In Focus

Barbie drooling over Darcy? Why we still ardently love the BBC’s 1995 Pride & Prejudice

A crowd-pleasing ‘Pride and Prejudice’ reference in Greta Gerwig’s new blockbuster jokes that ‘Depression Barbie’ can’t stop watching Mr Darcy jump in the lake. Katie Rosseinsky explores how Andrew Davies’s mid-Nineties revamp of Jane Austen’s most beloved novel became so epoch-defining

Saturday 05 August 2023 06:30 BST
In want of a wife: Colin Firth plays Mr Darcy in the BBC’s lauden Austen adaptation
In want of a wife: Colin Firth plays Mr Darcy in the BBC’s lauden Austen adaptation (BBC)

How does Barbie deal with a breakdown? By watching the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice adaptation “for the seventh time, until she falls asleep”, of course. In the third act of Greta Gerwig’s surreal but sublime movie inspired by Mattel’s plastic fantastic doll – which is fast approaching the $1bn mark at the box office – Margot Robbie’s character is in a real slump (understandably so, given that her sidekick Ken has just become a perma-tanned men’s rights activist). Cue a fake ad for a panda-eyed “Depression Barbie” spinning into view.

This distinctly off-brand toy, we learn, has the capacity to doom-scroll Instagram for hours, only taking a break to seek solace in Colin Firth’s portrayal of Mr Darcy (Firth/Darcy briefly crops up on screen in all his Nineties glory, delivering his iconic spiel about how “ardently” he “admire[s] and love[s]” Elizabeth Bennet).

Gerwig’s spoof commercial is a clever nudge to any viewers (myself included) with a tendency to use period drama as an escapist form of emotional support, where “the past is portrayed as a site of wish fulfilment”, as Deborah Cartmell, professor of English at De Montfort University and director of the Centre for Adaptations, puts it. But it’s also a reminder of the BBC adaptation’s enduring status as a cultural touchstone.

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