BBC cashes in as 'Darcy phenomenon' has nation in a swoon

'Pride and Prejudice': Video sales of the hit BBC television series reach 70,000 as fans fall under the spell of its brooding hero

JOJO MOYES

A man emerges dripping from a bath, his muscular back gleaming in the dim light. Later he rises from a lake, his wet shirt transparent against his torso. A nation of women sigh, flush, and rush out to buy the video.

This is not a semi-pornographic B-movie. This is Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. And with the final episode just hours away, lovelorn women and adoring marketing men are murmuring just one name: Darcy.

At the BBC they are calling it the "Darcy phenomenon". Viewing figures for the BBC series are over 10 million, while sales of the BBC video, which sold out its initial run of 12,000 within two hours of its release, have now reached 70,000.

"If you imagine Martin Chuzzlewit and Middlemarch sold between 12,000 and 20,000 each, it really is a huge phenomenon," a BBC spokeswoman said yesterday. "These videos are pounds 20 each. This only really happens with feature films and they're not as expensive."

This week the video went straight in at number eight on the Gallup top 100 videos. According to the BBC it is unheard of for a video to sell even half as well, especially when viewers are able to tape the episodes at home for free.

"The only similar success we had was Poldark but that's a nostalgia thing," the spokeswoman said.

Sales of the BBC book The Making of Pride and Prejudice have sold out, while Penguin has seen massive sales of the original. The series has already been licensed to eight broadcasters abroad, generating an extra pounds 500,000 for the BBC before the series has even finished.

"That's likely to increase even further as a result of the critical acclaim," Mary Collins of BBC Worldwide's sales department said. "We anticipate this is going to be one of the best selling programmes ever."

The reason for this unprecedented success, according to BBC insiders, is tall, dark and handsome and is currently taped to the office walls of nearly every female in Television Centre.

"We put it all down to the appeal of Darcy," the spokeswoman said. "There's no other reasoning for it. Episode four was the killer. I've never seen an actor so consistently wet." The BBC has been deluged by calls from anxious female viewers unable to wait for the final episode - or the much heralded kiss between Darcy, who is played by Colin Firth, and Elizabeth Bennet, played by Jennifer Ehle.

"We've had people in tears, ringing us for copies. One woman called us crying yesterday because she couldn't get a copy and she was going on holiday. She was desperate to see it before she went," the spokeswoman said.

The sexual aura surrounding Firth-as-Darcy has been heightened by reports that he and Ehle were lovers off-screen at the time. Set insiders have gleefully told of "bruised lips and sexual tension" as they filmed a large number of takes to get the scene exactly right.

Aged 34, Firth stands 6ft 1in, with tousled brown hair and deep-set eyes. He is said to have been inundated with offers of work as a result of his "perfect" portrayal of the brooding hero. The evident blurring in the public psyche of Firth with Darcy was recently compounded by the actor himself. He apparently struggled with the enigmatic character before coming to the conclusion that "the only way for it to work is to be Darcy already".

Firth is currently filming in Italy. He has been back to Britain for one week since the series began and became aware of the extent of the series' success when he found himself being stopped in the street. He may also have to change his telephone number, if the persistence of his new-found fans is anything to go by.

The BBC were curiously reticent about giving out the name of his agent, ICM. "You are from the Independent, aren't you? You're not a fan?" the spokeswoman said nervously.

ICM, it emerged, is currently receiving upwards of 30 calls a day from fans.

"They're calling to find out what he's planning to do next, whether they can see him in theatre," a spokesman for ICM said wearily.

But according to the BBC the adulation of Mr Darcy has not been restricted to members of the public.

"We've had journalists and editors of national newspapers being so sweet to us over the past few days, begging us for copies of the video. All for research purposes, of course," the spokeswoman said. "We even had one national newspaper begging us for posters of Darcy to give away," she added. "The Sun? No, it was the Times, actually."

The Bennet sisters: how they have fared since the series - and what the Jane Austen Society thought of their performances

Jennifer Ehle

(Elizabeth Bennet)

Acting with the Royal Shakespeare Company until March. She came to public attention for her role as Calypso in Channel 4's adaptation of The Camomile Lawn. More recently seen as the murdered wife Penny McCallister in the Carlton television docu-drama "Beyond Reason".

JAS rating: "I think she's totally miscast. She's a lovely, charming smiley girl with a roundish face. But Elizabeth was forceful and sharp and intelligent. Jennifer Ehle doesn't beam intelligence at you, she beams a lovely smile."

Susannah Harker

(Jane Bennet)

Currently filming Merchant Ivory's Surviving Picasso with Anthony Hopkins. Came to public attention through her role as the journalist Mattie in the political thriller House of Cards. Also played the girlfriend of RSC actor Iain Glen in the Euston Films series The Fear. They later married and now have a six-month-old baby, Finlay.

JAS rating: "She's a curious type. Physically she's not a "common" type - she looks rather lazy and sensual. I don't think [this] means it doesn't work. I don't think Jane Austen would have said 'no' to her."

Julia Sawalha

(Lydia Bennet)

Recently finished filming In the Bleak Midwinter with Kenneth Branagh. Most recently known for her roles playing Jennifer Saunders's serious, bespectacled offspring Saffy in the BBC comedy series Absolutely Fabulous, and Mercy Peckstaff in Martin Chuzzlewit. Ms Sawalha also spent three television series as the daughter Hannah in Second Thoughts.

JAS rating: "I suppose she's all right - she looks young and pretty. She's like a lot of girls of her age. I think it's a fair portrayal."

Lucy Briers

(Mary Bennet)

The daughter of actor Richard Briers (shortly to be seen in In The Bleak Midwinter with Julia Sawalha, left), she was previously with the Bristol Old Vic and hadher first big break playing Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Since she finished filming Pride and Prejudice nine months ago, she has completed another film called The Anorak, which stars Sandi Toksvig. Ms Briers is about to get married to 29-year-old actor Simon Cox. JAS rating: "She was okay as Mary. She is the studious one and I think she did that quite well."

Polly Maberly

(Kitty Bennet)

Kitty may be seen as one of the least interesting characters in the Bennett family, and one who suffers in comparison to her incandescent and irrepressible sister Lydia. Little is known about Ms Maberly, who plays her, other than the fact that Kitty was her first major part. Agents Central Artists Management were yesterday unable to comment on her plans, other than to say that the young actress is currently studying at RADA.

JAS rating: "She was fine, I suppose. It's not the most prominent of parts."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world