I thought picking our favorite Mr. Collins would prove to be challenging. Each depiction of him on the screen has its own appeal, and each is done to the same level of excellence. Does that speak to the human condition - that we can so easily portray a foolish man and can do it well? - maybe. We, however, will not become philosophical at this point, although the women may rightly gloat that men seem to have an easier time of it, considering how so few women captured Lady Catherine’s nonsensicalness very well ... but seriously, Mr. Collins is such an important part of the story no adaptation that I’m familiar with leaves him out. The difficulty in choosing vanished when I started looking at those who played him from how the book describes him.
I don’t know if Miss Austen did this in coming up with Mr. Collins, but he seems to have the opposite qualities of several of the main characters:
- Mr. Darcy: never gives himself the trouble of trying to be pleasing to anyone.
- Elizabeth: sensible, unimpressed by wealth, and definitely not a flatterer.
- Jane: sincerely possesses what would be termed Godly qualities, or as Lizzy says ‘she is really angelic’.
Jane Austen describes Mr. Collins in her book as follows:
He “was not a sensible man . . . A fortunate chance had recommended him to Lady Catherine de Bourgh when the living of Hunsford was vacant; and the respect which he felt for her high rank and his veneration for her as his patroness, mingling with a very good opinion of himself, of his authority as a clergyman, and his rights as a rector, made him altogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility.”
Basing our list, then, on that description of him and not on the acting ability of the men who play the role as Mr. Collins, I have arranged them in the order that I believe most closely resembles him.
#4 -- 2005 - Tom Hollander- Hollander least portrays that sense of obsequiousness coupled with self importance. He is more sheepish and shy than Mr. Collins should be. This portrayal of Mr. Collins being so far off is in keeping with the fact that this is one of the worst P&Ps made, considering the big name actors it has in it. The gentility of what Austen conveyed is all gone from it and it has more the look and feel of Charles Dickens’ description of the London underbelly.
#3 -2004 Bride and Prejudice-- Nitin Ganatra - Ganatra brings that feel of self-importance and self-assuredness, in particular the idea that he is a real ‘catch’ and any lady is his for the asking. The missing ingredient, though, is that he really has no Lady Catherine to be attentive to in an ingratiating or servile manner and with that component gone, you really don’t have Mr. Collins. He is, nevertheless, one of our favorites, for who else could inspire such a song as “no life...without wife”?
#2-1980 - Malcolm Rennie - Rennie handles the part very well and fits the physical description better than any of the others, because Mr. Collins is said to be tall and heavy and a great walker. Also, we see he can’t wait to utter some complement to whoever for whatever, so he is quite good as Mr. Collins. If the rest of the cast had been as well chosen, this would easily be my favorite portrayal of P&P.
#1-1940 - Melville Cooper - His proposal to Elizabeth is by far the funniest, and even though the movie is just under two hours long, compared to the two versions that are five hours long, he manages to capture the personality of Mr. Collins in his performance. He is my personal favorite, as is this version of P&P. Keeping the comedy and wit to the fore despite the radical changes made to the story is what makes me feel the same way from watching this movie as I do when reading the book.
#1-1995 - David Bamber - Bamber has the advantage of being in the best-made (meaning lighting, sets, etc) long-playing version of P&P. What I don’t like about it is that it is a more dramatic version, as they play down the comedy of the book, and Bamber fits into the overall feel of this version while also playing the part for some humor. So he does actually display every aspect of Mr. Collins as described in the book.