friday night movie club

Pride and Prejudice Is a Subtly Horny Balm for Our Time

Photo: Focus Features

Every few weeks for the foreseeable future, Vulture will be selecting one film to watch as part of our Friday Night Movie Club. This week’s selection comes from Vulture contributor Randi Bergman, who will begin her screening of  Pride and Prejudice on May 14 at 7 p.m. ET. Head to Vulture’s Twitter to catch her live commentary.

Back in 2005, when Pride and Prejudice (the Keira Knightley one) came out, I was a budding fashion student who hadn’t yet discovered irony. Completely bowled over by Joe Wright’s adaptation of the Jane Austen classic, I’d take weekend walks in the park by my parents’ house wearing a flowy peasant dress, imagining that I was Elizabeth Bennet and that around the next verdant bend stood my own wistful, extremely rich spouse-to-be. Piano sonatas blasting through the earphones of my iPod, I was transported from the Toronto suburbs to the pastoral English countryside, where I could throw words like “countenance” and “caprice” into my internal monologue and feign a British accent like master Keira impersonator Luke Millington-Drake — except, for me, it wasn’t a joke.

It’s been more than a decade since I was that corny, and since the film came to rival the popularity of the BBC’s classic 1995 miniseries (which lives on in horny culture as a single image of Colin Firth’s soaking-wet Mr. Darcy emerging from a pond). But when the pandemic hit last spring, I was back on my bullshit, wearing sack dresses, engaging in cottagecore and re-watching P&P on repeat. Rich with yearning glances, sprawling walks at all hours of the day and enough seductive subtleties to inspire a new generation of Darcy diehards, Pride and Prejudice is the perfect film for this moment in history. Just scroll through the tags #prideandprejudice2005, prideandprejudice, and mrdarcy on TikTok and you’ll find countless dissections of Darcy’s hunky mannerisms and vulnerable proclamations (which are both impressively far cries from Matthew MacFayden’s more recent embodiment of the sycophantic Tom Wambsgans on Succession). Similarly, Twitter is littered with P&P retellings in the style of Animal Crossing, BTS fan art, and more. And while the film was certainly a success at the time of its release — it received raves from the critics, was nominated for four Oscars, including a Best Actress nod for Knightley, and won a BAFTA for Wright — its recent resurgence squares perfectly with our palpable desire for human contact.

There’s a brief scene, now dubbed the “Mr. Darcy Hand Flex,” that has been having a particular TikTok moment. The scene takes place when, after volleying disses in an elegant sitting room at Netherfield Park, Darcy extends his hand to help Elizabeth into her carriage. Before she registers who it was that offered his gloveless hand, Darcy is off, strutting back to the imposing abode. The camera homes in on said hand. It flexes, suggesting both sexual tension and a little bit of awkwardness. It’s the first time these two have touched, and according to the codes of propriety circa 1813, it’s a little bit illicit.

It speaks volumes that a baby hand hold would be just the kind of moment many of us have longed for since the ban on human contact began early last year, but there’s another one that set my world on fire. Midway through the film, a sopping-wet Darcy attempts his first proposal of marriage to Lizzie, who ceremoniously rejects him. Thunder roaring in the background, the two exchange more deeply cutting barbs before leaning in for an almost kiss. They come just close enough to exchange coronavirus droplets, before pulling away. Darcy closes with, “Forgive me, madam, for taking up so much of your time.” My God is it erotic. What I wouldn’t give!

Unlike its period-drama pandemic sister Bridgerton, which surely has set some kind of record for number of bare asses revealed through broderie anglais onscreen, it takes the entire Pride and Prejudice for our quarrelling lovers to consummate their relationship. And by this, I mean a kiss, which doesn’t even appear in the British version of the film — it was removed after the Jane Austen Society of North America complained that there was no continuity between the scene and the novel. (Test audiences reportedly found it to be fairly corny.) But as we flirt with a possible end to this pandemic, or at the very least a summer where baby hand holds will be possible, corny romance feels like a goal worth striving for. (To quote Kate Winslet in The Holiday, maybe “I’m looking for corny in my life.”) And on that note, you know what rhymes with corny? Horny.

Pride and Prejudice is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, iTunes, and Google Play.

Pride & Prejudice Is a Subtly Horny Balm for Our Time