Each year as part of Mental Health Awareness Week, Digital Spy writers share their experiences of how entertainment can be part of the conversation around mental illness.
Picture the scene – you’ve been invited to a party where you only know the two people by your side, and everyone turns to stare as you walk into the room. Sound nightmarish?
Well, you've just walked into your introductory scene in Joe Wright's Pride and Prejudice (2005), and you are Fitzwilliam Darcy. This Darcy, played by Matthew Macfadyen, is different to other interpretations: he's the most anxious version yet.
I've had social anxiety for as long as I can remember, even before I fully understood what it was. Now, I manage via an excellent therapist, a written list of affirmations, alcohol, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and friends who know how to drag me from its depths. Our early nineteenth-century Darcy has no such coping mechanisms. The social constraints and expectations of the era automatically create awkward situations by our modern standards – there are the weirdly intense introductions, everyone knowing your salary, and propriety.
Macfadyen uses his manner of speaking and body language to convey how socially anxious his Darcy is from the offset. In Darcy's introduction at the Meryton Assembly, he struggles to maintain eye contact, refuses to speak to people he doesn’t know, and blurts out his words when he does try to speak to Lizzie Bennett. He sticks with the people he knows at the informal ball; we, the audience, only see glimpses of him looking inaccessible or 'miserable', flanked by Caroline and Charles Bingley.
As one well acquainted with the torment of going to an event where you don't know anyone, and they've got a preconceived idea of you – you create a barrier. That barrier may have looked like I was bored or miserable, but it's only because I couldn't stop panicking about what everyone thought about me. It's painfully reassuring to see my affliction represented in this Darcy.
Next, Macfadyen's delivery. His tone is often abrupt, curt, and he refuses to smile when spoken to; Lizzie even calls him out on being 'taciturn' at the Netherfield ball. This is the standard literary interpretation of Darcy – he is aloof and proud.
In this scene, the viewer can see the cogs working in his head before his quick wit kicks in, and then he's finally verbally sparring with Lizzie. We see more of Darcy's actual character here, and he's more himself at Netherfield's ball than his introduction. I'd argue that this is more of a situation he can predict and control, so he relaxes fractionally.
Darcy's body language initially looks poised and confident, but this I think intentionally works as a barrier. If he looks imposing, alongside having that incredible wealth, people will be afraid to speak to him, and he won't have to speak to someone he doesn't know well.
However, we do see physical glimpses of Darcy's anxiety. The ICONIC hand flex scene when Darcy touches Lizzie's hand, panics at the sensation, and flees before he's said any kind of proper farewell. Afterwards, Darcy walks behind Lizzie to speak to her when she arrives at Netherfield ball, but immediately diverts as if he needs to psyche himself up for the task, and he simply isn't ready yet.
We see that Macfadyen's Darcy is restless; he fiddles with his gloves and wrings his hands, especially at Mr Collins' parsonage. He is prone to pacing in tense moments, like when he's waiting for Lizzie's father's approval. I, too, fidget with everything when I'm especially stressed; bottle caps, paperclips, I've broken a record amount of phone cases by playing with them. Macfadyen's Darcy has this same nervous energy to him.
It used to frustrate me when people pointed out my restlessness – now I've accepted that whenever I care about something, I get fidgety, and that's visible to other people – that can't be helped, and caring isn't a bad thing.
Later in the film, Darcy admits to Lizzie that he cannot "converse easily" with people he doesn't know and determines that knowing 'no-one beyond his own party' means that he wouldn't talk to anyone else.
This is a massive moment of growth as he's letting Lizzie in behind his barrier and admitting that he struggles. In this era, social anxiety won't have been discussed, and probably wouldn't be accepted; so, for Darcy to verbalise that he struggles with this is a momentous thing.
This moment shows how Darcy cares for Lizzie, already, and inspires me with hope that if you're honest about your anxieties with the people you care about, you can work on your problems, and won't necessarily be judged for them. Though Lizzie's tease that he should just 'practise' more when it comes to speaking to strangers is a bit too real – it's rather like a parent telling you to calm down when you're anxious.
Anxiety doesn’t work like that, Elizabeth.
We would encourage anyone who identifies with the topics raised in this article to reach out. Organisations who can offer support include Samaritans on 116 123 (www.samaritans.org) or Mind on 0300 123 3393 (www.mind.org.uk). Readers in the US are encouraged to visit mentalhealth.gov.
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