girly girls. Despite her rationalizations to the contrary, Elizabeth’s heart is his. Biomechanics is god.