Matthew Rhys might be stepping into the breeches of Colin Firth to play Mr Darcy in a forthcoming BBC adaptation. But the actor says he won’t be repeating the iconic scene where Jane Austen's hero emerges from a lake in a clinging white shirt.
Eighteen years after Firth played brooding Mr Darcy in the BBC's much-loved Pride and Prejudice, Welsh actor Rhys will take the male lead in a television adaptation of PD James's sequel novel, Death Comes to Pemberley.
Speaking about the inevitable comparisons that will be drawn between Rhys and Firth, the 38-year-old actor told Deadline: “Exciting as it is, one of the challenges of a part such as Darcy are the comparisons that will be drawn to those who’ve institutionalised him in the past.”
Other actors who have played the stuffy aristocrat include Laurence Olivier, who starred in a 1940 film adaptation, and Matthew Macfadyen, who co-starred with Keira Knightley, in a 2005 feature.
“And also, I don’t have to appear from a lake in a white shirt and breeches,” he added.
Rhys, who was born in Cardiff, is an up-and-coming actor in the US where he has starred in TV series The Americans and Brothers & Sisters. His film credits include The Edge of Love, based loosely on the life of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, and thriller Luster.
Ben Stephenson, head of BBC drama, told The Sunday Times that Rhys has been cast because “he is likeable and yet has a dark edge. We did not want a Milk Tray advert type of handsomeness.”
Set six years after the events of Pride and Prejudice, PD James’ story centres on a murder in which George Wickham, a former flame of Elizabeth Bennet's who caused scandal when he ran off with, and later married, her sister Lydia, becomes the prime suspect.
Anna Maxwell Martin (Bleak House, Poppy Shakespeare) will play Elizabeth, with Matthew Goode (Dancing of the Edge, Birdsong) in the role of Wickham.
“The discussion on casting was about who can bring these characters alive again without having costume drama clichés,” said Stephenson.
“With Matthew Goode as Wickham you get an ambivalence [that] is perfect for the role . . . Anna Maxwell Martin is now perfect as a period actress and for playing Lizzie as a slightly older woman.”
The drama is set to be broadcast this Christmas.