Modern retellings of classic novels or movies is something that needs to happen far more often simply because it makes something that isn’t usually all that accessible to a modern audience accessible once more. Granted, I am a firm believer that if something is truly great, you really need to experience it in its original format at least once. But a lot of more classic works aren’t able to reach a modern audience because many of these ideas just don’t mesh well with the times. A modern adaptation can, as its names suggests, adapt the original work to fit a more modern period thus allowing a younger generation to enjoy at least a small bit of the original work. Say what you want about the acting, 10 Things I Hate About You is a prime example of a film adaptation modernizing the source material for its audience and a damn good one at that. So when I heard that Hallmark was looking to release a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, called Unleashing Mr. Darcy, a part of my bran skipped for joy whilst another cried fearful tears. On one hand, many retellings are quite awful and need to be burned while on the other hand, Hallmark has pumped out some decent made-for-tv movies in the past and they at least seemed to be putting in a lot of effort on this project.
I wasn’t sure how this adaptation would be any good because, from an acting perspective, I think both Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet would be tough to take seriously in the modern age. Mr. Darcy is far too gentlemen-ly, even in the original book, and I feel like that style of chivalry, or whatever you wish to call it, feels a bit outmoded and dated and would come off as over-the-top on-screen. While Elizabeth’s character might come off as a rebel-without-a-cause given the fact that it isn’t entirely uncommon nowadays to see woman unmarried with no children well into their thirties. Women aren’t yet treated as equals but certainly the old clichés of a woman being a “shame” of the family simply because she hasn’t been made an “honest woman” would come off clunky, right? But the answer to both of my fears, in the case of this Hallmark adaptation, appear to be needless as the film is extremely well-done and both the main characters, as well as the movie’s villain(s), were, while sometimes over-the-top in their acting, adapted exceptionally well and my only complaint really being that the film should have been a bit longer over all.
In this modern-day spin on “Pride & Prejudice,” Elizabeth Scott (Cindy Busby), is fishing for direction in her life and gets the opportunity to professionally show her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel in a fancy New York dog show. Dog show judge Donovan Darcy (Ryan Paevey) comes across as aristocratic and rude and a chain of misunderstandings unfold during the competition, complicating their mutual attraction. In true Jane Austen fashion, Elizabeth and Donovan begin to see the error of their ways and it turns out Mr. Darcy is far more kind and interesting than Elizabeth ever imagined.
One quick negative right off of the bat here: I didn’t read the synopsis before watching the movie… that is my bad… so the title felt a bit misleading to me. The title “Unleashing Mr. Darcy” rang in my ears as a sort of ’empowering of Mr. Darcy’, not as a movie that revolves around dog shows… This is not really a complaint, it is just something that threw me off at first. That being said, I actually quite like having the dog shows incorporated into the story for a few reasons. One, cuteness… who doesn’t LOVE adorable dogs? Secondly, it allowed for certain lines, like ones that are addressed to Elizabeth about how woman should ‘behave’, to be delivered without seeming too forced or archaic. Lastly, it gave the film a casual setting in which the two main characters were allowed to explore each other without drawing too much attention to it. Neither were actively pursuing one another because, quite simply, they HAD to be around each other as contestant and judge. Also cute dogs.
I did find the character of Elizabeth Scott (Cindy Busby) a little too stubborn at times especially given her generally positive disposition to pretty much everything else with the exception of her love life. Granted, the original story’s Elizabeth is no different, but given the more modern setting I would have to argue that her whole “feminism”-feel was quite a bit toned down. She never really stands up for herself in the movie, which I think was a bit of a writing mistake, and was way too easily made to cry in my opinion. With that said, when Cindy Busby shinned in every scene where her cuteness and wit were put up against Mr. Darcy himself. Their on-screen chemistry was undeniable and I found myself looking forward to their scenes together most of all. After all, they are what the movie is centered around– so I felt like everything else around them was more or less fluff to film time.
The villain, or should I say villains of the film were actually quite amusing to see. Frances Fisher’s Violet Darcy was, at first a bit overly dramatic. She felt a bit too snobbish for my taste– but upon seeing her in further scenes I would actually say that it fit the movie quite well. Her over-the-top snobbishness came off as pure bitchy-ness and you sort of loved to hate her character. Combine her with the extremely pretty and super nice Felicity Robson (Courtney Richter), Mr. Darcy’s soon-to-be betrothed, and you have a evil-duo who keep you off-balance for the entire movie. Felicity is, at first glance (and possibly second and third) an extremely nice and caring friend of the family– so you find yourself wondering how Darcy’s bitch of an aunt gets along with so much cheer all the time. Obviously later you find out that she isn’t as nice as she seems and her switch just sort of flips. It is one of those characters that you would have been fine if she HAD been altruistic and nice even at the end, but then felt a bit more satisfied when she finally did show he true colors (damn gingers are evil in the movie I swear)!
The person I was most worried about in this film, however, was Mr. Darcy himself. One issue is the innate pureness of his character in past books and movies. He is sort of this rock who knows what he wants until Elizabeth comes along and turns his world upside down. He never drops the overly polite gentlemen-feel even when upset and that, I felt, could prove extremely odd given the modern feel and setting of the film. Add that, to the fact that the actor playing Mr. Darcy, Ryan Paevey, is best known for his recurring role on General Hospital. Personally, I am not one for soap operas due to the over-acting that often occurs in them. So I was a bit afraid that Ryan might overact as Donovan Darcy. But honestly he ended up being one of the best parts of the film. He brought a lot of depth into a character that could often be seen as one-dimensional. Sure he was EXTREMELY well-mannered and polite– but he actually made that work for him. Rather than act overly frustrated every time Elizabeth annoyed him, he would instead employ subtle facial cues of annoyance that I rather enjoyed. It sort of felt like someone having to try REALLY hard not to blow his lid when someone annoyed him and it was rather fun waiting for that to happen. And even with that, there were still moments of vulnerability in the film that I haven’t really gotten from past Mr. Darcy’s that made his character relatable…which is a tough task given that his character is virtually perfect. And like with Cindy Busby, Ryan’s on-screen chemistry with his co-star was undeniable and amount to some of the best scenes in the entire film. I looked forward to seeing them on-screen together and found myself feeling a bit annoyed when the movie focused on other aspects.
So as you can see, the movie is not without its flaws, but the movies strengths outweigh said flaws greatly. It is a Hallmark movie at its core, so it will never feel like a high-budget film… but it is damn close. This is probably one of the best Hallmark films I have seen in a while and hopefully Hallmark will keep pumping out movies at this quality. This modern adaptation of the classic Pride and Prejudice shows that old and dated themes can be reimagined for the modern audience and done tastefully in a way that honors both past and present. Audiences seem to be recognizing this as well. According to Broadwayworld.com, Unleashing Mr. Darcy was able to bring in an impressive 3 million viewers in its opening premiere on Hallmark and has even broken records for Hallmark’s social media by becoming the most Tweeted non-holiday original movie premiere in network history. Kudos Hallmark! Keep in mind that when I rate this movie, I am not rating it with the same weight that I would rate movies on the silver screen. I’m weighting it against other made-for-tv movies out there. Let’s just say I am grading on a curve! I loved the movie a lot and will probably watch it again when I see it on Hallmark.