I know there have been a lot of different actors in a lot of different Jane Austen adaptations, but the ranking laid out below as to the best Austen men is unequivocally accurate. Dissenters get moist thinking about Mr. Collins.
12. Sam Riley as Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies tried to max out the swoon factor by adding sexxxy fight scenes and sexxxy heaving bosoms and a sexxxy scene where a clergyman gawks at someone’s dick, because LOLOL that’s funny I guess. With Sam Riley’s Darcy, the attempts at sexification just backfired. Darcy, whose defining characteristic is his utter lack of social skills, as a leather-clad, brooding bad boy? Fuck off.
11. Xavier Samuel as Reginald DeCourcy, Love & Friendship
Xavier Samuel’s Reginald DeCourcy being so low on this list is actually a good thing, because he’s not supposed to be swoonworthy. The excellent Love & Friendship ditches romance almost entirely in favor of focusing on Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale), a widow and master manipulator of men who tries to scheme herself and her sweet-natured daughter Federica into good marriages. In a different version of this tale, Reginald would be the romantic hero, white knight-ing Federica away from an unfortunate family situation; instead, Love & Friendship has him as one of several men whom Lady Susan makes look like mealy-brained, easily deceived idiots. Love & Friendship is one of the best movies of the year so far, and you should definitely check it out if you haven’t already.
10. Jonny Lee Miller as Edmund Bertram, Mansfield Park (1995)
Jonny Lee Miller plays Edmund Bertram as a golden retriever puppy who looks like he might burst into tears 50% of the time. It’s cute, but not exactly swoonworthy.
9. Rupert Penry-Jones as Captain Wentworth, Persuasion (2007)
Sally Hawkins is excellent in the starring role of Persuasion, about Anne Elliot, a mousy, practical-minded spinster who’s constantly surrounded by idiots. Opposite her is Penry-Jones as Captain Wentworth, Anne’s first love, whose marriage proposal she was persuaded to reject years earlier due to his lack of prospects. Penry-Jones is perfectly fine, though his performance is overshadowed by Hawkins as well as several members of the supporting cast. (I’m thinking of The Red Queen’s Amanda Hale as Anne’s hypochondriac sister and Anthony Head as her vain, narcissistic father, in particular.) And there’s only one Captain Wentworth, anyways. More on him later.
8. Dan Stevens as Edward Ferrars, Sense & Sensibility (2008)
I would like to issue a formal thanks to the Colin Firth version of Pride & Prejudice, because its famous lake scene paved way for a bit in the 2008 Sense & Sensibility miniseries where Dan Stevens chops wood in the rain while Elinor Dashwood (Hattie Morahan) looks on like this:
That said, though Stevens does sweet ‘n’ smiley awfully well, I liked The Guest too much to want to see him play anyone but psychopathic versions of Captain America from here on out.
7. JJ Feild as Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey (2007)
Jane Austen’s tribute to/send-up of Gothic literature Northanger Abbey made for something of a lighter, sillier movie here, with Felicity Jones playing the naive, novel-obsessed (escandalo) Catherine Morland. Aside from Jones, other People You Like are in this one, too: A young Carey Mulligan, just a few months away from her turn in the Doctor Who episode “Blink,” plays Catherine’s frenemy/Bad Bitch of Bath Isabella, and Liam Cunningham is General Tilney, the hard-nosed father of Catherine’s love interest, John. As for John, he’s more snarky and less ~*~tormented by repressed love~*~ than other Austen dudes, which is a plus in my book. This is something of a minor entry in Austen film canon, but it’s delightful all the same.
6. Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley, Emma (2009)
Look, ma, Jonny Lee Miller from Mansfield Park grew into his cravat! 10/10 argumentative banter, good job.
5. Paul Rudd as Josh/Mr. Knightley, Clueless
Oh-ho-ho, you thought I would leave out the greatest Jane Austen adaptation of all time, did you? Wrong. Rudd not being higher on this list is solely a result of Amy Heckerling’s Clueless, a loose adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, being much more focused on comedy than romance. And the lack of cravats. That’s also a factor.
4. Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon, Sense & Sensibility (1995)
Look: There are some aspects of Jane Austen’s work that have aged well, and parts that haven’t. “Middle-aged man pining for a teenager only a few years older than his adopted daughter” is one of the haven’ts. The paternal aspect of Brandon and Marianne’s relationship, though not at all unusual at the time, creeps me out juuuuuuust enough that I have trouble fully rooting for them to get their shit together and bump uglies. That said, it takes a great actor to make “35-year-old man in love with a 17-year-old because she reminds him of his high school sweetheart” palatable, and Rickman, with his dignity and understated sweetness, pulls it off. (Incidentally, this disconnect between contemporary and modern values affects my enjoyment of Fanny and Edmund’s relationship in Mansfield Park, too. “I’ve loved you as a man loves a woman.” You’re first cousins.)
3. Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, Pride & Prejudice (1995)
Firth playing Darcy is a marriage of actor and role so iconic, it happened twice: First in the 1995 BBC miniseries that turned so many into Austen fans in the first place, and then in Bridget Jones’ Diary, where Firth’s basically the same character, y’all, albeit in an awful Christmas sweater. (Darcy would wear an awful Christmas sweater if Lizzie asked him to.) Let’s ignore the Bridget Jones sequel, on the grounds that it is stupid and never happened anyway.
2. Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy, Pride & Prejudice (2005)
I prefer Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice to the Jennifer Ehle/Colin Firth BBC miniseries version, and I prefer Macfadyen’s Darcy—younger, a little jittery, deeper voice—to Firth’s. I don’t even care. Tar and feather me, string me up in the town square. You can take your hair ribbons and fuck yourselves with them. Macfadyen is better. I will die on this hill. We have the hand flex.
That said, Macfadyen’s Darcy is only the second swooniest Jane Austen man ever put to film. The undisputed champion of moist Regency lions has to be…
1. Ciarán Hinds as Captain Wentworth, Persuasion (1995)
Hoo boy. Look, I know Mr. Darcy is the Austen man, but allow me to lay out my case for Captain Wentworth, specifically as played by Ciarán Hinds in the 1995 version of Persuasion.
*Most of the leading men and women in Austen’s books are in their late teens-twenties. Have you met people in their late teens-twenties? They suck. Universally. Captain Wentworth is a grown-ass man. With experience. Sexual and otherwise.
*Is a Captain in the Navy, which means he has an actual job. (“Oversees the family estate,” oh wow, let me retrieve my monocle to read this thing that I wrote: FUCK OFF.)
*Tries to get over Anne, but he just can’t do it. Ugggghhhhh, the repressed longing. My life. (Most Austen men have this, because no one in Austen ever asks a woman on a date and then knocks boots behind the Arby’s, but it looks particularly good on someone who… well, who looks like Ciaran Hinds. Again: grown-ass man.)
*Spends most of the movie in uniform.
*Spends most of the movie in uniform.
*Spends most of the movie in uniform.