Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Poor Mr. Collins, Part 1 - Screen Portrayals of the Character

[In Jane Austen's classic Pride & Prejudice, Mr. William Collins is a distant cousin of the Bennet family. According to the entailment laws of early 19th century England, Mr. Collins stands to inherit the Bennet home and properties, essentially making paupers of the Bennet daughters. Needless to say, these facts cast the character is an antagonist light before the reader even meets him.] 

The Popular Portrayal of Mr. Collins

Mr. Collins is not supposed to be liked. Readers and movie watchers alike are supposed to be empathizing with the heroine Elizabeth Bennet, and since her dislike of Mr. Collins is so extreme—far too extreme, in this author's opinion—movie makers seem to have gone to extra lengths to make certain the audience really, really dislikes Mr. Collins. They did this through the use of various negative male stereotypes such as age, height, presence, and even allusions to lack of masculinity. And since human beings are visual creatures, our popular impressions of Mr. Collins have been formed by the movies much more than they ever were by the book.
Pride & Prejudice (1940)

 In the 1940 version starring Lawrence Olivier as Darcy, Mr. Collins is played by Melville Cooper. Cooper takes on the role at the age of 44, playing a tall, bombastic, attention seeking Collins. Cooper wore stage makeup during filming that was intentionally designed to make him look older than his 44 years. Now, one should never expect or demand precise casting in movies. Casting directors have to look for talent, availability, presence, a whole list of qualities, and sometimes those qualities aren't found in someone who fits the textual descriptions in the novel.
That being said, it stretched credulity to cast a 44 year old actor to play a character that Austen describes as "a young man of five and twenty", who has only just been ordained a minister six months prior.