In the recent discussion about Pride & Prejudice my sister, Jenny, made the following comment:
“As much as it hurts me to say this, I must agree that the A&E 1995 smooch is seriously lacking in the dy-no-mite department.
“I’ve reviewed it a thousand times, and to me it still looks like the first painful play-practice kiss between two awkward romantic leads who haven’t even kissed anyone in real life yet. (Believe me: I have participated in several of these onstage kisses before, and therefore am quick to recognize similar anguished, awkward smooches.)”
And I was immediately reminded of another of Mr. Firth’s kisses in a different film. So this seems like a good opportunity to do a little compare and contrast.
Exhibit A: Pride and Prejudice
My friend, Laurie (who I had the pleasure of seeing again at Emma’s dance concert this past week), once starred in a production of The Music Man opposite a gentleman who was…and I’m trying hard to be diplomatic here…”not necessarily a native speaker of the language of love.”
When they were rehearsing their big love scene for the first time, they got to the part in the script where they were supposed to kiss, and she stood there staring ardently into his eyes and waited for him to make his move…and waited…and waited…and waited.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he whispered, “Pssst, I’ll go to the right…”
Which he did.
No “letting things happen naturally”…no organic, fluid, natural movement…no romance. To him it was all angles, and trajectory, and ensuring that two noses didn’t try to occupy the same space at the same time.
Mr. Firth seems to come from the same school of smooching.
In the clip you’re about to see, Jennifer Ehle is staring ardently into Mr. Firth’s eyes and waiting for him to make his move…and waiting…and waiting…and waiting. (She waits even longer than it appears because I had to trim the previous 5 seconds of ardent staring to conserve bandwidth.)
When he finally does move in for the kiss, it’s not until he’s halfway there that he realizes that not only will their noses collide before their lips do, but he’s likely to knock her unconscious with the brim of his hat. So, at the last possible second, he “goes to the right.”
(Before we go on, what’s up with that line about an inch above his collar? It looks like they only applied Ben Nye’s Pasty British Beige™ down to his collar, not thinking that he might twist his neck and reveal the less-sallow skin underneath.)
Now, you can call that a “chaste kiss” if you want, but I think Jenny’s assessment of “seriously lacking in the dy-no-mite department” is more accurate.
It’s as if the director told them, “Look, there’s a good chance we’ll get in trouble for this kiss, so to avoid having the Jane Austen Enforcement Battalion of North America swoop down on us like a gaggle of Edwardian Valkyries, whatever you do, don’t move your lips! Just kiss and freeze.”
Which was probably fine with Mr. Firth since he appears to be incapable of moving his lips when kissing anyway. Why do I say that? Because there’s additional evidence to support the claim.
Exhibit B: Love Actually
I remember seeing this kiss in Love Actually for the first time and thinking, “This is the man that women have been (chastely) lusting after all these years? He kisses like a haddock!”
But in this case, the director appears to have pulled Mr. Firth aside and said, “Look, Colin, your agent just called to remind us about the ‘no mandible movement’ clause in your contract, so in this scene just try to keep everything else moving, OK? Open and close your jaw, turn your head from side to side, clutch her skull in ever-more-awkward ways. Just do whatever you have to do to disguise the fact that you kiss like a haddock.”
Don’t get me wrong. I quite like Colin Firth and I think he’s an excellent actor. (And I say this even after sitting through Trauma at last years’ Sundance Film Festival, for heaven’s sake!) And I can’t imagine anything worse than having my own kisses recorded for posterity and then having them dissected, diagrammed and critiqued by others, but this is the price you pay for Darcyhood.
You can’t stand as an impossibly high standard in smoldering good looks, gentlemanly graces, and economic viability, without being held to the same high standard in lip locking.
If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kissing…